Head of Alberta newcomer agency under fire for social media post on face veils
'Full face covering in public is a notch too far,' Frank Bauer wrote on Facebook in 2017
The head of an Alberta organization for refugees is under fire after publicly suggesting 15 months ago that Muslim women should not fully cover their faces in public.
Frank Bauer, executive director of the Red Deer-based Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) since 2013, made the comment in a social media post on Oct. 20, 2017.
"I am a strong advocate for being welcoming, inclusive and respecting all cultures and religions, however find full face covering in public a notch too far," Bauer wrote on Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership's Facebook page in a discussion about religious accommodation.
"I would not feel comfortable in conversations no matter what the topic is, and believe this is an area where newcomers need to respect and adapt themselves to the Canadian culture and norms."
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Bauer's post was deleted but CBC News recently received a copy, along with a letter of concern sent to the provincial government anonymously by some CARE staff in August 2018.
Letters with similar messages were also sent at that time to the board chairs of CARE and the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA).
"This post has deeply impacted individuals and the (morale) of the entire organization," states the letter, which was sent last August to David Eggen, the cabinet minister tasked with tackling racism in Alberta.
"The post further isolated an already vulnerable population, especially women," the letter said. "The post is in direct conflict with the mission and vision of the agency."
The letter accuses CARE's board of failing to adequately resolve the issue or follow policy after some staff filed a grievance against Bauer. It asks Eggen to step in.
"How do you rectify giving funding to an organization that has clearly racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic views that were expressed in a public forum?" the letter asks.
In an interview and email exchange with CBC, Bauer said he thought the topic of adaptation was worth an open discussion on the Facebook page at the time, but now admits he made an error.
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"What I did not adequately realize at that time was the occurrence of highly sensitive and often traumatizing experiences of women wearing face covering veils such as burka or niqab in Canada and other parts of the world where this is not default in the [religious] culture," Bauer said.
Bauer provided CBC with the Facebook thread that showed his comments in the context of a broader discussion just after Quebec passed Bill 62, which restricted face coverings. A judge suspended the legislation.
"I thought it was at that time an interesting point that was brought up worth some public discussion and adding my five cents there was received very different to what I intended it to be," said Bauer, who emigrated from the Netherlands a decade ago where face veils in public have been banned.
"That's actually one of the points where I probably learned again — that with a Dutch background, where Dutch are known to be fairly direct straightforward, that's different to the Canadian culture."
One statement, made in error
Bauer says CARE's board has adequately dealt with the matter "internally and externally" but declined to elaborate.
He said he would now feel comfortable having a conversation with a woman whose face was fully covered and maintained he is the right person to lead CARE.
"It's one statement which was made in error," he said. "I'm absolutely welcoming and inclusive to all people that come to our community"
In an email, CARE board chair Marg Marrett said the board was concerned about some of the allegations.
Sarosh Rizvi, executive director of AAISA, expressed confidence in Bauer despite disagreeing with the sentiment of his post.
"Frank is, in my experience, a very thoughtful, sympathetic, rational person so I was quite shocked by it," Rizvi said in an interview with CBC. "I don't want to take one post to undo all the positive things that he's already done."
Rizvi said apologies were sent out "in multiple ways" to staff and the community at large. He said he continues to work with Bauer to combat anti-immigration sentiment.
In a statement, the provincial government condemned racism but didn't comment on the allegations.
Brenna Ward, press secretary for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said CARE received a $100,000 grant from the province in 2016-17.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it had not been made aware of any incidents prior to CBC's inquiry but planned to meet with CARE on the matter. The department is providing $3.7 million to CARE over three years ending in 2020.
"[IRCC] works with all service provider organizations it funds to ensure that programs and services are delivered in a safe and secure environment," wrote spokesperson Nancy Caron.