Dozens of people chanted “Walk Him Out” during a rally Friday afternoon demanding that a senior executive at Canadore College be put on paid leave while an investigation is under way into serious allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour.
Waving flags, holding handmade placards and loudly voicing their strong opposition to “the ongoing presence on campus of the senior executive at the centre of the opposition,” a group of about 50 supporters gathered near the entrance to the college for the “Rally for a Respectful Canadore Workplace.”
Organizer Natalya Brown, who works at Nipissing University says members of the Canadore community have made “serious allegations of a toxic workplace environment. Most of the allegations involve one senior executive.”
Brown says the rally was a show of solidarity.
“These are real people behind these statements, and they stand behind their words. They’ve come forward, they’ve been brave, and they’re real.”
While acknowledging the college has responded to the allegations by hiring a third-party investigator. she doesn't understand why the College won't take the usual step of removing the man from the workplace.
“The investigation is being compromised by the ongoing presence on campus of the senior executive at the centre of the investigation,” said Brown.
“I’m not sure what the rationale is.”
A total of 14 victim impact statements were read by both men and women on behalf of those who have stepped forward with complaints but who wish to remain anonymous, fearful of any reprisals.
“Fifty people have come forward and spoken about issues, but it is in the high 30’s the number of people who have actually submitted statements,” explained Brown who noted that as more people talk about the situation, more people are coming forward.
The impact statements reveal the toll the situation is taking on staff. (Read those statements at the end of this story)
“I am always anxious and wonder when I’ll get called into a meeting. I have a feeling of impending doom and fear of repercussions for standing up. Everyone feels the fear,” one person wrote.
“We are expected to do our jobs with a cloud over our heads. I have seen the accused laughing and enjoying his day while the rest of us are terrified. He doesn’t have the right to be here. Where’s the care for the faculty and staff?” wrote another.
Someone else shared that, “I am scared for my job. I’m scared of a hit to my retirement and of having to leave early with a penalty. I am feeling disrespected, undermined, constantly harassed and bullied. The upper management should be held accountable for what they’ve done.”
Earlier in the day, in an email to staff, Canadore College president George Burton called allegations of sexual abuse and discrimination at the college ”vague and generalized rumours.”
Burton acknowledged “this has been a difficult time” for many staff members," going on to say that “as an academic institution, we support and, in fact, encourage freedom of speech. Tough discussions held with respect, integrity, and accountability are a critical component of education and academia. However, equally as important as freedom of speech is due process.”
The president of the North Bay and District Labour Council says there is legislation in place to protect workers from violence and workplace harassment.
Henri Giroux said Bill 168, an amendment to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect in 2010.
“The employer has to have policies in place, and to make sure they follow the policies,” said Giroux
“They’re the employer, they’re responsible, so therefore they should make sure it is a harassment-free workplace.”
Giroux agrees that the senior executive in question should be placed on paid leave.
“Any employer can intimidate anybody by just being around and them seeing you talking to the person doing the investigation. So, there is a lot of intimidation that can happen anywhere. So, what’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is remove him and then have the investigation, and if nothing is happening, bring him back.”
Gillian McCann was one of those 50 or so people who attended the rally.
“I feel I can speak, but they’re in a position where they can’t because of the sort of toxic workplace that they’re in. And we sort of can’t believe that after Me Too this is still happening, and happening so close to us.”
Katrina Srigley, a professor at Nipissing University added her voice to those of the supporters.
“It is important to show solidarity, to let the Canadore complainants know that we are listening, that we believe them, that they have our support. I believe in safe workplaces and developing safe spaces for people to come forward who are struggling with these sorts of experiences of violence, bullying, and misconduct. I also believe in a wholesome investigative process, so being here for me doesn’t suggest that somehow because we’re saying we believe the victims, that we don’t believe in the investigation,” said Srigley.
“I think people dismiss folks who say ‘I believe’ because they assume that therefore we don’t believe in a wholesome investigative process.”
Jamie Murton was moved by the words he read aloud from a victim impact statement.
“I imagine it is pretty awful to have to work in that environment and be worried about seeing people in the hallway, that sense of anxiety, that’s pretty bad.”
Brigitte Lebel of the Amelia Rising Sexual Assault Centre of Nipissing offered another support option.
“We all felt very compelled to be here so that we can let everybody know that he should be put on leave. At this point he’s only accused, we’re not saying he’s guilty of anything, we’re just saying that while the investigation happens he should not be here,” said Lebel.
“We have individual counselling, we have support visits and crisis visits and a crisis line as well. So, if anybody is feeling overwhelmed, and they feel like they need a confidential place to talk, we’d love to help them at Amelia Rising.”
