KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Verbally and later sexually assaulted by the same male client, Ann McGettigan, a Continuing Care Assistant in Halifax, feels she was abandoned, first by her employer, and then by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
But Ann’s a fighter. She is refusing to drop the case, no matter the stress and no matter the hardship that entails.
“You feel let down, betrayed and hurt. I will fight for twenty years to make sure that people get justice. I know I am in it for the long haul, and that is what I am prepared for,” McGettigan says.
Among McGettigan’s home support clients was an 80-year old man, who had been engaging in truly abhorrent verbal sexual abuse for weeks. After a particularly horrendous episode on February 22, 2016, McGettigan had enough. She told him his comments were really offensive, made her very uncomfortable, and had to stop immediately. Rather than apologize, the man got very angry.
McGettigan then called her employer, Closing the Gap Healthcare Group Inc, reported the incident, and requested that she be relieved of visiting the man. In doing so she had the law to back her up, in Nova Scotia employees have the right to refuse unsafe work. But her supervisor thought otherwise, McGettigan alleges.
“My supervisor said she would have to speak to the scheduler, and reminded me of my obligation to not remove myself from the home without a supervisor or scheduler’s permission. She also said she would get back to me, but that never happened,” says McGettigan.
So McGettigan continued to visit the man in question. Then, on March 6, after a visit by his daughter, things took a really bad turn.
“During his daughter’s visit he was respectful, a totally different guy. I thought great, he is respectful now,” McGettigan says. “But within 15 minutes of his daughter leaving, I was working in the kitchen, he comes in and grabs me. I literally was in shock, I turned around and said, how could you do that? I just walked out of there.”
Then, and only then, Closing the Gap told her she no longer was expected to visit the man, McGettigan says.
A couple of weeks later, on March 15, a scheduler called her, and during the conversation it became apparent that the scheduler was not informed that she McGettigan no longer was to visit that man, contrary to assurances she had received.
That phone call triggered a full blown crisis. “I just went home,” McGettigan says, her roommate told her later that she found her sobbing, suffering a major anxiety attack. Her doctor ordered her off work.
It took McGettigan about half a year to get some semblance of mental stability back in her life, surviving on EI, a tax return, and the help of her roommate. The atmosphere was hostile when she went back to work, she says. Eventually she found a job with another homecare company.
Closing the Gap response
Closing the Gap denies much of what McGettigan relates. Connie Clerici, CEO of the company, writes in an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate that employees have express permission immediately to leave the client’s home and notify their supervisor of their concerns in these cases, and that this is part of their employee training curriculum.
Furthermore, Clerici asserts that McGettigan on February 22 did not ask to stop working at the man’s home, and told the company that things were under control. The company also alleges that when asked by a supervisor McGettigan informed them that the man had not bothered her that day.
McGettigan denies this, saying she told the company the man did not speak to her and made her feel very uncomfortable.
That McGettigan was subjected to verbal and sexual abuse by the man she looked after is undisputed. We also know that the company never talked to the abuser until the verbal abuse turned into physical abuse, weeks after McGettigan reported the initial incident. The man was wealthy, well respected, “a pillar of the community,” and McGettigan suggests that had a lot to do with it.
As well, whereas Clerici claims that a Department of Labour investigation “was dismissed on the basis that they were without merit,” McGettigan counters that an order issued under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act suggests otherwise. The letter refers to the incident, lists the civic address of the home where the offenses occurred, and orders the company to review its violence in the workplace protocols so that they align with requirements in the Act. Such orders aren’t issued without a reason.
Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission dismisses complaint
Victims of sexual abuse who feel that their human rights were not respected can turn to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for resolution. That’s what McGettigan did. However, based on the recommendation to the Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission in a rambling report, rather than offer a resolution or pursue a tribunal, McGettigan’s complaint was dismissed.
“I feel I was victimized again,” she says. In my industry we are the most compassionate people you’d ever meet, we’re out there 365 days a year, we go out in storms, and all we ask is that companies stand up and protect their staff.”
Now McGettigan is doing what former Halifax firefighter Liane Tessier did in 2014, she is taking the Commission to court. Like Tessier at the time, McGettigan’s complaint hinges mostly on sloppy and incomplete work by the Human Rights Officer.
She raises several flaws in the Human Rights Commission’s investigation report that she believes make the dismissal of her complaint unjustified.
More than anything, what makes the report problematic is that it ignores that Closing the Gap should have removed her from the home, and investigated her complaint, not in March after she was sexually abused, but on February 22, when she first reported the vulgar verbal assaults she was subjected to, McGettigan asserts. The Operational Health and Safety order is not mentioned.
McGettigan also says she wanted to pursue the mechanism of a resolution conference to reach closure, but without an explanation was denied that option. Resolution conferences are face to face meetings between the two parties, facilitated by the Human Rights Commission, allowing direct questions and challenges of any assertions made.
Instead the investigation was conducted with McGettigan frequently left in the dark as to its progress, and unable to challenge many of its findings.
Finally, McGettigan says that the authenticity of Workers’ Compensation Board incident reports that the Human RIghts Officer relies on as part of the evidence is suspect, as the reports go counter McGettigan’s recollections, and are not signed off on by her.
Over the years many issues have been raised about how the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission conducts its investigations. Firefighter Liane Tessier isn’t the only one to complain. Add to that growing group the name of Ann McGettigan.
Sometime in the next few weeks a judge of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court will issue a motion of direction to deal with the logistics of the judicial review. We’ll continue to follow her case.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. See here for the full response from Connie Clerici, CEO of Closing the Gap Healthcare Group. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission did not wish to comment as the case is before the courts.
If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. A pay wall is not an option, since it would exclude many readers who don’t have any disposable income at all. We rely entirely on one-time donations and a tiny but mighty group of dedicated monthly sustainers.