Sunday, March 5, 2017

Workplace Bullying at the Vancouver School Board

Report says bullying led to a toxic work environment at Vancouver School Board #vsb #workplacebullying

An external investigation at the Vancouver School Board found evidence of bullying, but information released to the public Friday morning contained no specifics about who the bully was or any particular incidents. 

The investigation by Roslyn Goldner found there was bullying at the board level, that the behaviour of certain trustees was “uncivil, disrespectful and rude,” and that systemic factors contributed to a “toxic work environment.” 

Goldner said the allegation that certain trustees “threw the staff under the bus” was “an apt descriptor.”

The allegations of bullying were made last fall, when the elected trustees were fired from the board for not passing a balanced budget and six senior district staff members — including the superintendent and secretary-treasurer — went on medical leave at the same time. All of this happened at the same time as tense and highly charged public meetings were underway about the possible closing of 11 Vancouver schools. At that time, trustees had also refused to pass a budget calling for $21.8 million in cuts, but staff were forced to implement the cuts anyway. 

VSB’s official trustee Dianne Turner, who replaced the fired school trustees in October, said the full report was “one of the most difficult things I’ve read,” adding “it is unacceptable that the senior staff were not provided a safe and respectful environment.”

Only the executive summary was released Friday, but acting secretary treasurer Guy Bonnefoy said a redacted version of the report will be released upon request under freedom of information and protection of privacy legislation.

Goldner found there was both “ambient bullying” between trustees and direct bullying and harassment of staff by trustees. 

“I find that the conduct of the board breached the requirement to provide employees with an emotionally safe and respectful work environment,” Goldner writes.

The partisan composition of the board, its governance model and a lack of consistent role definition among trustees were systemic problems that played a role, she says. 

Former Green trustee Janet Fraser said she did sometimes see “disrespectful” behaviour by trustees towards staff members. In particular, she noted that at a public meeting about school closures some responses by staff to questions from trustees were responded to in a “very disrespectful” manner. 

“It was a highly emotionally charged meeting. There were hundreds of people in the audience who were very upset about the possibility their school could be closed,”  Fraser said. “The board was unanimous in its decision making, but it was  certainly a very difficult, intense situation.” 

Former school board chairman Mike Lombardi and former Vision trustee Allan Wong both said they are disappointed the report doesn’t contain any specific allegations or names because it is difficult to respond to or learn from the situation without specifics. 

“There were nine trustees on the board. Who knows who they are talking about? This smears all trustees,” Lombardi said, adding he would like to see specific allegations that identify the source of those allegations and who the allegation was against. 

Former trustee Patti Bacchus said she never saw any bullying by trustees and none was reported to her by senior management when she was a trustee. 

“It’s a concern that anyone would feel bullied or harassed. That is a serious issue,” she said. “We did feel we were under pressure from government and senior management to close schools. We decided to suspend that process, and I still think it is the right decision.” 

Former NPA trustee Stacy Robertson said he is not surprised by the findings, as the NPA raised the same concerns prior to being fired. 

“These are serious issues and we look forward to the … release of both the internal VSB and WorkSafe B.C. reports,” Robertson said in an e-mail.

Last fall, the NPA said there was “toxic dysfunction” at the VSB and that the board “failed to create a positive, respectful work environment for the district’s senior staff.”

In particular, the NPA mentioned actions by other trustees such as demanding the board wait for 2016 census data before deciding to close schools, questioning the validity of the consultation process for school closures and demanding a report on population projections by the city rather than relying on VSB staff’s projections.

Both the VSB investigation and the WorkSafe B.C. investigations into the alleged bullying are now complete, Education Minister Mike Bernier said in a statement. He added that he has great confidence in the work of VSB staff and the official appointed trustee. 

WorkSafe B.C. accepts Goldner’s findings and found the VSB investigation to be compliant with WorkSafe B.C. policies. WorkSafe B.C. has also concluded its own investigation, but the results of that are not being released publicly. 

Bonnefoy said the full report is in the process of being redacted to protect the privacy of everyone involved, but the executive summary was released now due to the intense public interest. 

*   An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Goldner report had been released to complainants and respondents. The report has not been released.

