*by Chelsey Rhodes
In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld made a silly statement in response to a question on links between Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, that continues to be quoted in business and policy spheres today:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
The concept of “unknown unknowns” is used in strategic planning and project management, and has even been used as an engineering concept, and refers to the unknowable risk factors that you can’t foresee or imagine that could sink a project or lead to catastrophe. This has been shortened to ‘unk unks.’
This has been running through my head a lot lately in relation to Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) and their antics since January. EWB seems determined to keep serious issues in the ‘unknown unknown’ category– a sort of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ in relation to pretending that they don’t have an overwhelming crisis on their hands regarding abuses of power, harassment, discrimination, and serious health and safety breaches.
What is really happening, though, when an institution engages in outright denial and defensiveness, ignores serious whistleblowing reports, and retaliates against survivors in order to protect their own image and reputation, is that they create a fourth (and very sinister) category: the Unknown Knowns.
I surmised that this fourth category, the “unknown knowns”, are the things that deep down we know, but pretend we don’t know in order to serve various political or psychological purposes. In doing a quick google search I found that the philosopher Slavoj Zizek has already pointed out this fourth category, stating that Unknown Knowns are the “disavowed beliefs, suppositions or obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.”
Why do institutions try to pretend away an abuse and harassment crisis? Why do individuals at the helm of those institutions try to distort things, lie, and go into deep, deep denial about basic facts and reality? Do they have Stockholm syndrome? Are they in the throes of a cult-like group delusion?
Taking known facts and trying to force them back into the shadows where they remain unknowable and undiscussable is a central tactic of corrupt, power-hungry, narcissistic, misogynistic leaders around the world. See Trump’s nods to ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, and his constant lies and distortions. The utility of these tactics is that they create psychological exhaustion, an air of plausible deniability, and a fog of confusion in hopeful followers– who would rather not do the work to investigate properly and correct them. It’s much easier to go back about their business believing everything is ‘fine.’
(I’m already exhausted by writing this post).
EWB has been utilizing these dissembling tactics, aggressively, since January and well before that. This is being led by the executive team and the Board, and their various PR people and lawyers, who are probably individually fine upstanding people who have nevertheless pursued abhorrent, unethical tactics that have been damaging to all on the receiving end (staff, members, stakeholders; and especially, survivors).
Let’s go through the recent lies, half truths, distortions, and general bullshit behaviour carried out by the EWB Board and Executive Team, chiefly by Boris Martin (CEO), Prateek Awasthi (Director of Policy), Shivani Patel (VP Operations), Cameron Charlebois (former Board Chair), David Enriquez (Director of Fellowships), Miriam Hird-Younger (Board member), Rebecca Kresta (new Board Chair), and various other staff members. The leadership team who created this mess and then lied about it from 2011-2013, and onwards, included George Roter (former CEO), Mark Abbott (executive team), Boris Martin (executive team), Mike Kang (my ex-boss), as well as their friend/ lawyer Russell Groves (former Director Overseas Sending):
-In response to my public claims in January, EWB claimed to multiple people that the harassment report I made in 2012 was independently investigated and that it was unbiased and done properly. In fact, the investigation (if I can call it that) was done by Russell Groves, who was Director of Overseas Sending at EWB for 5 years. In the EWB publication “Good Luck and Don’t Have Sex”, Russell is described helping start up EWB, working 40hrs volunteering on top of his day job alongside the founders George Roter and Parker Mitchell. On page 80, it states, “Russ built the backbone of EWB’s overseas selection and training program. Now in law school to pursue a new avenue of working for social justice, Russ looks back on EWB and describes it as magic.” [emphasis mine]
-I’m not sure it’s necessary to point out that someone who helped found an organization, worked there for 5 years in a leadership capacity, and subsequently developed magical thinking about said organization, is not ‘unbiased’ or ‘independent’… Trying to state that Russell Groves was an independent, unbiased investigator was a bald-faced lie told by the executive team who retained him at the time– George Roter, Boris Martin, and Mark Abbott.
