Board/ Executive team communications with EWB Membership since January
In response to Chelsey Rhodes’ tweets during the #xchange2019 conference in Montreal in January, EWB Canada responded over the next few months in counterproductive and damaging ways that have caused harm to the entire community (you can see some examples of this in the transcript below). This has included misleading the membership, outright lying and what could be considered defamation, breaking of privacy, withholding important information, contradictory information, long stretches of silence, and an array of PR tactics aimed at managing the image of the institution.
In short, EWB has engaged in textbook institutional damage control.
Unfortunately, an institution facing public revelations of wrongdoing commonly attempts to avoid “damage” or deflect complaints by engaging in acts of retaliation, as well as various attempts to control and shape the narrative in their own favour. In this case (and in many parallel cases in many institutions) such retaliations often amount to causing damage to those with less power in order to protect those at the top, and to protect the overall power structure. This often occurs along lines of gender, race, and class.
At EWB these retaliations have included harassment, bullying, silencing peoples’ voices and limiting their freedom of expression (informally through bullying/exclusion, and more formally through the use of NDAs), gaslighting, minimizing, isolating, ignoring, “closing ranks,” harming careers and reputations, framing whistleblowers and critics as “the problem”, and framing complaints as a “conflict” (see Jennifer Freyd’s work on institutional betrayal, betrayal trauma, and institutional DARVO; Sara Ahmed’s work on Complaint; Wade Mullen’s work on impression management tactics used by abusive people/ organizations; and Nora Samaran’s work on gaslighting).
For many years now, EWB has avoided fixing these issues or holding its leadership and staff accountable. They have refused to properly investigate, shown a complete lack of transparency, and have relied on a culture of complicity and a central group of enablers. The organization has not only ignored the issues but actively covered them up, while rewarding and promoting people who’ve engaged in misconduct. This is unacceptable behaviour for any organization, let alone one that claims to be committed to “systemic change.”
We have reviewed many of the EWB communications in the past months (recorded and leaked by multiple sources– which itself points to a widespread lack of trust in the leadership). Some of the communications are extremely concerning, and demonstrate a pattern of misogyny, bias, dismissiveness, and denial. This mirrors the way that the organization handled the situation with Chelsey in 2013, and the way it has handled similar situations over its history.
On February 22nd Cameron Charlebois (Board Chair) and Prateek Awasthi (Director) conducted a phone call with around five EWB chapter presidents. Cameron introduces the call as concerning “a series of tweets by Ms. Rhodes.”
The people leading this call and the overall EWB response to allegations of sexual harassment consisted of four men. The two EWB men, Cameron and Prateek, were accompanied by two additional men from Edelman— a PR firm they had hired using charitable funds. Those men were Greg Vanier, who describes himself as a ‘crisis communicator’, and another man named Mike. The call references a fifth man, Derek Evans, who was hired to conduct a review/audit of the situation. Evans has previous ties with Board Chair Cameron Charlebois, through CUSO International (see here).
In response to the ongoing failure to address these issues appropriately, several chapters have notified the Board of Directors (see Open letters from McGill, Concordia, and University of Alberta) that they will be boycotting and withdrawing financial and other support from EWB until certain demands are met. We’ve just been notified that Polytechnique and ETS chapters are joining them. Others may follow in the coming days.
EWB chapters and other supporters including alumni are mobilizing, and along with the team at Total System Failure, we demand that EWB fulfil its promise and its obligations, and immediately release Derek Evans’ report in its entirety. As you will see from the Transcript below, this was promised to be released in April, before the current cohort of Junior Fellows is sent overseas (May 10/ 11th).
If you’d like to add your support, please get in touch with the chapters organizing, or contact the Total System Failure team.
Feb 22nd Call Transcript
[0 – 7:22mins: Introductions]
Greg @ 7:23: “Hi everyone. My name is Greg Vanier. I am a communications consultant that Cameron engaged, I guess the week before last, to assist with stakeholder communications related to this issue. So our mandate uh I guess Cameron mentioned this I work for a Communications firm called Edelman, our mandate related to this issue is to help Cameron and the investigator ensure that everyone who has questions and wants information is getting information they need. And today on the call for the most part I’ll just be paying attention to the concerns and questions and taking some notes, and we’ll be making sure working with Cameron and his team that we’re following up with communications that address some of those concerns and questions.”
