Africa Centre executive director sacked amid allegations of sexual harassment

The executive director of the Africa Centre has been fired amid allegations of abuse and sexual harassment, CBC news had learned.

'As a board, we took our time and we deliberated for a very long time'

Tesfaye Ayalew has been removed as executive director two months after he was accused of sexual harassment. (Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations)

The executive director of the Africa Centre has been fired amid allegations of abuse and sexual harassment, CBC News has learned.

Tesfaye Ayalew was accused of sexual misconduct by a staff member and three other women in January.

On Monday, chair John Gaye said the board of directors voted unanimously on March 15 to terminate Ayalew "without cause" as the Africa Centre implements new policy to prevent workplace abuse.

Ayalew's termination came on the same day the board received an interim report from a third-party investigator looking into the allegations. Gaye declined to elaborate on the report for legal reasons until the full report is released later this week.

"This has been a really difficult time for the entire community," said Gaye. "As a board, we took our time and we deliberated for a very long time before coming up with this decision.

"And we do support the right of women to come out and express any form of harassment against them."

The board launched the investigation in January after receiving a resignation letter from an employee accusing Ayalew of sexual harassment and abuse.

Ayalew, who was put on paid administrative leave, has denied the allegations.

New workplace harassment policy

Members of Black Women United YEG, who called for the board to terminate Ayalew at a #Metoo rally earlier this month, welcomed the decision.

"The message that it sends is that they recognize that there is a huge problem," said Yodit Tesfamicael, an organizer with Black Women United. "It also sends a strong message that they're listening — that people are saying that this is not OK and that things do need to change."

It's not the only change at the centre. Gaye said a new policy being implemented will give staff "the opportunity to report any form of abuse immediately and steps will be taken to deal with it right away, so that it doesn't build up like the current situation that we have now."

He said the policy will ensure complainants coming forward "will not do so in fear of losing employment" and will protect everyone's rights throughout the process.

More changes needed

But Tesfamicael said more work needs to be done. Among the changes, her group called for an open and transparent competition to hire a new female executive director of African descent.

They also urged the board to establish a transparent recruitment process for board members and implement procedures and grievance policies that adhere to labour standards "so women can feel safe to report harassment" and individuals are held accountable.

"This wasn't the first time, it had happened in the past — so someone must have known," said Tesfamicael.
Members of Black Women United YEG called for Tesfaye Ayalew's resignation at a recent rally. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

She commended the women who came forward for sharing something so personal publicly, when their professions were at stake, and for putting their community first.

"Because they knew other women might be subject to this type of harassment or abuse. And they knew that it had to stop," she said.

The upheaval also prompted the Africa Centre to put celebrations of International Women's Day on hold. But Gaye said there are plans to mark the achievements and contributions of local women in the coming weeks.

All programs and services are still running, he said. That includes the $25 daycare program run as a pilot project in partnership with the province and a youth employment program known as Boost.

Boost prepares young people to enter the job market through in-class instruction, connections to employers and support during the three months of employment, he said.

Diane Conway will continue as acting executive director until further notice, Gaye said.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

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Andrea Huncar

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Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing, courts and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca