[Link to the original statement: https://www.facebook.com/290463197635688/posts/2805155082833141/]
TO : Engineers Without Borders Canada Board of Directors
FROM : Engineers Without Borders Queen’s Chapter
DATE : June 4, 2019 [posted June 21, 2019]
RE : Systems Failure Within Engineers Without Borders Canada
Portions of the contents of this letter are sourced from the letter written by the McGill chapter of Engineers Without Borders as well as the May 21st Facebook post written by the McMaster chapter. The Queen’s chapter is appreciative of the contributions made by each chapter participating in the boycott to make it thoughtful, meaningful, and impactful.
We, as presidents and chapter executives, are dissatisfied with the response provided by the Board of Directors and National Office in response to the sexual violence and harassment cases, as well as the lack of action and transparency of the organization towards failures within the organization. The mandate of the organization is to create change within the world that we currently live in. The Queen’s Chapter, and many other chapters across Canada, feel there has been a distinct lack of transparency in the activities of National Office.
Due to the recent upsetting news in regard to Engineers Without Borders Canada (“EWB Canada”) and the mishandling of sexual violence cases within the organization, the Queen’s Chapter has decided to boycott EWB Canada, which involves:
1) Refraining from sending any funds to National Office; and
2) Refraining from participating in any upcoming advocacy campaigns; and
3) Refraining from sending a Junior Fellow to Sub-Saharan Africa.
(McMaster’s Post, May 21st, 2019)
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, McMaster’s Post, May 21st, 2019)
The failure does not end there, we have been recently made aware that there are allegations that one of your employees has faced sexual violence accusations that remain unaddressed. Other reports of harassment and bullying have not been sufficiently investigated. This is completely unacceptable and does not portray the values that our organization stands for. (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. In the cases of 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 occurred 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. (McMaster’s Post, May 21st, 2019)
In May 2019, the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) held in Ottawa, Ontario encompasses Chapter Presidents, as well as Riding Captains. One member of the Queen’s chapter attended this retreat as a representative. 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 to discuss how to move forward with National Office and BOD. (McMaster’s Post, May 21st, 2019)
The Queen’s chapter will review their boycott in September and/or when National Office makes an effort to address the situation.
The decisions to attend or not to attend National Conference will be based on the actions taken by National Office to address the concerns outlined in this letter. We acknowledge that National Conference is valuable in the way that it brings together chapter members Canada-wide, encourages reflection and discussion, and contains the AGM, which is an opportunity to seek change within the organization. This will be taken into consideration during our decision process, but if no meaningful action is taken by National Office, we will not be attending National Conference.
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 Queen’s Chapter wholeheartedly commits to building a more inclusive community, striving towards changing the world, addressing systemic issues, and creating systemic change in our society. The Queen’s 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 Queen’s 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 Queen’s Chapter has seven demands and once NO meets these demands will we then resume supporting EWB Canada.
We demand the EWB Canada Board of Directors to:
1) Lift all existing NDAs between EWB and survivors in relation to sexual harassment or discrimination and ban their use in future.
2) Start an External and Independent investigation on the following cases:
a. Harassment case occurring in Malawi in 2011.
b. The role of the BOD in handling the situation between January 2019 and May 2019
c. Historical and recent role of EWB employees and BOD in regard to harassment cases.
d. The role of the CEO, Boris Martin, with this situation.
e. Health and safety regarding the Junior Fellows and other overseas workers.
3) Publicly apologize on behalf on the entire organization for the complete failure in dealing with situations involving sexual harassment and discrimination.
a. Apology to Ms. Rhodes.
b. Apology to Survivors.
4. Provide a system to support survivors, including, but not limited to:
a. Immediately establish a counseling and funds to which survivors have access, including current affected staff, fellows, and chapter members.
b. Appropriate reporting methods.
c. Other methods as advised by the Total System Failure.
5. Provide Ms. Rhodes with
a. Access to all reports:
i) Report from 2013 by investigator Russell Groves.
ii) Report from 2019 by investigator Derek Evans.
b. Counselling for the duress she has endured over the past 8 years of constant retaliation and defamation.
6. Make the 2019 report public as it concerns the current Junior Fellow’s safety in the 2019 cohort.
7. Hold members involved in this situation accountable, including:
a. The role of the Board of Directors in dealing with the situation.
b. The historical and recent role of EWB employees in regard to this situation.
c. The role of CEO, Boris Martin, within this situation.
Please be in touch if you require further information.
Cc: Engineers Without Borders McGill Chapter May 4, 2019, letter
Cc: Engineers Without Borders McMaster Chapter May 21, 2019, Facebook post
Stephanie Bringeland, Queen’s Chapter Co-President 2019-2020
Erik Lelievre, Queen’s Chapter Co-President 2019-2020
Caroline Ochocinski, Queen’s Chapter VP Strategy 2019-2020
Coleen Galang, Queen’s Chapter VP Finance 2019-2020
Ellie Kenny, Queen’s Chapter VP Logistics 2019-2020
Emily Miszk, Queen’s Chapter VP Strategy 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