Brown who helped organize the rally says she is aware of an upcoming board meeting (April 16) and is hoping the board will respond to their request for the individual's removal.
BayToday reached out to Board of Governors Chair Bob Nicholls for a comment but received no reply.
Impact statements read at the rally:
1. “Despite the repeated efforts of Canadore to demean and marginalize the woman brave enough to come forward, our voices are finally being heard. We are not anonymous. We are known to our spouses and our children. We are known to our friends and our neighbours. We are known to our colleagues and our employer. Neither are our complaints anonymous. For years many of our experiences have been widely discussed. Canadore has responded in the worst possible way. Their painful response demonstrates sheer contempt for the employees. This is exactly what we have been faced with inside these walls. What has become of our institution is disheartening. They may hold their heads high but they need to know they have failed us.”
2. “The inaction of Canadore’s President today, is reflective of why there have been years of corruption under his leadership. Remove the bully from campus, George. As someone who was victim to the bullying, I ask you to do the right thing.”
3. “I was afraid to come forward. He’s still here! Now…I can’t sleep. I can’t focus on my work. I feel anxious all the time. I am afraid to lose my job. He (the accused) needs to work from home until this issue is resolved.”
4. “It is not fair and it is not right that support staff and administration are not treated equally. WE would have been sent home if accused of these things, no doubt in my mind. I am always anxious and wonder when I’ll get called into a meeting. I have a feeling of impending doom and fear of repercussions for standing up. Everyone feels the fear.”
5. “Everyone is being quiet. I am still afraid of repercussions if I come forward. I feel terrified having to interact with the primary accused. Nothing is being done from the 3rd floor, we know nothing about what’s going on. We are kept in the dark and something needs to be done. I feel worried, uncomfortable and unsettled. The accused needs to be put on leave like anyone would have been at any other organization.”
6. “We are afraid and always looking over our shoulders. We have to keep a low profile as the people we are complaining about are still here. I come to work everyday thinking is this the day I’m going to get tapped on the shoulder and walked out? We are expected to do our jobs with a cloud over our heads. I have seen the accused laughing and enjoying his day while the rest of us are terrified. He doesn’t have the right to be here. Any good organization would have done something to make us feel safe. Where’s the care for the faculty and staff? Why do we bother complaining if the accused is still sending out emails, cheerful while we are scared to raise our heads?”
7. “I’m angry that he’s still here. I feel that the college doesn’t care about us, but rather only cares about the abusers. The college has never reached out or provided resources for counseling and support. The executive team walks around like nothing has happened. They are still walking the halls, cheerful and happy, business as usual. None of us feel comfortable or safe.”
8. “I am a student. I am a survivor of sexual and domestic violence, the latter spanning many years of my youth. I am concerned for the safety of my shared campus community. As a result of the inaction taken by Canadore, I feel I am being re-traumatized. Survivors of sexual and domestic violence shouldn't be the ones removed from campus.”
9. “This isn’t just one manager, it’s a number of them. Bullying and harassment is something that’s been going on for years. I’m feeling anxious, all of us are. I’m hoping for change but feel as though things will stay the same. That’s the anxiety that everyone is expressing.”
10. “I am scared for my job. I’m scared of a hit to my retirement and of having to leave early with a penalty. I am feeling disrespected, undermined, constantly harassed and bullied. The upper management should be held accountable for what they’ve done.”
11. "I am so angry and upset about what is happening at Canadore College. The lack of respect for the staff and faculty has had a clear and enormous impact on the health and welfare of not only the people that work there but also the students. To be in such a poisonous environment where no one feels they can express their concerns has resulted in anxiety, mistrust and a future of misery.”
12. “It appears Canadore can't keep their stories straight. The College remarks that they have received no names, dates or details. They seem to portray they had no idea whatsoever this could be going on, which is why I want to be certain they cannot claim the same with me. I have reached out. The board indicated the day to day operations of the college do not fall under the Board's scope of responsibility. This needs to stop!”
13. “The accused need to be put on leave pending the results of a full investigation. This is not just Canadore's problem either. Nipissing and Canadore must come together to create a memorandum of understanding to ensure both institutions uphold a zero-tolerance policy for any and all harassment and violence on our shared campus.”
14. “I am a victim of the abuse at Canadore. It’s a hard reality as I never expected to be a victim for doing nothing but my job. I am hurt, disappointed, saddened with how everything has been handled. But more than that, I am angry. Angry that someone can have this much power to harm others. Angry that the system in place to protect and support employees has failed me and many others. Most of all I am angry that a person like this still has free reign to bully and intimidate hard-working people who try to provide a great environment for young learners while supporting their families. This has to stop. HE has to be stopped.”