[Originally posted on McGill EWB Chapter Facebook page, reposted with permission.]
To the Engineers Without Borders Canada Board of Directors:
Due to a series of upsetting news in relation to EWB Canada’s perpetual methods of handling sexual assault and harassment cases within your organization, the McGill Chapter has decided to boycott the Spring Leadership Retreat being held this weekend (May 4th-6th, 2019) in Ottawa, to cancel sending any funds to National Office, and to refrain from participating in the upcoming advocacy campaign.
Our understanding of EWB has always been that it is an NGO that is on a mission to make systematic change in our society. Both of us (Juliette and Aspen, Co-Presidents of the McGill Chapter) feel like we have found our voices and portions of our identities through EWB. Your organization has continually made us feel empowered to impact radical change. However, in relation to your misogynistic response to those in your organization who have had traumatic experiences tied to sexual violence and discrimination and have subsequently sought justice (but instead experienced backlash), we could not feel more disappointed and betrayed by you. What we have learned from EWB is that we cannot stand idly by when injustices are taking place, and that is the very attitude we are enacting in response to this case.
Over the past few months, we have been made aware that a survivor has been attempting to affect systemic change within EWB for over eight years after she faced abuse by her supervisor and bullying by the EWB leadership during her work in Malawi. Throughout the entirety of this instance, how EWB has and continues to handle it is a complete failure. Your first instinct was contradictory to the very nature of our organization’s supposed transparency, as you have carefully covered everything up using a non-disclosure agreement and keeping all information away from chapter members and replacing it with narratives that suited your own purposes. One of the many ways in which you have slandered the individual primarily affected by this situation is by framing them as a serial litigator and a “problem.”
The failure does not end there. Indeed, we have more recently been made aware that one of your employees has faced sexual violence accusations that remain unaddressed and have not been investigated. Other reports of harassment and bullying have not been investigated, and the people making these reports have been silenced, ignored, or pushed out of the organization. This is completely unacceptable, and frankly, illegal.
Beyond this, your organization and its Board of Directors, both of which claim to be open-minded and prepared to impact change, made their overarching opinions on this situation very clear when they compared it to “armpit hair” during a recent meeting — stating that “it can be both acceptable and unacceptable, so whether or not you deal with it is not an issue.” These sentiments are on record.
EWB McGill will vehemently refuse to tolerate such failure. We continue to wholeheartedly believe in the work we signed up to do when we became co-presidents. However, we refuse to stay silent and to compromise in order to support the good do elsewhere. Consequently, from this point and on an indefinitely basis going forward, we will stay committed to the forms of resistance we stated at the beginning of this letter, and any others we feel are necessary. We will formulate our own advocacy campaign which will focus on the empowerment of women and survivors. We have four simple demands. Only when you meet these demands will our resistance end:
- Ban Non-Disclosure Agreements within EWB in relation to sexual harassment or discrimination
- Open an independent investigation on the harassment case which occurred in Malawi in 2011, and any other cases, including: a) The role of the Board of Directors in dealing with this situation b) The historical and recent role of EWB employees in regards to this situation c) The role of CEO, Boris Martin, within this situation
- Publicly apologize on behalf on the entire organization for the complete failure in dealing with situations of sexual harassment and discrimination
- Immediately establish a counseling fund which women and survivors on staff have access to
Until you meet all four of these demands, the McGill Chapter will not support your organization in any way, and rather focus on the success of our individual chapter.
Juliette Escande and Aspen Murray
Co-Presidents, Engineers Without Borders – McGill University Chapter