Osborne House CEO takes leave from Winnipeg shelter

The executive director of Osborne House, who has been in the spotlight about a controversy over a fundraiser for the Winnipeg women's shelter, is taking a leave from her job.
Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt announced she is taking a leave, and thanked "great supports" around her. (CBC)

The executive director of Osborne House, who has been in the spotlight about a controversy over a fundraiser for the Winnipeg women's shelter, is taking a leave from her job.

Facebook message from Judt

Thank you to all of you that have called, emailed me tonight asking about my leave. Under the guidance of my doctor, my health is dictating that I take some time off. My mobility problems have increased and working in a facility that is very un-accessible only compounds the problem. I have great supports around me and I appreciate every single one of you! Kudos to my Board of Directors for doing the right thing. There are attachment that went out with this email but I need to figure out how to attach them. Feel free to pass this on. Stay tuned!

Barbara Judt posted a message on her Facebook  page, saying the decision is based on advice from her doctor.

The controversy started in August when an internal email exchange between Deputy Premier Eric Robinson and his advisor Nahanni Fontaine got out.

Fontaine, the province's special advisor on women's issues, took exception to a fundraiser held in 2012 for the shelter, which has been dealing with funding shortfalls. Hosted by the Foxy Shoppe specialty clothing store, the fundraiser featured a burlesque performer.​

In an internal email sent to Robinson and other civil servants, Fontaine called burlesque "a total disregard for women's and girls' dignity and sacredness" and said the fundraiser was "blatantly stupid."

Robinson, who is aboriginal, wrote in response: "On the surface it's not a very good idea and moreover exploits an already vulnerable group in society. It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do-good white people without giving it a second thought."

Pamela Fox, owner of the Foxy Shoppe, who describes herself as a woman of colour, called Robinson's remark racist and abusive.

Robinson has apologized for the phrase "do-good white people," but he has maintained his comment was not racist and the fundraiser and the burlesque performance were in poor taste.

The head-butting between the government and Osborne House continued last month, when Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard ​demanded Osborne House come up with an action plan to deal with perceived problems at the shelter, including working conditions and client safety.

Howard raised concerns regarding safety and the quality of counselling at Osborne House, as well as allegations of a "hostile work environment."​

Judt defended the shelter and demanded to see specific examples of the concerns identified in the reports.

The board came up with a plan and presented it to the province, but it "was rejected without discussion,"​ according to a letter sent by the board to the province.

Provincial report shows ongoing issues

The province and the shelter have long been at odds since 2010, with a recent report detailing numerous problems officials wanted addressed.

The province penned a financial report in 2012, painting a picture of an organization overwhelmed by confusion.

The report said there was no evidence the shelter's board reviews or approves budgets. The report went on to say, "board members believe the CEO is in charge," when in fact, the board was in charge.

It also said that salaries went up in 2010 and 2011, when donations to the shelter were going down. In addition, "CEO Barbara Judt's employment offer was 'undocumented.'"

Judt's resume was also not on file when the report was inked, and there were no minutes kept for the board meeting where her hiring was decided. Finally, the report showed Judt was earning $22,000 more than the allotted funding for the position. 

Read the financial review report here:

Concerns over services for women

One Winnipeg social worker is concerned about the impact the ongoing feud will have on services for women in the province.

“When you have that kind of tension and that kind of conflict for a long time, it takes a toll not only on employees, but it certainly takes a toll on the board,” said Giasson, who is a social worker who also teaches at Université de Saint-Boniface. “It takes a toll on the people. It takes a toll on the organization, on the people that are accessing the service as well.”

Giasson said it may be time for a mediator to step in.

Right now, it is unclear who is leading Osborne House, but board members say a committee will be formed to take over operations until Judt returns. 

Read the full letter to the province from the Osborne House board below:

Letter to province from Osborne House board

Deputy Minister Jeff Parr 
Family Services and Labour 

Room 317 - 450 Broadway Winnipeg, MB R3C 0V8 
Dear Mr. Parr, 

Minister Howard’s request for a “Resolution of the Board of Directors of Osborne House accepting unconditionally the enclosed Action Plans”.

As conveyed to you earlier, in order to provide a Resolution of the Board of Directors, we must convene a Directors meeting. 

Our bylaws have a “Notice of Meeting” clause like all corporate bylaws. The purpose of a Notice of Meeting clause is to limit the Directors sabotaging an organization by calling a hasty meeting and by doing so making it impossible for all Directors to attend. Our bylaws have a ten (10) day notice period. All Directors, including the Chairperson, must be given notice. This is just a part of good governance. 

All Directors have a general fiduciary duty at Common Law. This duty includes Act in Good Faith, Honestly and Loyally, Duty of Diligence, Duty to Avoid Conflict of interest, Duty to Continue, and the High Fiduciary Duties with Regard to Charitable Property. Upon receiving legal advice, the Directors agree that we must recognize these duties and follow our bylaws. 

