KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Sue Uteck and Dawn Sloan are calling for a public inquiry into bullying, harassment and racism at the HRM workplace.
The two former Halifax councillors joined their colleague Jackie Barkhouse, who spoke out earlier, for an impromptu press conference at the Grand Parade in front of City Hall late this afternoon.
Also there was Liane Tessier, the Halifax firefighter who suffered sexist abuse and had to fight for justice for twelve years before receiving a formal apology from the city. Tessier and Barkhouse are the founders of Equity Watch, the organization that fights workplace bullying and that has also called for a public inquiry.
“If you look at past practices at HRM, there was a culture of entitlement within senior management, and that started from the very top,” says Uteck.
“In the instances that I remember, like in the case of Liane, women suffered terribly and there was no consequence. So what, just take us to the Human Rights Commission, we’ll just pay the maximum amount, and it will go away,” Uteck says.
“We have some wonderful people work for HRM. Unfortunately some of them left because of issues that had to do with management, bullying and racism,” says Sloan. “When at Council we all heard stories of bullying and racism. Council has to stop being mushrooms.”
“There was a lot that was held from us. There was a real culture of fear. Staff were not allowed to approach councillors. When I think back I believe I should have done more,” Uteck says.
The three former councillors say they want to see an enquiry that is public, not a report by a consultant who reports to Halifax CAO Jacques Dubé. They all agree that bullying and racism are indeed pervasive at HRM, and are not a matter of some individual cases, as suggested earlier by Halifax Dubé. It happens everywhere, they say, Halifax Fire, Halifax Transit, Public Works, Planning….
The women, who all served until the 2012 election, say they themselves were often subjected to sexist behaviour by fellow councillors, some of whom are still around. Uteck mentions frequent snickering while she would address council, and remembers calling out these fellow (male) councillors on that behaviour.
“We are asking councillors and the mayor to support an independent inquiry. That’s the only way to get to the root and to have any success on a go forward basis,” says Barkhouse. “An external consultant is absolutely not adequate. It needs to be done outside of HRM.”
“The fact that these former councillors now have come out in support of workers and seeking a better and safer workplace in HRM is incredible. I am really thankful that they are bold enough to do this,” she adds.
Dawn Sloan has some further thoughts on why CAO Dubé should not be in charge of any kind of investigation of abuse and harassment at the workplace. Not that long ago Dubé apologized to all staff after it became known that he had sent a female employee scary and weird messages.
“I have no faith in mr. Dubé’s judgement calls, after what he did to one of his employees. Simple as that,” says Sloan.
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