An open letter to Boris Martin, CEO, Engineers Without Borders Canada
Boris Martin, as you might know, Chelsey Rhodes, a former Fellow with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Malawi between 2011 and 2012, has reported serious concerns about her experience with EWB and alleged that she experienced and witnessed harassment from EWB employees, events of verbal but also sexual nature. She also reported she was retaliated against for reporting racism in the organization.
An initial investigation was completed several years ago, by a person with long term ties to the management which concluded they found no evidence of harassment, without the report or findings ever being released to her or her questions as to why the people she reported were not all investigated.
In fact she has implicated you as being a perpetrator in an event of retaliation. She has continuously pointed to the fact that she had not been questioned during this investigation. After she continued to manifest her concerns EWB decided to settle the matter under a non disclosure agreement that prevented her from further talking about her experience.
Events such as these, in order to restore confidence, need not only be settled in a manner that is legal, but most importantly in a manner that appears to be just in the opinion of the whole community.
Having brought the issue to him, the Chair of the Board of directors, Cameron Charlebois, responsible for handling the response to this situation, said to me on multiple occasions that he was completely open to an investigation, but he also insisted that it was impossible to investigate an event that had occurred seven years ago and that there was nothing that could be investigated at all. He seemed to imply that there should be a detailed plan for investigating these claims before an investigation was to be considered.
If every survivor had to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that what they experienced was indeed harassment and that they had to present the detailed manner in which their case would have to be investigated before discussions of an investigation happened, there would be scant prospects for justice. There isn’t a double standard by which some survivors are to be believed and others subjected to defamation and intense scrutiny grounded in skepticism.
Therefore I call for you to do the right thing and concede that this matter be investigated by an independent third party with expertise and a proven track record in dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. These issues are current, not historical, as multiple people have come forward with their stories. The issues seem systemic and organizational and require proper attention.
Also, the idea that such an investigator would not be a male seems fitting and excellent as persons who preponderantly experience these issues are more likely to have a deeper understanding of them, furthermore this provides a measure of safety for any complainant to come forward as opposed to dealing exclusively with males.
I stand by Chelsey Rhodes and support her and the claims she makes.
Boris Martin, I’ve sent you an open letter about the mishandling of the harassment case of Chelsey Rhodes and you have neither reached out to me nor signified your intent to do so. Since then I found that your Director of Community, Prateek Suman Awasthi, part of the Senior management of Engineers Without Borders Canada has told me numerous lies about Chelsey, to which he later admitted having no basis but hearsay, he lied in saying she had been reached to by Cameron and Coleen and that she refused to speak to them and also lied in saying that Chelsey had filed lawsuits (plural) against EWB. The context of these statements was when I was asking why EWB was not proceeding with an independent investigation from a qualified external person with no ties to the board or management. This lie was damaging to the character of Chelsey and exemplified a bad faith from her part that was nonexistent. This behaviour is unacceptable; EWB cannot lie about the actions of survivors seeking justice in an effort to deflect accountability. Boris, you are ultimately responsible for the actions of your executive. I know I am you asking tough questions, but this is a failure and admitting failure is a necessary part of any process. I demand you publicly apologize to Chelsey for this spreading of false rumours about her by EWB and also contact me as soon as possible so that we may work together in correcting the handling of this situation.
– Johnny Youness