Timeline of Events (provided by Vancouver School Board)

Sept. 25 –  Secretary-Treasurer Russell Horswill commences indefinite leave.
Sept. 27– Superintendent Scott Robinson commences indefinite leave.
Sept. 29 -VSB Trustees appoints Steve Cardwell as Acting Superintendent and Rick Krowchuk as Acting Secretary Treasurer. Entire senior management team now on idefinite leave.
Sept. 29 – Minister Bernier forwards the letter from the president of the BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA), which outlines concerns for the welfare of VSB members of the BCSSA, to WorkSafeBC “because of its jurisdiction regarding bullying and harassment in the workplace.”
Oct. 3 – WorkSafe B.C. rules require VSB to investigate the allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Oct. 12 – Steve Cardwell confirms the engagement of Roslyn Goldner of Goldner Law Corporation to conduct an independent investigation, in accordance with the district’s Harassment in the Workplace policy and WorkSafeBC’s requirements for employer investigations.
October – WorkSafe B.C. begins its own investigation of the allegations at VSB.
Oct. 17 – Minister Bernier replaces the Vancouver School Board trustees with Dianne Turner as the Official Trustee. The Board was replaced for failing to pass a balanced budget.
Oct. 18 – Acting Superintendent Steve Cardwell and Acting Secretary Treasurer Rick Krowchuk depart the VSB.
Nov. 3 – Trustee Dianne Turner appoints John Lewis as Acting Superintendent and Guy Bonnefoy as Interim Secretary-Treasurer.
January – Superintendent Scott Robinson returns to work on a gradual re-entry. All senior staff now back at work.
Feb. 20 – Ms. Goldner submits her external investigation report to VSB.
Feb. 21 – WorkSafe B.C. issues an order to the VSB to provide the Goldner Report for inspection.
Mar. 2 – WorkSafe B.C. issues an inspection report, which confirms that the report from Ms. Goldner met their criteria and the findings are aligned with WorkSafe B.C.’s investigation. This inspection report contains orders requiring VSB to adhere to its policies on harassment and bullying.
Mar. 3 – VSB provides the Executive Summary of the Goldner Report to complainants and respondents, and releases the Executive Summary publicly.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

RCMP Bullying and Harassment leads to thousands in damages in civil case

Judge slams Mounties for ‘outrageous’ harassment, awarding sergeant $141,000 in bullying lawsuit 
Senior RCMP officials serially harassed a decorated investigator over a period of years, derailing his career and causing him severe emotional distress, an Ontario judge ruled Tuesday.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee awarded Sgt. Peter Merrifield, who is still with the force, a total of $141,000 in general and special damages in the case. She called the RCMP’s conduct toward him “outrageous” and “beyond all standards of what is right and decent.”
“Not only did Mr. Merrifield suffer from significant mental-health issues as a result of the actions taken by the RCMP,” she wrote, “those actions also stained his reputation.”
Tuesday’s decision brought an end to a sometimes sordid case that stretched on for 10 years, featured secret witnesses and saw a senior Mountie admit, on the stand, that he once tried to solicit a prostitute in London, Ont.
The ruling is only the latest in a series of dark marks against the RCMP, which has been dogged for years by accusations of a toxic internal culture rife with bullying and harassment.
Merrifield sued the force in 2007, alleging a years-long pattern of retaliation. He claimed his once-promising career was sidelined starting in 2005, after he ran for a Conservative Party nomination for the 2006 federal election.
Merrifield has always maintained he didn’t want to win that nomination. He sold no memberships and didn’t campaign. His only goal was to appear at the meeting so he could speak out against the tactics employed by the eventual winner, then Barrie city councillor Patrick Brown. (Brown is now the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.)
Regardless, in the aftermath of that meeting, he claimed his career was unduly and illegally stymied. He was pulled off an elite protection force that investigated threats against politicians and other dignitaries. He was subject to repeated internal investigations, none of which found any significant wrongdoing. He ended up sidelined for months with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. At one point, while on mental-health leave, he even turned in his service pistol.
The architect of much of that harassment, Merrifield long believed, was RCMP Supt. Marc Proulx. Proulx, who has since retired, aggressively questioned Merrifield about the nomination meeting, grilling him “on his political platform and his campaign materials,” Vallee wrote, conduct she called “outrageous” and “beyond all standards of what is right and decent.”
Afterward, Proulx had Merrifield transferred out of his elite investigative unit, a move Vallee called “unjustified and punitive. It resulted in a permanent stain on Mr. Merrifield’s reputation and career. The stain did not fade with time.”
Mr. Merrifield suffered from significant depression and post-tramautic stress disorder as a result of the actions taken by the RCMP

