(ATR) A majority of Canadian Olympic Committee staff interviewed for a report by Toronto lawyer Christine Thomlinson said they suffered or witnessed personal or sexual harassment during President Marcel Aubut's tenure.
Marcel Aubut, former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee (Getty Images)
The report triggered a Jan. 13 apology from Aubut’s successor, Tricia Smith, who vowed to accept all recommendations and make immediate change.
“The board and senior leadership team could have done more. For that I apologize. We all own this and we are truly sorry. We failed our employees,” she said.
More than 100 confidential interviews took place with COC staff, former staff and others — 170 hours over three months — by the corporate law firm Rubin Thomlinson. The full report was not released, but a summary said there exists a perception among COC staff that the board and senior leadership team were aware that harassment was happening in the workplace, “and they were unable or unwilling to take steps to address it.”
“As such, many COC staff feel that the board and the senior leadership team failed in their obligation to provide a safe environment for COC employees,” the report said.
Said Smith in a conference call with media: “We’re not getting into the details of incidents, the review was done so that we could find out the situation and move forward. That I know you would like to have details, but we promised the staff and others that when they came forward they would have the confidentiality.”
The report said certain managers and senior leadership team members admitted they had information that suggested personal or sexual harassment was happening. They admitted they either did nothing with the information, didn’t know what to do with the information, tried to minimize or mitigate the behaviour or passed the information to someone else.
Aubut's successor, Tricia Smith (COC)
“It will not be business as usual,” Smith said. “We will be holding people’s feet to the fire, everyone, myself and (CEO) Chris (Overholt) included.”
“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard, we’re the Olympic committee.”
Recommendations included a duty to report incidents, a mechanism to report complaints without having to inform the CEO or president, mandatory bullying and harassment awareness training for all staff and directors, whistle-blower protection, and the establishment of record-keeping systems.
“This report is not about Mr. Aubut, this report is a review of the staff perceptions, it’s a way to find out how staff perceive things, what is happening with staff, to take the pulse,” Smith said.
Aubut quit Oct. 3, rather than face an internal probe of the allegations. He had been accused the previous week by a female employee of the COC of harassment.
“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 behavior accordingly,” he wrote at the time.
Written by Bob Mackin
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