Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Another point about the Brazeau allegations

There's another aspect of that report from earlier today on newly designated Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, "Sexual exploitation, drinking at the office supported by Brazeau, former employee claims," that deserves some attention. Namely, the propriety of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples - or any other organization out there in the habit of doing this - in following a practice of employer imposed mediation in situations involving allegations of sexual harassment. The Globe report today, in putting forth the comments of the second employee, paints a picture of an organization whose climate is not conducive to such a workplace mediation:
"There was a lot of drinking at the office," Ms. Harper said. "Once I put my grievance in, I would get the dirty looks in the office. No one would talk to me. Patrick wouldn't ... They just totally shut the door on me completely."
Is this an environment in which an employee would feel that mediation services would be bona fide? The employer pays for it and secondly, mediation is inherently about negotiation. Sexual harassment is not exactly an issue that is suitable to mediation, particularly in a situation of unequal bargaining parties. Particularly when the first mediation apparently did little to prevent such allegations from arising a second time. It's not surprising that those making the allegations would be uncomfortable in pursuing the mediation option presented to them. Here's the description of the use of mediation by the CAP in these two instances and note that both women left the organization:
Mr. Brazeau and a majority of the congress board said this week that they hired an outside mediation firm to investigate the original complaint, and the report found Mr. Brazeau did not breach the organization's harassment policies.

When contacted yesterday about Ms. Harper's allegations, a spokesman for the congress said Ms. Harper's grievance was also taken seriously and was "resolved to the satisfaction of the board."

Spokesman Al Fleming said Ms. Harper's allegations are false. "This is viewed as a part of a purposeful and unsuccessful attempt to try to discredit the national chief," he wrote in an e-mail, which was copied to congress lawyer Michael Chambers. Mr. Fleming said that both women were offered mediation services.

"However, by the time the matter was concluded, both involved parties had left the congress as their contracts had ended, coinciding with the end of the fiscal year for which funding for their services had been provided," he wrote.
Despite the internal mediation, that original complaint of sexual harassment was taken to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. I think it's fair to say that based on what's been reported, there are legitimate questions to be raised about how these allegations were treated at CAP, under the leadership of Brazeau, the national chief of the congress. And of course, whether he's at all suited to be a Senator given these new developments.

Update (9:30 p.m.): In The House and Senate has an excellent post on Brazeau and his tenuous relationship with the aboriginal community that's a must read.