He also opened an internal investigation into Merrifield’s use of his RCMP credit card. On that point, Vallee was particularly scathing. She wrote that by opening that investigation, Proulx showed a “reckless disregard of causing Mr. Merrifield emotional distress.”
She also found that Proulx’s “concern that Mr. Merrifield had engaged in disgraceful conduct was disingenuous” because at about the same time, he was engaged in his own conduct that would bring the Mounties into disrepute, namely trying to solicit a prostitute in London who turned out to be an undercover police officer.
In the end, Vallee awarded Merrifield $41,000 for lost wages and $100,000 in compensation for the harassment he suffered.
“He was unable to work for various periods of time,” she wrote. “At one point, he disengaged from his family and spent his days lying on a sofa. He did not bathe and developed bed sores.”
Vallee did not, however, find that the force breached Merrifield’s Charter rights, nor did she award him any punitive damages.
Merrifield, who has since become a vocal advocate for RCMP unionization, said the campaign against him continues to this day. He would not list any specific complaints, but he wants the minister of public safety to appoint an external investigator to probe the actions of senior Mounties in his case.
“I want to see the public have the same faith in the RCMP as it used to have,” he said.
A spokesman for the RCMP said the force had received the judgment and was in the process of reviewing it.
Merrifield, for his part, said he’d like to return to the kind of national security work he was involved in before all this began. “It’s 12 years of my life,” he said. “It’s sad that it’s taken that long.”
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RCMP Allegedly Bullies & Intimidates Psychiatrist who provides care to RCMP employees

Psychiatrist alleges RCMP's 'attempt to bully' him shows historic sexual harassment apology hollow

Dr. Greg Passey says force continues to deny harassment allegations of some of his patients 

Natalie Clancy & Manjula Dufresne (2017). CBC News. Retrieved from:  

A Vancouver psychiatrist says despite the RCMP's public apology to hundreds of female staffers for decades of sexual harassment, the force is still denying some of his patients' claims of abuse and sexual misconduct and trying to fire two of them.

Dr. Greg Passey, who specializes in treating first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, says less than a month after the public apology in October, two senior Mounties paid him a visit to discuss his medical recommendation that the force must settle lawsuits with two of his patients before they can return to work. 

Rather than settle, the RCMP sent the women their final dismissal papers last week.

"You have this big public apology and about a month later the abuse of power continues, the harassment continues," Passey said. 
Passey, who has had a front-row seat to the five-year-long controversy that has rocked the RCMP and culminated in the apology and $100-million settlement of a class action lawsuit, believes the public perception that the force is transforming itself isn't accurate.
His two patients in the process of being fired, Atoya Montague, a civilian communications strategist, and Cpl. Susan Gastaldo, an undercover officer, are suing the force separately and are both on sick leave suffering from PTSD. 
According to their lawsuits, Montague claims she was sexually propositioned daily by senior officers and Gastaldo claims her supervisor repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
They say the force is now in the process of unfairly firing them, and continues to deny all their claims, despite the public acknowledgement of decades of "shameful conduct."
But the public apology doesn't mean the police force admitted to every individual allegation of sexual misconduct. In the context of the class action lawsuit, claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In the case of separate lawsuits, allegations will be tested in court.

Commissioner's apology: 'crocodile tears'

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wiped away tears after apologizing to female Mounties on Oct 6.
"You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I'm truly sorry."
Passey says in his professional opinion as a psychiatrist "those were tears of embarrassment, that was not in sympathy with the women."
"Crocodile tears by the commissioner ... that was about humiliation and embarrassment and having to apologize for the harassment and abuse of power that occurred on his watch," said Passey, who bases his criticism on the RCMP's handling of Gastaldo and Montague's files since the apology in October.

RCMP bosses visit psychiatrist's office

On Nov. 2, two managers from RCMP's E Division were in Passey's office giving him what he calls a taste of what his patients have experienced.
Passey had written RCMP's medical services to say that PTSD wasn't the only thing keeping Gastaldo and Montague off the job.
He wrote that a condition of their return to work must be a resolution of their sexual misconduct lawsuits.
Passey alleges the meeting was "an attempt to bully" him into changing his opinion.
He says Supt. Sean Sullivan suggested his written recommendations weren't compliant with B.C.'s College of Physicians and Surgeons guidelines. 

