Politics

Green Party's executive director resigns after internal probe of his past conduct causes turmoil

The executive director of the Greens has resigned two days after CBC News reported the party was in turmoil over the handling of an internal investigation into Prateek Awasthi’s behaviour and harassment complaints at his past workplace.

Prateek Awasthi claims allegations against him 'while untrue, are a distraction'

Prateek Awasthi resigned from his position as the Green Party's executive director on Sunday following an internal probe into allegations about his behaviour and harassment complaints at his past workplace. (UNESCO/YouTube)

Prateek Awasthi, the executive director of the Green Party has resigned two days after CBC News reported the party was in turmoil over the handling of an internal investigation into his behaviour and harassment complaints at his past workplace.

Awasthi denied the allegations, but said regardless it had become a distraction for the party.

"I signed up to help lead this party through its transition to a new leader," Awasthi said in a statement on Sunday evening. "That goal has been accomplished and I couldn't be happier with the work of Green Party staff and volunteers."

"I recognize that allegations against me, while untrue, are a distraction to the work of the party."

The Greens hired Awasthi as the executive director in May, and within months former leader Elizabeth May launched her own internal investigation into his past after learning of allegations. 

When the party hired Awasthi, he disclosed his version of events about what unfolded at his past workplace Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Awasthi shared he was part of EWB's efforts to "disparage and ignore claims of sexual harassment and assault," according to an internal investigation report written by May and leaked to CBC News. Awasthi claimed he learned from his experience, apologized and resigned after realizing he didn't take a survivor-centric approach, according to a letter he wrote to council in July.

But Awasthi did not tell the party he'd personally faced harassment allegations, interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts said. It doesn't appear that anyone from the party verified Awasthi's version of events, according to May's report, nor did the Green Party's hiring committee share what it did know with the party's federal council. 

Roberts, who was on the hiring committee and recommended Awasthi for the role, told CBC News it was an oversight to not share what they knew to council. On Sunday, Roberts wished Awasthi luck on his next endeavour. 

"Prateek has done a great deal for the Green Party in a short period of time, building staff, putting an emphasis on diversity, ensuring we have the financial resources for the next election," said Roberts in a statement. 

Anik Lajoie, the deputy executive director, is now taking on Awasthi's duties on an interim basis. 

New leader says it's not her decision

In August, the party's federal council had voted to accept Awasthi's resignation that he suggested in July if the party didn't think he was fit to lead. However, for months the vote was under dispute, according to several federal council members. The council was divided and internally struggling with whether Awasthi should stay or go. Party president Jean-Luc Cooke resigned, a council member resigned and other grassroots members threatened to leave the party. 

The federal council held an in-camera meeting on Sunday before the party announced the decision Awasthi was resigning. After new leader Annamie Paul was appointed on Saturday, she said it wasn't her decision if he stayed or departed. She said the Greens are governed by a federal council and she only has one vote.

Newly appointed Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said wasn't her decision whether Awasthi stayed or departed. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"That's absolutely not my decision," Paul said. "Those kinds of decisions that we're accustomed to being jammed down the throats of membership in other parties, I don't have any authority to do that. And I'm happy that's the case."

On Sunday, Paul told The National's Ian Hanomansing that she cannot comment on Awasthi's resignation. Paul said she spent her first day on the job doing media interviews and said she's been isolated from the internal party operations.

Internal probe into Awasthi's past

CBC News learned a group of employees at EWB filed harassment complaints personally against Awasthi in 2019 — including claims of aggressive behaviour in meetings, talking to employees in a demeaning tone and contributing to a toxic work environment, according to two former employees with direct knowledge of the matter. 

An internal EWB investigation found no evidence of harassment as of June 2019 and added the organization's human resources department concluded there was a workplace conflict in Awasthi's team, according to internal emails viewed by CBC News.

May had conducted her own internal investigation into the matter and said she did "believe" Awasthi "bullied junior staff in the spring of 2019, but has amended his conduct and learned from his experience," she wrote in an internal email. "We, as a party, are at a perilous moment. We are on the verge of a public lynching of an innocent human being."

May told CBC News on Friday she didn't stand by those comments anymore and that the report was confidential and was never "definitive." Since then, she said the party did more investigative work and moved toward a consensus on the issue. She maintains her position has always been neutral on the issue.

In a statement to CBC News, Awasthi said he's been "open" about his "brief role in the [EWB's] response to claims that it had failed to properly address a case of sexual harassment that occurred in 2011." He said that when he learned in 2019 that information he had was in dispute, he corrected the record and apologized.

"I have every confidence in the Green Party's internal processes," he said. "I will not comment further."

EWB Canada said it had conducted a full review and two independent legal reviews confirmed its position that "EWB's duty of care was fulfilled through our mediated process."

Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May launched her own internal investigation into Awasthi after learning about the allegations. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

With files from David Thurton

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