Former security guard at northern Manitoba Hydro site says he saw sexual harassment, substance abuse

A former security guard on a Manitoba Hydro northern work site says he quit after witnessing sexual harassment and drug and alcohol use at the Keewatinohk camp in 2015.

Aidan Burns, who worked near Gillam in 2015, says other security staff told him concerns had been brushed off

Aidan Burns says he quit his security job at a Manitoba Hydro site after just one 21-day rotation because of the drug and alcohol abuse and sexual harassment he saw. (CBC)

A former security guard on a northern Manitoba Hydro work site says he lasted one 21-day rotation before quitting, after seeing alcohol being smuggled in and drugs out in the open, and witnessing sexual harassment first-hand.

Aidan Burns said he was hired by Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, in 2015 to work security at the Keewatinohk camp near Gillam, Man., which is about 740 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

He says he was shocked by what he witnessed at the camp, recalling one particular instance of sexual harassment.

"It had just freshly snowed. [The] security manager went outside, he collected some snow … walked inside, pulled the female employee's shirt forward, put it down her shirt," he recalled.

"[He] instantly pulled her shirt back and grabbed it and said, 'I'll get that out of there,'" Burns said.

"You could tell she was not OK with that."

I just knew this wasn't going to work out. I aspired to be a cop and I didn't want anything to do with that kind of stuff.- Aidan Burns

Burns said he talked to other security staff about the incident and said they told him their concerns had been brushed off in the past.

"They also felt if they did bring these things up they would lose their job," he said.

He said he felt compelled to share his experience after the release of a report by the Clean Environment Commission, an arm's-length provincial agency that was tasked with studying the social impact of hydro development past and present on surrounding communities.

That report detailed incidents of racism and sexual assault at Manitoba Hydro work sites in northern Manitoba.

Its findings prompted the province to ask the RCMP to investigate allegations of sexual assault of First Nations women by Hydro workers dating back to the 1960s.

"My wife is Aboriginal, she works at a school on a reserve, my kids are part Aboriginal," Burns said.

While he said he didn't see instances of racism first-hand, he said he felt Sodexo could have made more effort to hire Indigenous people.

Told to ignore drugs, alcohol

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said Sodexo is contracted to provide catering, housekeeping and security services at both its Keewatinohk and Keeyask sites.

He said Hydro policy allows workers to consume three alcoholic beverages while off-duty at the camp lounge.

"Workers found under the influence of alcohol or drugs on the job site itself are suspended immediately and evicted from camp for one year," Powell said in an email.

Burns said he confiscated alcohol from workers while searching vehicles as they entered camp and that he saw loud parties where people where openly drinking.

He said he was instructed to turn a blind eye to drugs and alcohol.

"One day I had found a large Mason jar that was full of marijuana buds, so I took that and I took it back to the office," he said.

"The manager said, quote 'You know, just go put it back. Let's just leave it — that's the only thing that keeps these people calm.'

"Straight away, then, I just knew this wasn't going to work out. I aspired to be a cop and I didn't want anything to do with that kind of stuff."

'Strict site polices': Hydro

Powell said Manitoba Hydro has no knowledge of these allegations and says the Crown corporation encourages anyone who witnesses criminal activity to contact RCMP.

"As we have stated repeatedly we take all allegations as very serious matters, as they would contravene our strict site polices," he said.

"We work extremely hard to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all."

A spokesperson for Sodexo said in an email the company is fully committed to a safe and secure workplace and does not respond to hearsay.