'Veiled threat' over medical opinion

"What other employer anywhere in Canada would send a senior management person into a physician's office and basically say ... 'If you don't change your opinion,' then there is a veiled threat that they were going to do a college complaint," said Passey.
He says he took that to mean the RCMP was considering filing a complaint with the physicians' regulator, just as it had done with psychologist Mike Webster after he criticized the force's handling of his patients' harassment complaints in 2011.  
That complaint was later dismissed and the RCMP was found to have breached the privacy of officers in filing the complaint.

RCMP denies bullying Dr. Passey​

In an email to Dr. Passey in November, Supt. Sean Sullivan summarized their meeting, saying the RCMP believed Passey's recommendation that the force resolve the lawsuits was "opinion based towards the management of the RCMP" and "not inline with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. Professional Standards and Guidelines."
Sullivan declined an interview request, but the RCMP sent a statement in response to questions from the CBC that says, "We disagree with the characterization of the meeting and deny the accusations that during that meeting the doctor was bullied or that threats to complain to the College of Physicians and Surgeons were made.
"The in-person meeting, which was agreed upon, was an attempt to have an open discussion, as we both have a role in finding solutions or a path that would help accommodate a healthy and safe return to work."
Dismissal documents sent to Montague also say the RCMP believes Dr. Passey's recommendation that the force resolve its lawsuits is not an appropriate accommodation or condition for her return to work.
Passey says his opinion is based on medical literature on PTSD.
"From a clinical point of view, it's inappropriate for either of these two ladies to return to work when the RCMP continue to deny anything bad happened to them, no attempt to resolve their lawsuits, or discipline alleged perpetrators," he said. 
"Then they blame the individual for not coming back ...That is actually hurting these women's health and it's impairing the women's ability to go back to work."

Gastaldo breaks silence

When the meeting was over, the two RCMP managers walked right by Susan Gastaldo, who was seated in Passey's waiting room.
"Every time I try and return to work, the barriers are set up by the workplace, and I can't return and I have yet to see accountability," said Gastaldo, speaking publicly for the first time.
She says she's ready to return to work "as long as they can guarantee a safe workplace."
But the supervisor she alleges assaulted her is still on the job.
She was on sick leave with an anxiety disorder when she says the supervisor forced her to come back to work and coerced her into a sexual relationship she says was never consensual, according to documents filed in court.
In its statement of defence, the RCMP maintains it was a consensual affair.

Women want accountability

​"Something happened every day of my career ... you're in the middle of a business conversation and they ask you when you are going to have sex with them," said Atoya Montague of her years as a civilian RCMP communications strategist.
She was furious to learn her managers visited her psychiatrist who wants the RCMP to resolve her allegations.
"All [Dr. Passey] is saying is, 'How can I send someone back into a workplace where she's been abused, sexually assaulted, harassed and bullied almost every day of her career when you haven't even acknowledged that happened?" 

RCMP doctor overruled specialist 

Montague is also angry a family doctor working for the RCMP overruled her psychiatrist and recommended she be medically discharged from the force because she's unlikely to be fit for duty in the foreseeable future. 
"This is a doctor who has never met me," said Montague.
The RCMP says it followed its policy.
"We cannot, in good conscience, continue to pay a full salary indefinitely to an employee whose health prevents them from performing any duties within the RCMP," the statement says.
Montague and Gastaldo could make claims against the class action settlement, but they are suing separately because the settlement will only compensate victims, not punish alleged perpetrators.
"It's acknowledged that there has been bad behaviour and yet nobody's been fired," said Walter Kostekyj, Gastaldo's lawyer.
None of Montague or Gastaldo's allegations have been proven in court.

Women asked Goodale for help

A report from a federal investigation into the RCMP's handling of both cases is expected at the end of March.
Ralph Goodale appointed former auditor general Sheila Fraser to investigate after Gastaldo, Montague and two others wrote the Liberal government in 2015 asking the public safety minister to stop the RCMP from firing them.
"I wait to see if Hon. Ralph Goodale has the fortitude to actually force the RCMP to change," Passey said.
"When will the government step in to stop the ongoing harassment and abuse of power?"
Goodale would not respond to questions about the firings because the cases are before the courts.