[Several of the chapter presidents on the call state that their trust in the organization has been shaken, and express their concerns– particularly about the safety of Junior Fellows who are being sent overseas soon].
Cameron @ 13:00: “So, we all know that Ms. Rhodes was involved with EWB in 2011-2012. There was uh, uh, a conflict at that time that was, uh, that led to a mediated agreement between her and EWB that was considered and labelled a full and final settlement. She was at that time represented by legal counsel, as was EWB, and this was uh, this process has been reviewed and looked at by our current reviewer/ audit [unintelligible] that I’ll describe in a moment. And that that agreement was considered, at the time considered, to close the issue. Everybody should know that when we have mediated agreements like that at almost any organization they are usually covered by a confidentiality agreement called a non-disclosure agreement, so that the contents of the agreement neither party can talk about, and EWB did sign such a non-disclosure agreement, [as] did Ms. Rhodes. And so we can’t really talk about what was in the agreement, not that even any of us know in any detail.”
Cameron @ 14:23: “What we can say is that upon review of how the agreement was reached, it has been deemed by our labour lawyer and the person currently reviewing EWB’s practices as having been done properly and fairly and completely. To my knowledge we’ve had no further engagement between EWB and Ms. Rhodes since then, so we’re talking about almost 7 years now, and no record of any complaints that I’m aware of, we’re still checking that out, and no new complaints either by her or by others, uhh, so, the current round of tweets we’re getting since the conference is not easy to explain, because I haven’t [unintelligible] in the last 7 years, but clearly she’s not happy with what transpired 7 years ago, and we can all see that.”
Cameron @ 15:19: “But given what’s going on, and given the fact that this kind of conflict on social media, it’s not good for anybody, it’s not good for EWB, it’s not good for Ms. Rhodes, it’s not good for you guys, it’s not good for our funders, and it’s very very difficult to resolve. So, we’ve asked for a complete investigation, or a review I should say, not an investigation, wrong word, but a review of EWB’s policies, practices, integrity, what it’s, what do we do, are we doing it properly or aren’t we. And that person that’s doing that whom I’ll name in a moment will be making a report to the Board of Directors of EWB in April. At which time the findings that he comes up with will be shared with you all.”
Cameron @ 16:18: “So, his name is Derek Evans, he was for 6 years the CEO of CUSO International, and before that for 10 years he was Deputy Secretary General for Amnesty International in the UK. He’s very mature, he’s retired, he’s a man who I consider – I was his Chair of his Board when he was CEO there- a man I consider of the utmost integrity and values and wisdom. And so he is doing a, what we would call a review or an audit, of what is going on at EWB, and trying to get at questions you just asked, are we safe, are we respecting our values, you know EWB has a lot of policies, are we respecting them, are they promulgated, are they enacted, are they lived. The Board, me in particular, want answers to all of this, and we wanna know that our people are in good hands.”
Cameron @ 17:23: “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do at this point- and we’re still thinking about this so it’s not a closed question- there’s not a lot we can do what we can do about Ms. Rhodes’ tweets and representations directly, because the situation was resolved by mutual satisfaction 7 years ago, and there’s been nothing new in the meantime. But clearly she is exercising her rights of freedom of expression, and she has a right to the feelings and representations that she’s making, but we don’t have an easy path to resolution of what she’s bringing to peoples’ attention right now, because EWB would consider it as having been resolved.”
Cameron @ 18:10: “And this audit, or review, is also accompanied by a labour lawyer, a woman named Colleen Dunlop from a labour law practice in Ottawa, who also has reviewed these things, reviewed the documents of the mediated agreement that is said, was vouched to us, that was done properly, was done fairly, and it is a complete and final agreement. She does not recommend going back on any of that.”
