Montreal

EMSB report into harassment claims reveals poisonous work environment

The report highlights shouting matches, swearing, flinging of papers, and perhaps most bizarrely, allegations of passive aggressive humming of a song from The Lion King.

CBC has obtained the full report looking into former board chair Angela Mancini's harassment allegations

The report outlines dozens of claims former English Montreal School board chair Angela Mancini made against vice-chair Joe Ortona and director-general Ann Marie Matheson. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

CBC has obtained the full 273-page report prepared by an independent consultant looking into harassment claims by the former head of the English Montreal School Board, Angela Mancini.

The report highlights shouting matches, swearing, flinging of papers, and perhaps most bizarrely, allegations of passive-aggressive humming of a song from The Lion King.

The report, prepared by independent consultant Steven Droz, reveals the two subjects of Mancini's harassment claims were the vice-chair of the EMSB, Joe Ortona, and the board's director-general, Ann Marie Matheson.

Those two weren't named in a seven-page executive summary of the report CBC obtained last month, in which Droz concluded that Mancini herself was largely to blame.

Mancini resigned as board chair earlier this month.

Droz said in the summary that Mancini had gone to great lengths to "hide, deny, misrepresent, pressure, manipulate, twist, alter and blame others for her own causal wrongdoings."

Mancini has already condemned the report as "ill-advised" and "half-baked."

Dysfunction and mistrust

CBC obtained the full report through an access-to-information request.  Droz conducted hours of interviews with Mancini, Ortona and Matheson.

This photo from a board meeting last year shows the unhappy trio of Matheson (second from left), Mancini (second from right), and Ortona (far right). (CBC)

The full report is heavily redacted and, at times, difficult to follow.

Mancini's name and some other names are blacked out, while Ortona's and Matheson's names are not. All of Droz's conclusions are blacked out.

The report goes through dozens of allegations made by Mancini, followed by Matheson's and Ortona's responses.

What emerges is a tableau of dysfunction: a series of claims and counterclaims, slights and perceived slights, and general nastiness.

"The things that have happened recently are way beyond politics. I am fearful of Ms. Matheson and Mr. Ortona," Mancini is quoted as saying at one point.

"Mr Ortona stated that [name redacted] would take whatever Ms. Matheson says and distort, lie and change it into something that suits her own narrative," the report said, presumably referring to Mancini.

"There were no holds barred in [name redacted]'s efforts to make me look bad or make me leave. It didn't matter if it hurt the board or not," Matheson is quoted as saying, again presumably referring to Mancini.

Shouting, flinging of papers

The report contains several examples of confrontations.

In one instance, Mancini alleged that Matheson "verbally agressed" her during an in-camera portion of a board meeting in August 2019.

"It was violent, hostile, yelling and threatening. Ms. Matheson crossed all boundaries," Mancini's complaint alleged.

"I thought she was going to hit me. I nearly went to file a police complaint against Ms. Matheson," Mancini continued.

Matheson admitted to Droz she lost her temper but said she never yelled, only raised her voice.

Matheson said it was the result of enduring what she called "four years of frustrating attacks" from Mancini.

"She [Matheson] admitted she told [name redacted] 'You don't deserve any respect' and 'You are the rudest person I know,'" the report said.

Mancini also accused Matheson of throwing a document at her at a meeting in 2018.

"Ms. Matheson picked up the report and flung it across my body again and it hits me in the face.  People just looked … they were upset, I could tell by their faces.  But no words were spoken," Mancini alleged.

Both Matheson and Ortona, who was also present at the meeting, called that a "complete fabrication."

The Lion King

Perhaps the most bizarre allegation Mancini made is that Matheson and some of her underlings repeatedly harassed her by singing a song from the movie The Lion King.

Mancini claimed that during a management Christmas party in 2018, some of Matheson's staff began singing Circle of Life.

One of Mancini's allegations was that Matheson and her staff harassed her by repeatedly humming a song from the movie The Lion King. (Disney)

"The singing of the song represented a victory over myself and [name redacted].  Ms. Matheson and [name redacted] then began to laugh, stating: 'It is an inside joke,'" Mancini's complaint said.

The report said Mancini felt the song was an attempt to rub in her face recent professional successes by Ortona and Matheson.

Matheson denied that.

"When pressed, Ms. Matheson stated that they do not actually sing, but rather briefly hum, for no more than five seconds, the opening chants to the title song Circle of Life at the start of the Lion King movie whereby all the animals are called to witness the birth of 'Baby Simba' (the lion cub)," the report said.

"She added that eventually 'Rafiki' (the mandrill) holds up and presents baby Simba on top of the mountain, and the inside joke was that these characters represented [name redacted] and Mr. Ortona respectively," the report continued.

The song clearly rankled Mancini.

"When I briefly summarized Ms. Matheson's explanation, [name redacted] stated that the song was absolutely about her [name redacted] and Mr. Ortona being presented as the future king of the EMSB due to Ms. Matheson's ongoing collusion with him and others," the report said.

"She adamantly stated that 'This is an abuse of power beyond anything I have seen,'" the report continued.

Indeed The Lion King song was on the agenda of an in-camera portion of a board meeting two months later, when Mancini again requested the singing stop.

Mancini regretted complaint

The report also shows that Mancini, despite having initiated the complaint, was growing frustrated with the investigation.

"It should be noted that [name redacted], in a fairly strong tone and with a clearly dissatisfied facial expression, objected to my line of questioning and stated that she had felt uneasy and under attack by me for some time," Droz said.

"She added that she did not appreciate being treated in this manner, being forced to relive these matters and if she had known this was going to be the result, she would never have filed her complaint,"  he continued.

The EMSB has been under trusteeship since November after a 10-month government probe found irregularities in the awarding of contracts, and issues with the board's management and human resources, as well as the "excessive politicization of decision-making."

One of Droz's recommendations contained in his executive summary was that Mancini and any of her supporters be banned for life from running in future board elections.

After Mancini resigned, the trustee Marlene Jennings named Ortona interim chair until the fall election.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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