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Email exchange shows Green leader May involved in choosing lawyer for her own investigation

By Shruti Shekar      

Former Green Party staffers say they're concerned about Green Party leader Elizabeth May's involvement in the investigation into her own conduct.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, pictured recently on the Hill.
The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

An email exchange shows Green Party leader Elizabeth May was involved in hiring the lawyer who will lead the investigation on allegations of workplace bullying against her and was involved in the process of how the investigation would be conducted.

The email obtained by The Hill Times dated Feb. 2, which is between current Green Party president Ken Melamed and one of the accusers Vanessa Brustolin, indicates Mr. Melamed overheard Ms. May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) speak with the lawyer Sheila Block of Torys LLP.

“I am not privileged to the verbatim of the conversation, but I know that Elizabeth called Ms. Block to discuss process and costs,” Mr. Melamed wrote in response to Ms. Brustolin’s question on who initiated the conversation that would detail the particulars of the investigation.

The GPC launched an investigation into the allegations and hired Ms. Block and according to Ms. May the probe will take a few weeks to complete and will be made public.

Ms. May has denied all accusations of being verbally abusive and fostering an unhealthy workplace, dismissing the claims as gripes from disgruntled former employees who are unhappy with her leadership.

Ms. May said to reporters on Jan. 29 that she asked the GPC to conduct the independent investigation. However, the three accusers have questioned the independence of the investigation into the claims saying the law firm picked to lead the probe was not mutually agreed upon.

The three former Green Party staffers, who include Ms. Brustolin, former interim-executive director Rob Rainer, and former director of finance Diana Nunes, came forward to The Hill Times and to the Toronto Star to accuse the veteran politician of being verbally abusive and creating a hostile work environment.

Four other former staffers who asked to remain anonymous came forward to The Hill Times but will not be questioned in the probe.

The original Jan. 30 email sent by Ms. Brustolin and the two other accusers listed 11 questions including: “Was Ms. May consulted about the selection of Ms. Block before Ms. Block was retained?” and “Did Ms. May participate in the decision to retain Ms. Block?”

Mr. Melamed confirmed on Feb. 2 that Ms. May was consulted.

The GPC declined to comment for this story.

Mr. Melamed’s email also indicated that the “scope of the investigation is limited, at the current time,” to the three accusers.

“Any other complaints will be directed to the party. In addition, a file will be kept of any correspondence received by myself, and the executive director. Ms. Block will conduct the investigation at her discretion,” Mr. Melamed wrote.

Ms. Brustolin said in an email that she has not refused to participate in the investigation but the response from the Green Party is “troubling, and raises concerns about Elizabeth May’s involvement.”

“There are also severe restrictions placed upon the investigator as to whom she can speak to. This affects the validity of the investigation as a whole,” Ms. Brustolin said, adding that the Green Party should reconsider their approach in conducting investigations so it is similar to the other parties.

In mid-January, former Sport and Persons with Disabilities minister Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre, Alta.) stepped down from his position when he was accused of sexual misconduct. On Feb. 1, NDP MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan, Sask.) was accused of harassing behaviour.

Cameron Ahmad, press secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), said in an email that Mr. Hehr was not involved in the process of who would be investigating him.

A statement from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Mr. Weir would be suspended from his House duties while he underwent an independent investigation.

“Both the Liberals and NDP are also using specialists in harassment allegations to conduct the investigation. This is really how it should work if the point is to determine the truth, rather than controlling the results,” Ms. Brustolin said. “I would urge the Green Party to reconsider their stance on scope and transparency, as their choices are not reflective of a Party with nothing to hide.”

The three accusers want Ms. May to be held accountable for her actions.

Ms. Nunes told The Hill Times last week that she felt Ms. May should step down “temporarily while this investigation is being undertaken to allow for the investigation to be conducted properly.”

The Toronto Star reported on Monday that Ms. May sent out a fundraising email to Green Party members asking for a donation to help cover the costs of the investigation.

“At the very time that I am pressing the council and staff to start setting aside money for the 2019 election campaign, I have asked for expenditures that will run in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Ms. May wrote in the fundraising email. “If you can manage a donation at this time, it would certainly be appreciated. I truly regret this situation and its impact on the party.”

The GPC did not provide comment on Ms. May’s fundraising emails in time for deadline.

sshekar@hilltimes.com

@shruti_shekar

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