Manitoba

Man at centre of sexual harassment allegations at Canadian Museum for Human Rights resigns

The man at the centre of allegations of sexual harassment at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has resigned, CBC News has learned.

Access to Information documents shed light on incidents at museum in Winnipeg

People gather outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg in June, in solidarity with demonstrators in the United States and around the world protesting the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The man at the centre of allegations of sexual harassment at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has resigned, CBC News has learned.

The man, who worked with visitors at the national museum in Winnipeg since 2016, resigned effective Aug. 19. CBC News has learned his direct supervisor also stepped down earlier this month. 

His resignation comes less than two months after five current and former staff members came forward to CBC News alleging they had been sexually harassed by the man. 

The women alleged the employee, who worked with visitors at the museum, had grabbed and touched them, stared at their genital areas and made inappropriate comments about them and other women for years. 

After the women complained about him formally to the human resources department, he was put on paid leave and the museum hired an outside law firm to probe his conduct. He was later allowed to return to work.

CBC News has agreed not to identify those among the women who still work at the museum because they fear reprisals for speaking out, and is not naming the man they've accused, who has not been charged with any offence in connection with the allegations.

Madeleine McLeod, one of the women who alleged he harassed her, told CBC News in June a lawyer concluded the allegations were just rumours in the workplace and the women were bullying the man.

McLeod said she found the investigative process by HR at the museum degrading. 

The museum had on one other occasion hired an external law firm to probe sexual harassment allegations but told CBC that investigation did not involve the same employee. It said it followed all recommendations made in both instances.

The man at the centre of the recent allegations maintained his innocence on Thursday and denied all of them. He declined to do an interview, citing a confidentiality agreement. 

Other allegations revealed

New HR documents obtained by CBC News through a federal access to information request show that in 2018, the museum looked into five allegations of sexual harassment and determined they were unfounded. It's not clear whom the allegations were made against.

The next year, the museum looked into another allegation that was also deemed to be unfounded. However, in each of 2018 and 2019, there was one complaint of inappropriate behaviour and conduct in the workplace that was determined to be founded. 

The documents also show that in 2016, there was one founded sexual harassment complaint that led to an employee being fired. Details of the complaint are heavily redacted but show video footage was used to corroborate the incident. 

"The behaviour of [the employee] demonstrates a lack of discretion and emotional maturity. His comments were out of line and unprofessional," one document says.

"The impact of his behaviour has caused female employees to feel uncomfortable in his presence." 

Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris has been hired to probe systemic racism and other forms of discrimination at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Submitted by Laurelle Harris)

The first phase of an external review conducted by Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris, who has been hired to probe systemic racism and other forms of discrimination at the CMHR, found that "from the fall of 2016 onward, there was no indication of systemic failures on the part of the museum to investigate and act upon complaints of sexual harassment." 

Harris did, however, note that "there are indications that sexual harassment complaints made by Black women may not have been investigated or addressed adequately prior to the fall of 2016" and that "one Black woman advised that in 2014 or 2015 she had informed a person in management that she had been sexually harassed by a security guard."

The woman was told the guard had friends in "high places" and not to bother reporting it to HR, the report said, adding she didn't pursue it further. In 2018, the same guard faced several allegations of sexual harassment and was fired. 

The report also found that another woman who had a case of sexual harassment substantiated reported feeling alone, judged and unsupported by HR. She said several weeks after she made the complaint, an HR rep called her in and informed her she was found to be telling the truth.

She said she was then asked if she was sure she wanted to move forward with the complaint "because there are serious consequences for him if you do."

The report found this was a manifestation of unconscious bias because the woman was Black and the man was Caucasian. 

"She was treated as though she was responsible for her own harassment. The corollary to that treatment is the white man harassing her was not fully responsible for his actions and therefore should not have been penalized by being removed from his placement at the museum." 

Employee stalked by visitor

The Harris report also found that a Black female employee was stalked by a visitor who had a membership to the museum. It says he learned her schedule in 2015, would ask her out on dates, brought her flowers and would wait in the hall outside after her shifts. 

A manager and security guards tried to help by replacing her in the gallery she was in or by letting her know over the radio that the stalker was in the museum, but it didn't help.

John Young was the CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He resigned earlier this summer following allegations of sexual harassment and racism at the Winnipeg institution, as well as complaints that staff were forced to censor LGBT content. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The report says she reported him to another manager who was slow to act. The man was able to get a visitor's badge and get into areas of the museum not accessible to the public. 

His conduct was allowed to continue without intervention, the report says. Even when management spoke with the man and told him he could lose his membership, the stalking continued.

The report says she was told by someone in management she couldn't keep calling security as it was "misdirecting resources."

The woman says the stalking continued until 2017, when she left the museum. "The former staff member reports that no one ever walked her to her car at the end of shifts, even though she reported that the member had been waiting for her outside."

Tip of the iceberg: union

The union representing employees at the museum says it believes the Phase 1 report is just the tip of the iceberg. Twenty-five current and former employees were interviewed in less than a month for the report. 

"We represent 160 members at the museum, so if that number of allegations came forward from 25 people in that period of time, how many people did not trust the system enough to be able to step forward and speak?" said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairie region.

Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairie region, says she doesn't believe one month is enough time for the first phase of a proper probe to happen at the CMHR. (CBC)

"And so I really do truly think the problem, everything that's been experienced there is actually worse than what was reported in the review."

She said she doesn't believe one month is enough time for the first phase of a proper probe to happen.

"It's not something that you can say, 'We did a report, here's the issues, we threw a few Band-Aids on and we're all good.' This is something that needs to be front and centre. This could take years." 

Hladun said the union is still pushing for greater accountability at the museum.

"There are still some people that still need to go, that were responsible, that were not held accountable, and we believe that there needs to be a very thorough review of everyone who was in a decision-making position."

9 staffers leave CMHR since middle of June

CMHR spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry said from June 18 to Aug. 26, nine people left their employment at the national museum, including three who were in a management or executive role. The reasons for these departures included resignation, end of employment contract or layoff.

By comparison, in the same time period last year, there were 12 departures but none were in management, she said.

"For privacy reasons, we are unable to provide any further detail about the specific reasons that people left the organization. Nor are people obliged to share the reasons for resignations with the museum, so we may not even know in every case.... I would caution against making any assumptions about the recent resignations or implying reasons for them," Fitzhenry said.

A current museum employee said staff are cautiously optimistic that change will come.

"It is hopeful. There have been improvements, fast action, and it seems that now the board of directors and the CEO [are] listening to us," said the employee, whom CBC is protecting because she fears reprisals for speaking out. 

She said while staff are optimistic, they're not letting their guard down.

"There's a lot of skepticism because for all these years, nothing happened.... We had to go to the media and we had to involve a lot of people to actually have change."

Phase 2 of the external investigation is currently underway. 

The museum said mandatory sexual harassment training for all managers, staff and volunteers will be completed by the end of September.

Clarifications

  • ​​This story has been updated to reflect that the first phase of an external review being conducted by Winnipeg lawyer Laurelle Harris found that since 2016 onward, there has been no indication of systemic failures on the part of the museum to investigate and act upon complaints of sexual harassment.
    Sep 01, 2020 10:52 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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