Calgary

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour, harassment at Calgary homeless shelter date back more than a decade

​​More former employees at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre say they were subjected to inappropriate sexual comments, harassment, threats and bullying — some of it dating back more than 10 years.

Former executive director Dermot Baldwin accused of making sexually inappropriate comments

Dermot Baldwin, right, was executive director of the Calgary Drop-In Centre for 16 years, retiring in 2010. Here, he holds a road sign as Dermot Baldwin Way was officially unveiled on Dec. 1, 2011. (CBC)

​​More former employees at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre say they were subjected to inappropriate sexual comments, harassment, threats and bullying — some of it dating back more than 10 years. 

Julie Imbach, the former co-ordinator of volunteer services, says her career at Canada's largest homeless shelter hit a dead end after she rebuffed former executive director Dermot Baldwin's request to have sexually explicit conversations.

Imbach decided to speak out after hearing recent allegations of bullying and harassment at the shelter and wanted to express her frustration that the problems at the DI haven't been addressed and the workplace culture hasn't changed.

The DI's board of directors announced Tuesday the immediate resignation of executive director Debbie Newman, who said in a statement the workplace allegations were a distraction from her work. 

Despite Newman's resignation, the city and province are conducting their own investigations into the DI's human resources policies and procedures. The two levels of government contribute more than half of the shelter's $23-million annual operating budget.

Former executive director Dermot Baldwin denies allegations

Baldwin was the executive director of the Drop-In Centre for 16 years, retiring in 2010. The shelter is located on a street that now bears his name.

Baldwin denies the allegations and says he's never been accused of making inappropriate sexual comments.

What do you do when somebody says stuff like that about you? You deny it, but then the seeds are sown to doubt your character and your personality and your ethics.- Dermot Baldwin, who was executive director of Drop-In Centre for 16 years

"It's not in my 50-year history to have ever done that with anybody and it's simply not true. What do you do when somebody says stuff like that about you? You deny it, but then the seeds are sown to doubt your character and your personality and your ethics. And so those are sown, and so we're going to take legal action, I guess. That's the only recourse I have," said Baldwin.

'It made me feel sick to my stomach': Imbach

Imbach was hired at the Drop-In Centre in 1999. She was the co-ordinator of volunteer services in 2004 when she says Baldwin asked her sexually explicit questions and suggested that her future at the shelter would not go well if she didn't want to have those conversations.

She says it happened on three occasions: twice at the shelter and once at a restaurant where the two had dinner before an evening event for the Drop-In Centre. 

"I just realized in that moment there's nothing I had done and now my career might evaporate or change or be very different based on his whim and whether I was willing to indulge him in sexual conversations, and it made me feel sick to my stomach," said Imbach.

Julie Imbach says she left the Drop-In Centre in 2005 after she was overlooked for a promotion because she wouldn't engage in conversations of a sexual nature. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Imbach says that shortly after she refused to have those conversations with Baldwin, she was overlooked for a job at the DI that she says would have been the next step in her career.

She didn't get an interview.

When she asked Baldwin and Debbie Newman, who was then the assistant executive director and second in command at the shelter, to explain why she wasn't considered for the job, she says Baldwin told her that he liked the way the successful candidate looked, that she was more glamorous and wore lipstick every day.

Baldwin describes Imbach's appearance as 'sloppy'

When CBC News asked about those comments on Feb. 27, Baldwin described Imbach's appearance as "sloppy" and said she insisted she would not change her appearance for the DI's public and marketing events.

In the days and weeks that followed, Imbach says, she realized her career at the DI was over. She started looking for a new job. She quickly found one and gave the DI one month's notice that she was leaving.

During that time, she met with several female supervisors and managers to explain what Baldwin said to her and that she would support other women who experienced the same situation.

CBC News spoke to two women who said they recall having those conversations with Imbach and that she described the sexual harassment she experienced.

Word quickly spread, and Imbach says the Drop-In Centre's board of directors ordered Baldwin to return to Calgary from his vacation to deal with the situation. She says Baldwin was angry when he called her into his office. She says she was told to leave the shelter immediately.

'I didn't know personally what the issues were': Newman

Imbach says that while she was packing up her desk, Newman told her that she was disappointed with Imbach and surprised that she would try to tarnish the Drop-In Centre and Baldwin's reputation.

The Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre got a new address in 2011, when its access laneway was named after its long-time executive director, Dermot Baldwin. (Colin Hall/CBC )

In an interview with CBC News on Feb. 14, Newman said she had no recollection of these events described by Imbach.

"I don't remember. It was 13, if not longer, years ago," Newman said.

Newman did say she contacted Baldwin and he returned to Calgary.

"I didn't know personally what the issues were, I just knew that there was a complaint and Dermot was not here at the time. I called him, I advised him. He came back and it was left in his hands," Newman said.

Baldwin denied that he was called back to deal with the matter.

Security staff allegedly asked for sex from front-line workers

Lindsey Taylor was 20 when she was hired as an adult case worker at the Drop-In Centre. She was assigned to work on the first and second floors with some of the shelter's most difficult clients, many of whom were intoxicated.

What she didn't expect was to be sexually harassed by physically aggressive co-workers. 

I tried to leave and he grabbed my arm and he grabbed a chair and he kind of pulled me with my arm and pushed me with my shoulder onto the chair.- Lindsey Taylor, who says DI security guard asked her to perform sex act

Taylor says she decided to speak out to reveal what she calls the truth about the DI and a culture of fear that she says she experienced. 

In 2012, she received a text from a security guard at the DI who asked to meet her in the staff room on the third floor.

She says the man exposed himself to her and asked her to perform a sex act.

"I tried to leave and he grabbed my arm and he grabbed a chair and he kind of pulled me with my arm and pushed me with my shoulder onto the chair," said Taylor.

She says she got up and left the room after multiple attempts to leave.

She says this happened to her at least a dozen times over the next few months involving three different security guards in different locations within the shelter and during off-site checks.

Took months to screw up the courage to report alleged abuse

Taylor says the incidents always happened where there wasn't any video surveillance — something she says the security guards knew about.

She says some of the men were physically aggressive.

"They would be quite forceful about it, pulling my arms or pushing me or using my hair sometimes to hold me still," she said.

She says it took her at least three months to report the abuse to her immediate supervisor. She says she was naive and scared and thought no one would believe her. 

Taylor says her female supervisor was very compassionate and understanding and promised to help.

Man accused of harassment promoted

The following week, Taylor was asked to a meeting with two senior male managers to report the harassment.  She says she asked that her female supervisor be allowed to attend to support her.

Taylor says her request was denied — and she had to spend the next hour going through all of the details with the two men. 

"I remember feeling so gross, I thought I was going to vomit. I felt so uncomfortable and so unsafe. I remember feeling so bad, just wanting to get up and leave or at least have someone with me, another female," Taylor said.

Taylor says nothing changed after she reported the abuse. She was sent back to work with the same co-workers who had allegedly been harassing her.

Debbie Newman resigned as executive director of the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre on March 6, 2018, amid allegations of workplace harassment and bullying. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Taylor says one of the men was actually promoted to supervisor after she reported the abuse. Taylor says it took at least one month before she was reassigned to work on a different floor, where she wouldn't have such close contact with the security staff.

Another woman says security guard exposed himself

Another former female staff member experienced the same abuse by security staff.

She did not want her name made public because she is employed at another non-profit agency in Calgary and fears going public could jeopardize her career. 

She says a security guard exposed himself in a stairwell at the DI and asked her to perform a sex act.

She says she was regularly subjected to inappropriate, sexually-themed comments and remarks.

No knowledge of allegations involving security team: Newman

Debbie Newman told CBC last month she had no knowledge of the alleged abuse of front-line staff by members of the security team.

"I know nothing [about the incident]. I don't even know what you're talking about," said Newman.

Newman was asked whether the DI has failed the employees who have brought forward allegations of workplace harassment, abuse and bullying.

I don't think we failed them at all.- Debbie Newman, when asked whether the DI had failed the employees who brought forward allegations of workplace harassment, abuse and bullying

"I don't think we failed them at all. What I'm saying is the workplace has a responsibility, I have a responsibility to this agency, as executive director, I take responsibility for everything that happens in here. And yes, sometimes it's reflecting back on what hasn't gone right. All of the questions that have been raised have really, in my mind, made me think about what could we have done better, what could we have done better to serve our staff," said Newman. 

Newman said a number of changes were implemented during her either year tenure as executive director, including "workplace fairness" training and the hiring of an ombudsman to handle employee complaints.

"I don't want to see any staff that falls by the wayside, that doesn't get the attention that they deserve," she said.

Dermot Baldwin's son files defamation lawsuit after harassment allegations

The Calgary Drop-In Centre has come under fire since CBC News first reported allegations Feb. 5. 

Stephanie Raynor-Hohol, who was an associate director, told CBC last month that former director Steve Baldwin (Dermot's son) yelled and swore at her, slapped her buttocks and squeezed her arm during two encounters at the DI. 

Two former front-line workers at the Calgary Drop-In centre say they were asked to perform sex acts by at least three members of the security staff at the shelter. (Colin Hall/CBC )

Raynor-Hohol, who resigned from the DI in January, says she was diagnosed with PTSD. 

Steve Baldwin has filed a defamation lawsuit against her as a result of that story. 

Baldwin, through his lawyer, has also served CBC News with a notice of intention to file a statement of claim for defamation.

Meanwhile, the shelter's board of directors announced last week that it is conducting an independent "workplace culture review."


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan


About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.