Canadian Olympic Committee and Sexual Harassment at Work
We have all heard that saying ‘where there is smoke there is fire.’
Well there were a couple of stories this week in the media that focused on just that issue. There was a significant one in Canada and one in New Zealand. Today’s topic comes from Canada.
The Canadian example comes from the Canadian Olympic committee whose head, Marcel Aubut, first stepped down and then resigned after a complaint was received from an employee who alleged that Aubut had sexually harassed her in the workplace.
The Canadian Olympic committee received a formal complaint regarding his behavior on September 25, 2015 and they immediately retained a former Chief Justice of the Québec Superior Court to be an independent investigator into the situation.
Within days, two more allegations were received from two other women, both of whom alleged that Aubut had sexually harassed them within the workplace.
As more and more information began to trickle out it appeared that the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee brought up issues about Aubut’s behaviour dating back to September 2009.
Apparently these concerns were looked into and the information obtained was passed on to the Canadian Olympic organizing committee.
In April 2011 at an Olympic Hall of Fame weekend in Moncton, allegations were made about Aubut’s inappropriate behaviour at the event. The allegations were never filed as a formal complaint but they were of enough concern that a Canadian Olympic committee executive wrote and hand-delivered a stern letter to Aubut in June 2011 regarding his future behavior.
The letter, the contents of which were revealed to La Presse, told Aubut to stop certain behaviors immediately and indicated that the Canadian Olympic Committee had received information from other sources indicating that the events in Moncton were not an isolated incident.
He was also told to
“cease all touching, cease all kissing” and goes on to order him to “stop making sexual innuendos.”
There was also a claim that the letter contained a statement suggesting “you are to pretend that this conversation never happened, other than by changing your behaviour.”
The 67-year-old issued a statement on September 30 stating, ‘he never intended to offend or upset anyone by anything he might have said in the performance of his duties.’
In the continual evolution of this story on October 3, Aubut announced that he was stepping down and resigning as president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
At the same time as he announced his resignation about apologized for
“to those who may have been offended by his behaviour by saying I realize that my attitude could at times be perceived as questionable by some women and could have caused them to feel uncomfortable. I acknowledge this and will adjust my behaviour accordingly.”
At the same time it was announced by the Canadian Olympic Committee stating that the formal complaint filed on September 25th by a female colleague of Aubut had been withdrawn. The formal investigation had ceased, but an independent third-party process will continue based on the other outstanding complaints.
It was learned that the initial complainant of the September 25th complaint will participate in that third party investigational process.
The Canadian Olympic Committee stated “the COC has clear policies that include measures to address harassment of any kind in the workplace. Having a workplace environment that is healthy and safe for all of our employees and those attached to the Olympic movement is critical to our organization, and we will examine every possible way to improve those processes.”
From this vantage point it is clear that as far back as 2009, there were suggestions that Marcel Aubut had behaved inappropriately and the complaints were significant enough to warrant concerns being raised to the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Time will tell what the Canadian Olympic Committee did about those concerns six years ago but whatever it was, it was not sufficient for Aubut to change his behaviour. In 2011 more evidence surfaced which resulted in him receiving that sternly worded letter (which never took place?).
And here we are in 2015 with yet more allegations. This time they were in the form of a formal complaint which has resulted in the space of a few days in Aubut stepping down from his position. This was followed by his formal resignation from a position he has held for ten years.
There have been several cases in the media where it becomes easy for us to play the role of armchair quarterback and points to the organization to say “Surely you must have seen this coming?”
Without knowing the specifics of each situation, as not everything is obviously presented to us via the media, we must bite our tongues to a certain extent since we don’t know what actually happened if we weren’t actually there.
But organizations must do a better job of recognizing that when there is smoke in the workplace, there is a good chance there is fire. Rather than going back to checking their emails, they should go and take a look – just in case the place is about to go up in flames! Hoping that the smoke will just dissipate when the front door of the organization is opened, allowing a breeze to blow in (or out) is simply akin to putting your head in the sand and pretending nothing is going on.
It’s just like hearing your smoke detector going off…and pretending it’s only happening because the batteries need changing, and you’ll do it on the weekend!
After all, isn’t that what smoke detectors are for?