As discussed on several occasions, it is our intention to work with your department to ensure our operations are professional and of the highest quality. However, the Directors of Osborne House will not override the bylaws and breach our duties as Directors, even if we have been ordered to do so by a Minister of the Manitoba government. 

In accordance with our authority granted in our bylaws, we have given the ten day notice to our Directors. We are unable to fulfill your order to provide a Resolution of the Board of Directors without a duly constituted Directors meeting. 
Meeting of September 20, 2013 

Based on a preliminary review of the minutes of this meeting, we wish to advise that we do not accept these minutes to be a true and accurate record of the meeting. The minutes are incomplete and misleading. We had five (5) members attend the meeting and we will meet to thoroughly review your minutes. This problem would have been avoided if Ms Bertrand had allowed our Board to record the meeting. The Minister would then have an indisputable depiction of what occurred. 
We wish to have a meeting with Ms Bertrand and Ms Ellard as well as the person who recorded the minutes to correct the record. 

Osborne House’s Action Plan - Rejected 

We are extremely disappointed that our action plan was rejected without discussion. At the meeting on September 20, 2013, we were told to prepare an action plan based on the letter provided by Minister Howard. Our action plan followed the Minster’s concerns as outlined in her letter and dealt with each one. It appears that you rejected our action plan because we did not address specific issues from the two reports. At no time were we instructed to prepare an action plan using the two reports as a guideline. If this was your expectation, it was clear that this was not conveyed to us. The five Board members at the meeting all agree that we took the approach provided by Ms Bertrand and Ms Ellard. The minutes do not reflect their instruction. 

We were told that your department was “a willing partner”. We provided our action plan with the assumption that we would receive feedback and then together we would approve the action plan. This clearly has not happened. We believe that we were purposely misled at the meeting on September 20, 2013.

Government’s Action Plans - Deficiency 

Osborne House’s sole concern is the health and safety of our vulnerable women and children. We understood that was the sole concern of your office as well. 
Four key concerns about the safety of our clients, two of which were outlined in your letter and that we included in our action plan, were completely ignored by your consultants in their action plans. Please advise why these issues are not addressed in the action plan prepared by your consultants: 

1. Documentation on one client file of possible child abuse, but no evidence of any follow-up documentation that the abuse had been reported. 

We requested the file details so we could follow-up and find out what happened. This is very disturbing that a staff member would not report possible child abuse. Children are our most cherished clients. 
No response was received from you. 

2. Response to safety concerns identified in recommendation 13 of the Workplace Assessment. 

This potential safety concern is readily fixed. No response was received by you that this would be fixed. 
3. Safety for clients (Cam Hill report): “staff referred to an occasion when a client was found to have a knife in the residence yet no legal action was taken.” 

We are aware of one incident when a knife was found in a trash can. It was reported to the Winnipeg Police Service. We need the details of the incident reported in the Hill report as it appears to be different. We need the name of the staff member who reported this to Hill in order to determine why the staff member did not report it either to management or the police. 

4. Staff referred to the smoking area having been moved outside. 

Hill suggests that we did not address this issue. We clearly stated in our plan that a safe smoking room should be built so that second hand smoke would not impact the women, children, or staff in the shelter. We find her silence on our response to be peculiar. 

Hill Report 

This report appears to be biased in every way. The contents of the report are inflammatory as opposed to helpful. The statement made by Cam Hill about our CEO having stopped the process is completely untrue. It is Cam Hill who stopped the process. Enclosed is the e-mail thread confirming this. 

We have documented evidence that the Minister’s office conspired with CUPE in the planning of this report. Based on this documented evidence, we conclude that the 
report is biased. We have hired an independent consultant to conduct staff interviews. Our objective is to have a report that we can use to properly assess the issues within our workplace and solve the issues. 

We will deal with our staff issues, but it will take time to deal with staff members who refuse to co-operate with management or other staff members. When one staff member throws a chair at another staff or a staff member illegally obtains information from confidential client files and gives them to a third party, we know we have staff problems. 

We presented the government’s action plans to one of our staff committees yesterday. They have advised that they are concerned the timelines and expectations for employees in the government action plans as proposed will negatively impact their family life and ability to do their work. Some staff members are devastated and have a feeling of worthlessness after reading the report by Hill. They believe the report is inaccurate and biased reflecting the thoughts of a minority of the staff. We cannot use this report as a plan of action as it is not accepted by our entire staff. We enclose a letter from our staff written to the Minister in support of Osborne House. 

