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Canadore women demand college VP be put on paid leave

'This is wrong. I shouldn't be put in this position. I am not alone in thinking that his presence on campus is meant to further intimidate those members like myself, who have come forward'
Canadore College in North Bay

Some of the women at Canadore College who say they have been traumatized by abuse at the institution are demanding that President George Burton put his senior vice-president on paid leave until an independent investigation presents its findings.

See: Canadore investigator revealed

The issue started with a single complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal but has widened into a broader investigation into allegations of harassment, discrimination, and abuse of power at the College.

Over 50 people have given statements to Toronto lawyer Gillian Hnatiw, and that number is expected to rise as the investigation proceeds.

See: Canadore College notified of serious allegations of sex discrimination

Burton so far has rebuffed calls to put the VP on paid leave, but demands for action have been growing louder.

Not only has Hnatiw said it is the proper route, OPSEU President Warren Thomas, in a letter to the Board of Governors said, "To protect all employees against reprisals and further harassment, the accused in these allegations must be removed from the workplace pending the outcome of the investigation and publication of extensive, concrete measures to end the poisonous workplace environment at Canadore – once and for all."

Now, individual female victims are starting to come forward.

One female faculty member wrote to BayToday, "We all chat amongst ourselves in the parking lot, not inside the college, about the state of affairs and more than I like to admit, people are afraid to see the VP in the halls, reluctant to attend meetings with him, and most are afraid to lose their jobs over their complaints since the college has given us all the feeling that these people, especially the VP, are untouchable and that it is business as usual."

Another woman writes, "The president and human resources have basically asked us to do nothing and say nothing and that they are working on a response to the lawyer in Toronto. I get the sense that everyone who has come forward in any manner is still watching their backs. It appears that nothing has changed and we are all supposed to keep working and pretend that nothing is happening. It has been very quiet in the school and everyone seems to be on edge. Everyone has their heads down, doing their job and trying to stay under the radar."

And a third writes, "I don't believe having him walking the halls and showing up in offices during this investigative time is excusable, not if it makes even one person uncomfortable. We cannot continue to make victims of the staff that have already suffered, especially knowing the fear that people who speak out go through - worrying about losing their jobs or credibility. It is a very stressful situation that isn't made any better by having the person that represents that abuse of power conducting business as normal.'

One woman describes a climate of "bullying and intimidation."

"I am very disappointed in how the administration and Board of Governors have handled this situation. I can't seem to avoid him. running into him several times each day is very uncomfortable. I feel like he knows that I am one of the employees who came forward and that because I don't have a chance to prepare myself for these unexpected face to face encounters, that he can see the fear on my face. I am not afraid physically. I am afraid of the power these people have to affect my workplace, my future career here at Canadore and therefore my family's well-being.

"This is wrong. I shouldn't be put in this position. I am not alone in thinking that his presence on campus is meant to further intimidate those members like myself, who have come forward."

President George Burton and the Board is also coming under fire from the women.

"I also feel that George Burton should recuse himself from the Board of Governors since he sits on the Board and is friends with the Board Chair," writes a woman. "George Burton is also the president of the college and the various persons named in many complaints were either recruited by George, but also report directly to him. As the captain of the ship, he should leave until this is all sorted out.

"Also the chair, Bob Nicholls, has said nothing nor has the vice-chair who acts in the absence of the chair, to the employees of the college, nor to the city and this is a public institution. The public should be aware that things at the college are not 'normal'. The Board needs an overhaul also over this as they have not supported the employees at all."

BayToday has agreed to withhold the names of the women, as they fear reprisals, but has confirmed their identities.

Meanwhile, NDP MPP Chris Glover says he is throwing his support behind the women.

“As the Ontario NDP’s critic for Colleges and Universities, I met with and listened to women who shared terrible stories of sexual harassment at Canadore College, and who have ongoing concerns about how their reports are being handled. The situation is serious," he told BayToday. "I have written a letter to the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities urging her to step in and take action immediately.

"When women speak up, we all have a responsibility to listen, and react,” he said.

BayToday previously contacted the office of Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities. In a statement, she cited the Human Rights hearing of the initial complainant as a reason not to get involved, 

BayToday reached out by email to Mr. Burton for a reaction to the women's concerns but received no response.

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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