Return of Norman Hardie wines to LCBO makes accuser feel like her 'experience didn't matter'
Ontario restocked the products 6 months after Hardie was accused of widespread sexual misconduct
One of Norman Hardie's accusers is speaking out against the Liquor Control Board of Ontario for restocking the winemaker's products six months after he was accused of widespread sexual misconduct.
"For me personally, it felt as if my experience didn't matter. It felt like a government agency didn't really care about mine or others' experiences," Heather Bruce told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"It felt like behaviour that's really troubling was being given a platform again and almost being rewarded."
In June, the Globe and Mail published an investigation alleging a "pattern of alleged sexual advances and sexual harassment" against Hardie, a winery and vineyard founder who has been credited with putting Prince Edward County, Ont., on the map as a Canadian wine destination.
Three women, including Bruce, told the Globe that Hardie made unwanted sexual contact with them, while 18 other people made allegations of sexual harassment by the winemaker.
CBC News has not independently verified the claims. As It Happens spoke to a friend of Bruce's and one of her former colleagues, both of whom corroborated that she'd previously confided in them about Hardie's behaviour.
Hardie has denied touching Bruce or anyone else against their will, but said in an emailed statement to As It Happens that some of his comments toward her "crossed the line."
He added that an "independent" review of his company "did not find any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace."
"Over the last year, I have done a lot of very frank, uncomfortable self-reflection about my actions and in particular how I spoke to and interacted with women," Hardie said.
"I am working extremely hard and am committed to becoming a better person, realizing I still have a long way to go. My attempt to keep the winery and its jobs alive does not mean I am finished this work."
In an unsigned email, an LCBO spokesperson said: "We are leaving the choice to purchase Norman Hardie products in the hands of our customers and will not be commenting further."
'His influence is really, really huge'
Before she ever worked for Hardie, Bruce said she volunteered at his annual harvest in the fall of 2014. During a staff party, she says he repeatedly asked her to have sex with him.
She said she brushed off his advances and he apologized the next day.
In 2015, Bruce was in her mid-twenties when she began working for Hardie's winery. She says he would often make inappropriate comments about her appearance and sex life.
She describes two subsequent instances of unwanted touching.
During the October 2016 harvest, she alleges he grabbed her breasts.
Later in the summer of 2017, she recalls that during a party celebrating the anniversary of the winery, Hardie grabbed her buttocks as she made her goodbyes. She was no longer working for him at that time.
Bruce said she was at first hesitant to speak out against Hardie, fearing it would damage her career in the wine business.
"Norm is one of those guys that ... they have so many connections, not only in the Toronto restaurant scene or Montreal or even Ottawa, but also worldwide," she said.
"He can call a winery in South Africa or somewhere else and get you a job to work harvest and things like that. His influence is really, really huge."
She did not report to police, she said, but did confide in co-workers and friends at the time of the alleged incidents.
A former colleague of Bruce's, who worked with her at the winery in 2016, confirmed that Bruce told him about that year's groping incident immediately after it happened, and that she appeared rattled.
Another friend of Bruce's said she recounted to him what had happened to her at the anniversary party in 2017.
As It Happens is withholding both their names.
Eventually, Bruce decided to go public with her allegations to Globe reporters Ann Hui and Ivy Knight.
"It took a lot of time and a lot of reflection and a lot of struggle to be a part of the Globe and Mail article, but I was mostly inspired by the other people, women and men, that I spoke with in that time and in that struggle and I thought it was the right thing to," she said.
"The hard thing to do, but the right thing to do."
In the story's aftermath, several Canadian retailers and restaurateurs stopped selling Hardie's wines, including the LCBO and the SAQ in Quebec.
While the others have maintained their bans, the LCBO announced in December it would "begin restocking inventory in the coming weeks and leave the choices to purchase Norman Hardie products in the hands of customers."
The news hit hard for Bruce.
"It's pretty obvious from the LCBO's decision that we don't really know what the LCBO does value," she said.
"I mean, their website says [they] mandate social responsibility, but, you know, you're rewarding really troubling behaviour."
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with Heather Bruce produced by Ashley Mak.