Safety Concerns 

The Minister has stated numerous times that her only concern is the health and safety of our clients. 
There was an inspection conducted recently and the preliminary comments from the contractor hired by Manitoba Housing suggest that none of the fire dampers are functional. In other words, the building is a fire trap. Manitoba Housing has not reported if any action will be taken. We believe this to be the only imminent danger to our clients and staff. Please advise why this was not included in your action plan. 
The circulation of confidential information of 19 clients by dissident staff to the local CUPE office created a serious compromise to the safety of the clients identifiable in that concocted document. Yet your staff disregarded our concerns, shrugged it off by telling our management the clients of Osborne House are not “vulnerable people”, and then cited the document as justifiable cause for the client file review. Please explain what investigation your office has undertaken into this breach of our clients’ privacy and the complicity of your staff in this leak. 

Criminal and Abuse Registry Checks 
31 employees have provided us with their current Criminal Record Check. 
33 employees have provided us with their current Child Abuse Registry Check. 
5 employees have provided us with their current Adult Abuse Registry Check. Admittedly, there had been a miscommunication to staff about this Check and staff are quickly applying for this Check now. 

Employees who have not yet provided their Checks or proof of application for said Checks are having memos issued to them as reminders with a deadline in place. Staff had been told to provide their Criminal Record and Child Abuse Checks by September 1, 2013 and several have not even applied yet. Since the Minister believes that these Checks are essential to ensure the “health and safety” of our clients, we will provide an ultimatum from the Minister to these employees. 

Winnipeg Police Service has advised that there have been no changes in policies or practices with respect to utilizing Osborne House as a shelter for the women and children they bring to our facility. We conclude since there have been no changes in their practices, Osborne House is still considered a safe place for these vulnerable women and children. 

We note despite the concerns of the “health and safety” of our clients, none of the reports include interviews with our clients. None of the reports have any evidence of the safety of our clients being compromised. It is disturbing that none of the concerns for health and safety has come from our clients, only disgruntled staff members. Our co-operative staff members are prepared to dispute most of the claims in the Hill report. 

The Board stands by our mission statement. We conduct the affairs of our great organization with the “health and safety for clients” as top priority. 

“The organization is a shelter that provides a secure and supportive environment for women and their children who are or have been victims of domestic violence. Through the provision of quality residential services and outreach programs, women are supported in making informed choices for their well-being.” 

Our mission has been made more difficult as a result of the chronic and ongoing under-funding from the Province. Winnipeg Harvest provides us over five tons of food per year. Without their kind and generous support, we would be unable to offer the “quality residential services” that we are proud to offer our clients. 
It is becoming clear to Osborne House that the Minister’s office has carefully constructed a scheme to discredit the staff and Board of Osborne House. This includes the weight given to an illegally composed statistical chart where data was cherry-picked to portray our counselling as being deficient, and the added fiction that our Service Purchase Agreement outlines some sort of minimum “required” counselling when there is no such provision in the voluntary system your department designed for us to follow. 

It appears that your actions echo the sentiments of Minister Robinson that we are ignorant “do good white people” and, to quote Nahanni Fontaine, that we are “stupid.” We are neither and we will defend the reputation of Osborne House, our staff, and our Board. We intend to simply use the facts, documents, and recorded comments from meetings to show Manitobans what has transpired. 
On September 25, 2013, the Manitoba Ombudsman upheld the complaint of our CEO that the government illegally used FIPPA legislation to try to hide Minister Robinson's racist comments, and that Nahanni Fontaine illegally disclosed Barbara Judt's personal information in smearing our CEO and agency to one of your appointees, Leslie Spillett. The links between Fontaine and her racist rants against all of us, and Ms Bertrand, Ms Ellard, and Beth Ulrich of Status of Women, are proven by emails between them in our possession. Your department has been infected by these racist attitudes and you have taken no action to quarantine or investigate this bias in their subsequent advice or work. 

Once again your staff is trying to undermine our Board who have fed inaccurate and one-sided information about our operations and qualifications to a reporter at CBC for a drive-by story slated for the Friday dinnertime newscasts. We are not fooled by this tactic and will not be intimidated by their unethical conduct. 

It appears that your actions have already rendered a victim. Our CEO has advised us that she requires a medical leave to address ongoing health issues. At our duly convened meeting next week, the Board will constitute a management committee of two staff members and a Board member to oversee day-to-day operation until our CEO is able to return to work. 

We will respond once we are able to conduct a proper meeting which is duly constituted under our bylaws. 

We are still waiting for a response from you regarding our repeated requests to meet as outlined in section 15 of our Service Purchase Agreement. 

In closing, we have been advised by a CUPE member, along with a provincial employee, that a new Board is “waiting in the wings” to replace the current Board along with an administrator. We would appreciate a response from you on this along with the other points made in our letter so that we can provide a proper response to our staff. 

Osborne House Inc Board of Directors 
cc Minister Jennifer Howard 
Marlene Bertrand 
Leanne Ellard 
Jeff Rath


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