Cameron @ 18:42: “So, that’s basically where we’re at today, I’m sure that doesn’t answer all of your questions, but Derek is reviewing this issue, and we have to wait for his report to the Board and whatever he reports to the Board will be shared with our stakeholders. If there are not confidential things in it, whatever is not confidential or nothing to do with personnel matters of individuals, will be shared with our stakeholders. Including you guys. But that might not be until April.”
Chapter member @ 20:44: “I just missed something you said at the beginning, my first question is- there were some investigators, I’m just wondering what’s gonna be investigated, and more generally, I don’t suppose there’s been a conversation and consensus between the Board or the stakeholders, but was does resolution look like in the near future and progressively… What’s your idea of resolution?”
Cameron @ 21:17: “Well first of all, we’re not reopening the investigation. That’s uh… We’ve been advised against that, because people have moved on, it was 7 years ago, and so on. And so direct resolution for the current representations that Ms. Rhodes is doing on Twitter, we don’t know what that would look like because we’re not sure we can achieve it. What is being done is a full audit of EWB’s practices, its policies, our [unintelligible] practices, what is happening overseas, are our fellows protected, if they wanna blow a whistle can they blow a whistle, if they’re things going wrong can they speak to someone, are they in the first place well cared for and safe, so it’s really a review of the practices and policies of EWB that are underway right now.”
Chapter member @22:22: “I’ve been made aware since the other day that some of the chapters have been tagged in posts… What if there’s a confrontation on that, how would we deal with that?”
Cameron @ 23:34: “It was decided we would a review and an audit and so I reached out to Derek… All of that took a few weeks. So there was a delay and there wasn’t much communication during that time, in fact there was very little, and we’ve been told now that that was hard on you folks. So we’ve made a commitment to stop any delay and to keep information flowing to you. And to open the channels in two directions- if you get a query or you get tagged or whatever, you can call Prateek and find out what should you do.”
Prateek @ 24:24: “If the question was about other people being tagged, cause I know Members of Parliament and other people that do work with, umm, perhaps Greg could explain either now or later some of the strategy–“
Chapter member @ 24:37: “Are we going to have to manage that aspect, or is it something that the relations firm is going to manage for us? I don’t expect that they really paid attention to it, because there’s a whole scandal going on in the House of Commons right now, but still the lone staffer could see it… Who’s managing that part, and what if we get challenged ethically on it? …I just want to know basically how you guys wanna deal with it.”
Prateek @ 25:10: “The advice that we’ve received and that we think is good advice is that we don’t engage on Twitter in a back and forth, but that the people who have been tagged and particularly Members of Parliament or other important stakeholders who have been tagged, we have reached out to all of them via email letting them know that this is what this refers to, and that they can get in touch with us if they have any questions. So that’s what we have done already.”
Cameron @ 25:42: “And they’ve received that message directly through me, the Chair of the Board. Not through a firm. It was done directly between us and them. We want to keep those communications directly open between us.” [between EWB and MPs]
Chapter President @ 27:05: “I think my major question would be, in the meanwhile what can you do to ensure our trust in the organization to handle the safety of our Junior Fellows that are leaving for the summer?”
Cameron @ 27:19: “Yeah. Well, that’s a good question I’m going to pitch that to Prateek, but I think we’re going to communicate to all of you a special communication on exactly that subject, because we’re hearing this a lot, and the understanding until further notice by the Board, to the Board I should say, is that things are shipshape and fine. That whatever happened 7 years ago is no longer the case. But we’re gonna make damn sure that’s true, because I can’t stand the fact that there would be any doubt about that. But in the meantime we’ll provide information as to what is the situation and the practice overseas so that your Junior Fellows are, you’re satisfied they’re in complete safety… Mr. Evans is going to be going into that in some detail to make sure that it’s absolutely true.”
Prateek @ 28:31: “It’s precisely this review that’s being undertaken by Derek Evans, it is meant to satisfy the Board and everybody involved. Whether we have the right policies in place, whether we’re implementing them well, whether… Because this is a matter of such seriousness, we decided that we decided we didn’t want to be a judge in our own cause, so as staff members we didn’t want to make that review, we didn’t want to appoint somebody who would make that review, so in order to be fully independent and external the Board of Directors has separately appointed Derek and Colleen to do this review. So the assurance you get will be the report from Derek in April, before the fellows leave, on how adequate our policies and implementation is, to make sure that our fellows are safe.”
