An application has been filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and Canadore College has been notified of alleged discrimination in a letter from a Toronto law firm.
A letter from Adair Goldblatt Bieber sent to Canadore last Tues. was obtained by BayToday. It says, "To be clear, I cannot say whether any of the allegations are true. However, distinct issues and themes emerged from our interviews. It was troubling to hear such stories about a publicly funded institution in 2019."
The letter is addressed to Canadore Board Chairman Bob Nicholls, and cc'd to President George Burton.
Lawyer Gillian Hnatiw says during an investigation the firm uncovered "over a dozen individuals who claim to have experienced similar types of career-limiting or ending discrimination or abuse while employed by Canadore" and were given the names of more than "two dozen" other individuals who endured similar experiences.
She cites numerous stories she has documented dating back nearly a decade which include allegations of:
- Sexual misconduct including engaging in sexual acts on campus
- Sexual harassment including lewd remarks, comments, and gestures
- Bullying and psychological harassment
- Retaliation, retributions, and reprisals
- Systematic character denigration
- Coordinated and deliberate sabotage of others' careers
Hnatiw goes on to say, "It is reported this conduct has created a hostile and poisoned environment, involving a 'boys' club' atmosphere.
She adds that a number of former employees reported making good faith attempts to raise their concerns internally at Canadore, only to find themselves quickly out of a job and that it is clear from conversations with Canadore's current employees that they are terrified to speak up or lodge a complaint, for fear of retribution or reprisal.
"They do not trust Canadore's human resources department. They also lack confidence in the willingness and/or ability of Canadore's management to address these issues in a meaningful way."
Hnatiw says she felt compelled to write to the Board and bring the concerns forward. She is one of Canada’s leading sexual harassment lawyers.
Her letter contains a request that the board keep its duty to act in the best interests of the institution and "strongly" encourages it to engage an external investigator "to conduct an independent inquiry into the workplace environment at Canadore" to allow current employees a means of reporting any issues in a safe, protected way.
"This will require the board to make a public commitment to protect anyone who participates from reprisal."
The letter is dated Tues. Feb. 19.
Meanwhile, Board Chairman Bob Nicholls told BayToday that an investigation has started.
"There's been a lot of stuff that's gone on at the college level between the college and this particular person and it's been referred to legal counsel and they're going to deal with it. I know the individual quite well and I just find it really hard to believe that anything like that is going on but they're going to do their investigation and, I mean they've already done an investigation and they are going to do more and see where it goes."
Nicholls also says as Board Chair, no-one reported to him, nor was he aware of any sexual misconduct at Canadore prior to receiving the letter.
"No, because the college itself deals with all those things internally. They have a process they go through if someone files a complaint and they do an investigation and all that's been done."
Nicholls says he's happy with the investigation that Canadore has done.
"That information came to me and other board members, I believe, last week and we just forwarded it on to our legal counsel to deal with it. I have no power to do anything so we need to go through a process and make sure it's properly handled and that's what we're doing. I think I'm legally responsible to make sure things are done and that's what I'm doing in a correct way. "
Despite Hnatiw's claim that the abuse dates back a decade, Nicholls repeated he had no prior knowledge of any sexual misconduct, " I have no knowledge of anything like this going on. Usually, anything that is important is brought to our attention and it hasn't been."
Canadore President George Burton had little comment.
"If there was a complaint, that would follow established processes so we would have no comment on anything to do with any type of allegation of that nature," he told BayToday.
Asked if allegations had been reported to him in the past the replied, "Well you are telling me something this morning so I am giving you a response back."
This afternoon a statement was emailed to BayToday from Jodee Brown Yeo, Director, Organizational Development and Talent Management at Canadore.
"Last week we received a letter from a lawyer for a former contract employee at the College.
"The College is in the process of responding to that allegation and will file its legal response in due course. However, in addition to the complaint by the contractor, this letter made reference to a number of anonymous allegations regarding one of our staff members, but no names, dates or details whatsoever were provided.
"As per our policies, we have contacted this lawyer and are in the process of trying to secure further details about these anonymous allegations in order for the College to have a thorough understanding and review the situation. To date, we have not received any such details. It is important to remember that all individuals involved in any internal investigations have due process rights.
"The College is committed to due process however, in absence of any details regarding the anonymous complaints, due process is impossible. It is disappointing that the information necessary to allow the College to even begin the process of reviewing the situation has yet to be provided. As soon as we receive the requested information we will act upon it as appropriate.
"It would be unfair and inappropriate for the College to comment further at this point. Typically, these internal matters are conducted in confidence in order to ensure all persons’ rights are respected, and the College sees no reason to depart from this practice."
Gillian Hnatiw, says the company's website, is one of Canada's foremost practitioners in the areas of sexual assault, harassment, and violence, including claims for voyeurism, 'revenge porn', and the non-consensual dissemination of intimate images.
BayToday is continuing to investigate. If anyone has any further information they should contact us confidentially at [email protected]
With files from Chris Dawson.