TO : Engineers Without Borders Canada Board of Directors
FROM : Engineers Without Borders McMaster Chapter
DATE : May 21, 2019
RE : Sexual violence within Engineers Without Borders Canada
We, as presidents and chapter executives, are dissatisfied with the response provided by the Board of Directors and National Office in response to the harassment cases, including but not limited to the sexual violence cases within the organization. Part of being with the organization and its mandate is to create change within the world that we currently live in.
Due to the recent upsetting news in regards to Engineers Without Borders Canada (“EWB Canada”) and the mishandling of sexual violence cases within the organization, the McMaster Chapter has decided to boycott against EWB Canada, which involves:
1) Refraining from sending any funds to National Office; and
2) Refraining from participating in the upcoming advocacy campaign; and
3) Refraining from sending a Junior Fellow to Sub-Saharan Africa.
Based on our knowledge of EWB, the Non-Profit Organizations (“NGO”) has a mission to create systems change in society. We have found our voices with the involvement of this organization and have felt empowered to do good, to create radical impact, and to have our voices heard. We have attended the first two days of the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) and are not impressed with the leadership of National Office in handling the tension and questions of the community members in regards to how EWB is handling the accusations of sexual violence against the organization. We echo the sentiments of the McGill Chapter, as outlined by their letter, “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.” (McGill’s letter, May 4th, 2019)
The failure does not end there. Indeed, we have been recently 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. (McGill’s letter, May 4th, 2019)
We are a student-led organization that is made up of extraordinary leaders that have values, beliefs, and integrity. By continuously dismissing and silencing individuals who face sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, aggression, and abuse, EWB Canada is sending an awful, inappropriate message to survivors; those who speak out against injustice will face retaliation by the organization, including being ignored and disbelieved. Instances of this include the incident with Ms. Chelsey Rhodes and the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) which are discussed as follows.
In January 2019, Ms. Chelsey Rhodes, a survivor of sexual assault and harassment, came forward on Twitter asking the Board of Directors (“BOD”) of National Office to take action regarding the allegations and to do an external investigation, as well as lift her NDA and provide counselling. Shortly following the sexual violence allegations expressed by Ms. Rhodes, chapter presidents of 2018-2019 had a debrief with CEO of EWB Boris Martin, Director of Community Prateek Awasthi, and Board member Miriam Hird-Younger to discuss the issue after the Annual General Meeting. In the Annual General Meeting that occured in Montreal, Quebec of this year, the Board of Directors addressed the issue and reassured members of Engineers Without Borders (“EWB”) nationally that they will be committed to resolving the issue.
In May 2019, the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) held in Ottawa, Ontario encompasses Chapter Presidents, as well as Riding Captains. Three members of the McMaster Chapter attended this retreat as representatives. During the Retreat, many members of the community noticed that National Office was not being transparent in the way it was dealing with the situation, including but not limited to addressing the sexual assault allegations and creating a safe and welcoming environment for community members to address and speak about their concerns and opinions regarding this particular issue. Furthermore, on May 4, 2019, the McGill Chapter addressed these allegations and decided to boycott National Office. On May 6, 2019, during the SLR, there was a breakout session that was called EWBetter, organized by National Office, in which was supposed to be a safe space where members of the community are able to raise questions about the issue during the January 2019 conference regarding the sexual violence allegations. The CEO of EWB attended this session, without attending any of the previous sessions throughout the SLR. Following EWBetter, chapter presidents had a meeting later that night to discuss how to move forward with National Office and BOD.
The McMaster Chapter attending National Conference will be reviewed on a case-by case basis annually.
The decisions to attend or not to attend national conference decisions will be based on but not limited to:
1) Meaningful way to advance EWB, it’s goals and mandate; and
2) Meaningful way to reform policies, procedures, that relate to the general community, which include survivors and individuals who faced systematic human rights violation; and
3) Aligns with our values, beliefs, and integrity; and
4) An opportunity to harbour and engage in meaningful discussions amongst chapters with what is most concerning to us; and
5) Reviewing the actions taken by NO towards achieving the demands in the letter(s).
During national conference, there is the annual general meeting (“AGM”), being held where members of the community are able to provide agendas and things that are most concerning to them, and members of the community are able to vote accordingly on issues that impact them and their chapters.
The decision to attend or not to attend national conference will not be taken lightly, but the decision would be taken with the utmost fairness, thoroughness and will be communicated in writing to chapter executives and Engineers Without Borders Canada as soon as the information is readily and reasonably available.
The McMaster Chapter wholeheartedly commits towards building a more inclusive community, striving towards changing the world, addressing systemic issues, and creating systemic change in our society. The McMaster Chapter will continue to do such work in our local community, but will refuse to stay silent and compromise our beliefs, values, and integrity. The McMaster Chapter will continue to reach the goal of building an all-inclusive community, free of discrimination, sexual harassment, silencing tactics (i.e. the use of NDAs), mental health abuse, and human right violations.
The McMaster Chapter has six demands and once NO meets these demands will we then resume supporting EWB Canada.
1) Lift all existing NDAs between EWB and the survivors in relation to sexual harassment or discrimination and inhibit their use in the future.
2) Start an external independent investigation into:
a) Harassment case that occured in Malawi, Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011.
b) The role of CEO Boris Martin in regards to the sexual harassment allegations and what actions the CEO proposed NO to make.
c) Health and safety policies regarding the Junior Fellows and other overseas workers.
3) Provide a system to support survivors, including but not limited to:
a) Immediately establishing a counselling fund for survivors of any form of human rights violation, including but not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and mental health abuse as applicable by the Human Rights Code.
b) Appropriate reporting methods regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, and human rights violation as applicable by the Human Rights Code, which may include a confidential panel where complaints are risen and an investigation is made as applicable to the Human Rights Code.
c) Immediate counselling for survivors of any form of human rights violation, including but not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and mental health abuse as applicable by the Human Rights Code.
d) Start an external independent review of all current policies, which include but are not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and Junior Fellows.
4) Letter of assurance where EWB Canada states that it will not commit further breaches of the Human Rights Code.
5) Reform sexual violence, harassment and discrimination policies with input from survivors and reform Junior Fellow policies with input from current and past Junior Fellows.
6) Implement human rights training on accessibility, ableism, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment to all NO Staff and volunteers on an annual basis.
Please be in touch if you require further information.
Cc: Engineers Without Borders McGill Chapter May 4, 2019, letter
Sarah Gonder, Co-President 2019-2020
Sana Ali, Co-President 2019-2020
Mohammad Abdulhussain, VP Community 2019-2020
Fabiola González Rios, Co-VP Leadership Development 2019-2020
Martina Amova, Co-VP Sustainability 2019-2020
Christine Suvaina, Co-VP Fundraising 2019-2020
Paul Tran, Co-VP International Advocacy 2019-2020
Almen Ng, Co-VP Global Engineering Conference 2019-2020
Satvik Bajaj, VP Finance 2019-2020
Kyle Fernandes, Co-VP Fundraising 2019-2020
Anonymous, McMaster Chapter Executive 2019-2020
Resources and Support:
We deeply appreciate that this process can be stressful and in consideration of this, I would like to remind everyone of the services that are available to you if you are experiencing a crisis:
Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454 (free professional and confidential support for all students in Ontario)
Student Assistance Plan: 1-877-234-5327 (for Undergraduate Students, online, phone, or in-person support through counselling or consultation)
Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 to speak to a registered nurse (free professional and confidential support)