Chapter President @ 29:51: “Cameron, you mentioned that you worked with this person Derek. Isn’t that a conflict of interest since you’re the Chair of the Board?”
Chapter President @ 30:00: “I was going to say that too.”
Cameron @ 30:01: “Uh, well I’ll tell you why I don’t think it is, because Derek, I’m not in a conflict of interest, as Chair of the Board I’m not in EWB’s operations, and Derek was the CEO of CUSO International when I was Chair of that Board, and I found him to be not only honest and full of integrity, but he was an extremely effective manager. What I was looking for in this case was not a buddy. I was looking for somebody with integrity, who tells the truth to power, who has experience in international cooperation, who can look at what EWB is doing and say ‘this meets highest standards or it does not meet highest standards’. Derek himself is not in any conflict with any of this because he’s semi-retired he’s been away from [unintelligible] for four years now.”
Chapter President @ 31:01: “I respect what you’re saying, but you two worked together, and I consider that a conflict of interest in this case.”
Cameron @ 31:07: “Well we didn’t work together I was a volunteer. I was a volunteer like I’m a volunteer now. I’m not paid.”
Chapter President @ 31:13: “But there’s a relationship there… So that would appear to be a conflict of interest for someone who doesn’t know Derek directly.”
Cameron @ 31:26: “Well, I respect your opinion, I don’t have a, I’m not going to try to talk you out of it, I don’t, I don’t agree, I’m not, as I say I’m not paid, and Derek is not, I’m not, I don’t have anything to win or lose out of this, I’ve been Chair of the Board of EWB for 1 year, I was not anywhere near the incidents that are being talked about now, and I have only one interest in this, that’s to make sure EWB is as strong and effective and integral organization. That’s my only interest.”
Chapter President @ 32:01: “So what would you say other than your own experience with this person, that would give us the trust in him to do this type of review?”
Cameron @ 32:12: “I’m not sure I follow the question.”
Chapter President @ 32:15: “Well how can we trust his point of view, we don’t know him or have never heard of him before. What would you recommend?”
Cameron @ 32:24: “Well I think you’d have to look at his CV which we’ll make known and judge for yourself whether he’s the right kind of person to conduct a review like this, based on his track record and any other information you wish to find out. We can make that all known, that’s not a problem.”
Chapter President @ 32:46: “A follow-up, is Mr. Evans being paid for this service?”
Cameron @ 32:52: “Yes. Yeah, in fact he insisted on that as an important aspect of his independence.”
Chapter President @ 34:00: “I’m not sure that this is likely or not, but in the event that Ms. Rhodes actually comes to campus, anywhere throughout the country, and actually approaches us in person, what exactly are we expected to do? Is there some sort of standard we should be holding ourselves to in terms of engaging with her, if she physically shows up?”
Cameron @ 34:29: “I don’t have an easy answer to that question, I think that first of all she’s a human being, and I think she has to be you know perceived as a free human being with freedom of expression and freedom of movement. I think any encounter has to be judged on its own merits. If it ends up in a conflict situation well then you shouldn’t, it’s up in the moment, but I think you should request some support as quick as you can from the Office. But if there’s no conflict then I wouldn’t see necessarily a problem. Now that might be naive on my part, I don’t know her, so, but it’s pretty hard to judge in advance what would be the thing to do. I certainly wouldn’t engage her in any depth on the representations she’s making and so on, because you wouldn’t know how to evaluate any of that. And as a person who represents EWB you might want to stay a little circumspect on any engagements you or she might expect out of EWB coming out of a conversation. But you know, she is a person, and has her rights and her freedoms. Prateek you have any thoughts?”
Prateek @ 35:58: “I want to add that, you know, you’re welcome to exercise your judgment, if you need any support we’re here for you.”
Chapter President @ 36:44: “Another follow up question, in terms of staying updated, and this is more so for the case here at xxxx University since we have very high frequency of presidents switching in and out of the chapter, what’s the main source of communication medium that this will be evolving around, is it just by email…”
[Recording cuts off].