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‘It’s nice to put it behind us,’ says Green Party leader Elizabeth May after being cleared on harassment allegations

By Shruti Shekar      

'It’s really important for a political party to have a rigorous system in place' to deal with harassment allegations, says Ms. May.

An independent investigation of Green Party leader Elizabeth May has cleared her of all allegations of workplace harassment that were made by three former party employees. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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Green Party leader Elizabeth May says she is “pleased” after bring cleared by an investigation into workplace harassment allegations, and that the party could put the controversy behind it.

“To have the investigator find that the complaints were without any merit whatsoever, that is nice to put it behind us so it doesn’t float out there,” Ms. May said in an interview with The Hill Times.

The Green Party released a two-page summary today of the now-concluded independent investigation into her behaviour by Sheila Block of Torys LLP, which cleared her of all allegations of workplace harassment, and concluded that all allegations by three former party employees “do not constitute workplace harassment.”

Ms. May said that the result of the report, and the fact that the summary was made public, shows that “anyone can see it and…that transparency would help in other cases that are currently swirling around this place.”

Investigations into the behaviour of NDP MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan, Sask.) began in February after NDP MP Christine Moore alleged him of harassment of female staffers. The investigation resulted in finding Mr. Weir guilty of three claims of sexual harassment and one claim of harassment. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh dismissed Mr. Weir from his caucus after he Mr. Weir publicly criticized the investigation.

Shortly after the announcement, Ms. Moore (Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Que.) was accused of sexually harassing a former military veteran who appeared in front of a committee. The NDP is investigating that allegation now, and suspended Ms. Moore from party duties.

“It shows that it’s really important for a political party to have a rigorous system in place,” said Ms. May. “I think what we did here was the appropriate response, even though it was the leader who was being accused, even though the accusations were baseless, you can’t just walk away from it. You need to give the public the assurance that you take it seriously.”

The Green Party did not release the full report, which included a line from Ms. Block recommending that it not do so, because the report contained private information related to the complainants other people she interviewed, as well as legal advice.

‘I knew this would be the result’: complainant

The Green Party of Canada retained Ms. Block to investigate the harassment allegations at the end of January after Rob Rainer, a former interim executive director of the party in 2014, Vanessa Brustolin, former party organizer for Ontario and Manitoba last year, and Diana Nunes, former Green Party finance director, alleged that Ms. May had been verbally abusive and created a hostile work environment, in interviews with The Hill Times and The Toronto Star in early January.

Ms. May has disputed those allegations.

The two-page executive summary of Ms. Block’s report, released on May 10, said only Ms. Nunes and Mr. Rainer were interviewed as part of the investigation, and noted “Ms. Brustolin declined to meet with us.”

The report said Ms. Block gathered “relevant evidence” and “considered it in context and in light of the relevant legal standard for finding workplace harassment under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

Ms. Block also interviewed Ms. May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.), who has led the federal party since 2006 and has been an MP since 2011.

“In our opinion, their allegations, if accepted as true, do not rise to the level of workplace harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” the report said.

In an emailed response, Ms. Brustolin said she did not participate in the investigation because “I know this would be the result.”

“The Green Party would never have commissioned a report, which would have been unfavourable of Elizabeth May,” Ms. Brustolin said. “The Green Party of Canada is Elizabeth May.”

She said the investigation was flawed because Ms. May had participated in retaining Ms. Block.

“It was made clear through the Party’s president’s initial email to us that [Ms. May] was very much involved with selecting the lawyer and setting the scope of the investigation. A scope, which clearly did not include other complainants,” Ms. Brustolin said.

That email exchange between current Green Party president Ken Melamed and Ms. Brustolin, showed that Ms. May was involved in hiring Ms. Block.

Mr. Melamed had said he overheard Ms. May speak with Ms. Block.

“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 had written in the email to Ms. Brustolin.

At that time, Ms. Brustolin told The Hill Times she had not yet refused to participate in the investigation.

Ms. May said on May 10 that she had no contact “in any shape or form” with Ms. Block or discussed the content of the investigation with investigators.

“I did not know them. I did not meet Ms. Block until I went into her office in Toronto to be questioned,” Ms. May said.

Ms. Block investigated Ms. Brustolin’s allegations by examining relevant documents, including emails, and interviewing others, the report said.

“Ms. Brustolin was not made a permanent employee at the end of her probationary period at the GPC, and our review of documents from the period showed that there was tension between her and her direct supervisor (who was not Ms. May),” the report said.

In the May 10 email, Ms. Brustolin said it was clear other complainants were not interviewed when they could have provided context.

“A number of interviewees—including complainants and third parties—appeared to believe that our mandate was broader,” the report said. “They assumed that it included looking into disputes that had arisen at the GPC during the relevant period.

“While information about these disputes provided context that helped us understand the relevant relationships, we were not asked to, and did not, investigate these matters,” the report said.

In December and January, The Hill Times conducted interviews with 10 former and current employees of the party who said Ms. May has not been held accountable for alleged verbal abuse that included belittling comments and angry outbursts, which occurred during conference calls and at one staff retreat. Seven of those interviewed felt she needed to step down as leader.

The remaining four who spoke to The Hill Times have not agreed to have their names published, and weren’t quoted in The Hill Times‘ story.

Mr. Rainer said he was fired six months after he started his job.

In the report, Mr. Rainer made nine allegations of workplace harassment against Ms. May; seven related to what he said were cases of Ms May harassing him.

“We carefully considered those allegations in the context of the tense relationship between Mr. Rainer and Ms. May. It is clear to us that Mr. Rainer and Ms. May do not like each other, an did not work well together,” the report said, adding that the instances Mr. Rainer mentioned were instances of interactions with coworkers that did not get along.

“People can and do have different expectations and views with respect to a person’s job performance, but criticisms directed at a person’s job performance do not meet the legal standard that is the focus of our investigation,” it said.

Mr. Rainer had told The Hill Times that during conference calls Ms. May would lose her temper, belittle people, and one time yelled “fuck” at one of the organizers and was “furious” with them.

Ms. May admitted to yelling at an employee during a conference call once and said she had apologized within 30 seconds, calling her behaviour “out of character.”

Shortly after the accusers came out, Ms. Nunes told The Hill Times that she did not want to “bring down Elizabeth or replace her as leader,” but wanted abuse by people in power to stop and wanted “her held accountable.”

The report said Ms. Nunes “did not have specific allegations of harassment against Ms. May,” but that she had “concerns” about the way Ms. May behaved with employees and the administration of the GPC in general.

“Both these issues fall outside of our mandate. Nonetheless, we considered Ms. Nunes’ specific complaints about Ms. May’s treatment of others. In our opinion, even if we accept them as accurate, none of them constitute workplace harassment,” the report said.

sshekar@hilltimes.com

@shruti_shekar

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