As the lawyers like to say, I hold no particular brief for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
But I was nonetheless delighted by the result of an independent investigation into complaints that May was a workplace harasser because it is such a rare victory for adulthood.
An executive summary of the report basically says that what May’s accusers suffered was nothing more than the rough justice of the ordinary office.
Boss doesn’t much like you? Supervisor dumps on your work? Colleague is mean? People exclude you at coffee? Superior swears and is gruff?
Suck it up, buttercup, is the message here — this is what happens in the real world and it doesn’t count as workplace harassment — and well overdue it is.
The allegations — that May created a toxic work environment by yelling at staff or publicly putting them down — were first made, in the modern manner, on the pages of the Toronto Star and The Hill Times last January.
Three former employees were cited by name — Rob Rainer, who was an interim executive director of the party and made nine separate allegations of harassment, seven against him personally; Vanessa Brustolin, who was on a three-month probation as an organizer, and Diana Nunes, the party’s former finance director, who apparently made no specific allegations of harassment but rather voiced general concerns and who claimed she spoke to the press only off the record and saw her name used despite her wishes.
The party quickly hired the Toronto law firm Torys to investigate, and a trio of lawyers headed by the formidable Sheila Block did so.
Though the full report remains confidential because it contains “sensitive personal information about a number of individuals,” including the complainants, the party Thursday released the three-page executive summary.
In the fashion of such reports, the lawyers interviewed widely and gathered extensive documentation, including the complainants’ human resource files and relevant email correspondence. But their mandate was limited to investigating the allegations of bullying from the three complainants.
Interestingly, the only one who declined to meet them was the one who had been with the Green Party for what was essentially a New York minute, Brustolin, who nonetheless issued a lengthy statement of her own Thursday, saying she didn’t participate because of course the fix was in.
“The Green Party of Canada would never have commissioned a report which would have been unfavourable to Elizabeth May,” Brustolin said. “The Green Party of Canada is Elizabeth May.”
Brustolin then cast aspersions on Block’s “credentials” to understand the legal test for workplace harassment, which is “a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker.”
In other words, it’s the ruthless targeting of an employee, often with the hope that they will be driven to quit.
Block about six years ago defended the former Manitoba judge Lori Douglas at the Canadian Judicial Council, which was probing complaints against her because her late husband had taken and posted intimate pictures of her on the web without her knowledge.
The Green Party of Canada would never have commissioned a report which would have been unfavourable to Elizabeth May
Some of those very pictures were, at one hearing, rather casually displayed by a witness, with the result that they were briefly visible to the public gallery: Now, that was truly vexatious conduct, designed to drive Douglas to quit the bench, and Block saw it first-hand.
(Ultimately, that hearing fell apart in circus-like fashion, and the CJC and Douglas reached an arrangement whereby the CJC declined to proceed with a second inquiry and Douglas agreed to retire early.)
In any case, Brustolin said, nothing will deter her from her own noble goal of seeing Ontario harassment legislation rewritten such that it “cannot be whitewashed through employer-led investigations in future.”
She also noted that her own job performance was never an issue.
Indeed, Block’s report suggests the real problem was not that May ever harassed Brustolin, but that “there was tension between her and her direct supervisor,” who was not May.
As for Rainer’s multiple complaints, the report concludes, “It is clear to us that Mr. Rainer and Ms. May do not like each other, and did not work well together. Ms. May attributes that largely to Mr. Rainer’s job performance. Mr. Rainer says it was because he was willing to ‘stand up to’ Ms. May.”
Block says that for the purpose of their analysis, the lawyers accepted the complainants’ allegations as true. They also accepted that all three “feel strongly that they were mistreated.” But even if true, Block says, they don’t rise to the level for a finding of workplace harassment under the law.
Genuine workplace harassment, of course, is a terrible thing.
I’m an adult now. I’ve got the problems of an adult on my head and on my shoulders. I’m an adult now
But what happened here, and in this section Block was talking about Rainer’s allegations, was less than that. The incidents he cited were “tense interactions between coworkers who did not get along, or situations where Mr. Rainer appears to have taken questions about his job performance personally.”
Then, amid the careful lawyer’s language, came this delicious bit: “Because he saw no fault in his performance, he concluded that he was subjected to an unjustified personal attack.”
Ahhhh; he saw no fault in his performance.
Now, there’s a man who took to heart what his parents said, about being special and being anything and doing anything he wanted.
Better he should listen to The Pursuit of Happiness, that great old Canadian band, who sang circa 1986 in their big hit: “I’m an adult now. I’ve got the problems of an adult on my head and on my shoulders. I’m an adult now.”
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