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CBC Ottawa

KNOWING WHEN TO TALK

zabia photo.jpg

When Zabia Chamberlain first gave me a call last fall, I was skeptical. Her story sounded too unbelievable. That first conversation lasted about two hours.

Over the next six months Zabia and I would have several more lengthy conversations. I'd pore over letters, emails, reports retrieved through access to information. I'd study official government policy. I'd talk to her friends, her daughter, her brother. I'd be privy to very personal reports from her doctors and jaw dropping, sworn affidavits from colleagues.

Zabia's account of harassment inside the public service seemed like something out of a different era. Whether it was unwanted rubbing and touching or yelling, swearing or door slamming, Zabia's high-level boss was out of line. A report written by an assistant deputy minister even said so.

Government officials won't talk about Zabia's case, nor that report. They won't talk to me, but sources tell me they're talking about Zabia now, at least amongst themselves.

More than two-hundred and thirty people have commented on the cbc.ca story about harassment. Dozens of victims have contacted me personally by phone, email and post. Most note her bravery: the uncommon decision of a public servant to speak out about her federal workplace. They also detail their own abuse inside the bureaucracy.

But I want to take note of another, lower-level bureaucrat who also had the guts to speak out, to take a stand for Zabia. One sworn affidavit from a colleague at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada tells the story of one woman who tried to speak up.

This woman's desk was close to Zabia's office. She witnessed constant, loud, abusive outbursts from Zabia's boss. The witness reported the harassment Zabia was suffering and complained that it aggravated her own health problems. This witness consulted the Employee Assistance Program and officials there confirmed what she was witnessing was harassment. The witness talked to her boss and it was agreed that the woman's work station would be moved away from Zabia's office, where the abusive behaviour continued.

When this witness asked her own supervisor what could be done for Zabia, the woman was told to mind her own business. She writes, "When I mentioned it again to my director I was told if I wanted to advance in the government, I needed to know when to talk and when not to talk. I could not believe it."

It is unbelievable. Zabia had the courage to talk when others wouldn't. Let's hope government officials find a voice too. Let's hope they talk about the problems and find solutions.

 

THE CURRENT: WHEN ZABIA SINGS (DOCUMENTARY)

http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2011/05/09/workplace-harassment-zabia-chamberlain/

 

WEB STORY: ZABIA CHAMBERLAIN

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2011/05/09/ott-public-service-harassment.html

 

WEB STORY: HARASSMENT IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2011/05/10/ottawa-harassment-mobbing.html


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