-In 2013, George Roter (former CEO), tried to tell me that Russell Groves was experienced in conducting harassment investigations. He was fresh out of law school so I’m not sure how that’s possible, and it fairly quickly became clear that he had no idea what he was doing and zero expertise on sexual harassment or gender discrimination. So, ‘Russell totally knows what he is doing’ was a lie, amongst many lies told by George that continue to this day.
-EWB has recently stated multiple times on the record that I refused to participate in the harassment investigation. That is a lie. In fact, I demanded a competent, independent investigator i.e. not their personal friend who used to work there. EWB refused. Then I demanded written questions as I was traumatized and did not want to speak directly to Russell, or any man at EWB for that matter. They refused to provide written questions, then sent me a letter saying the harassment investigation was complete and had found no harassment. The investigation therefore did not include my testimony and I’m not sure an investigation was done at all or who they spoke to. EWB continues to state this investigation was done fairly and properly– a rather pathetic lie.
-Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, conducted multicontinental phone calls that were recorded, where he stated that the review conducted by Derek Evans and Colleen Dunlop had found that my case was handled properly and fairly, and that the issue was closed and would not be reopened. There are several levels of lying here, but the main issue is that we don’t know what Derek Evans and Colleen Dunlop really concluded because the EWB Board continues to conceal the report including the entire section regarding my case and how it was handled. If it was handled fine, why hide these findings?
-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, promised a public apology by EWB within 10 days of our April 6/7th meetings. She also clearly stated in those meetings “I believe you.” No apology has materialized, so that was a lie. It also does not appear that she actually ‘believes me’, which would require believing that I was harassed and that EWB deliberately covered it up. “I believe you” is an empty platitude offered by people who want to believe survivors are telling the truth, but don’t want to believe that anyone did anything wrong (the mental gymnastics required here are quite astounding).
-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, is unable to give a reason why she is concealing the report. When pressed about this at our meeting on the weekend and asked why EWB did not release the recommendations made by Derek Evans regarding his review of my case, she said that Derek Evans did not make any recommendations on that portion of his review. This seems a ridiculous assertion and is likely a lie.
-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, and Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, have recently stated that Boris Martin removed himself from this case. Cameron previously said that Boris removed himself from the case in January (he didn’t), and Rebecca recently said that Boris removed himself from my case in 2012 (he didn’t). Both of those things are lies. Boris has not only spoken to multiple people about this in closed door meetings and phone calls, he has facilitated sessions about it with the membership in 2013 and again in May. Boris was also named in my original harassment report and was never investigated. Either Boris is lying and the EWB Board is falling for it, or the Board is lying on his behalf.
-In 2013 the EWB executive team refused to provide me the harassment report. They informed me that they had a policy saying that harassment reports are kept in the executive team (which at the time consisted of George Roter, Boris Martin, and Mark Abbott). When I asked to see that policy they could not produce it, so this was likely a lie– but it would be easy enough for someone internally to look back at the polices from that time. The new leadership of EWB (with Boris now at the helm) continue to refuse to show me the harassment report (if one exists… has anyone honestly ever seen a 500pg harassment report?).
-Boris Martin, in collaboration with his executive team and the lawyer from 2013 (his pal Russell Groves, still apparently helping double down on this mess), presided over an announcement at the AGM in January, read out by Shivani Patel (always get a woman to do your dirty work!) that I “chose not to participate” in the harassment investigation, and that EWB paid me a settlement to “help with my financial troubles and not to compensate the damage done.” Those were outright, insidious lies, and we’ve now obtained an audio recording of Shivani reading out those lies to hundreds of people. First of all, EWB paid me a general damages settlement, and second of all, organizations do not hand out money when their former staff are having unrelated ‘financial troubles’- if they do, I encourage everyone to ask EWB for help with your financial troubles!
Anyway, we know that Russell Groves helped craft this statement because Prateek Awasthi told us in writing.
-The executive team then decided to forbid/block/censor all questions on the topic at the AGM. Probably a good call given their penchant for disgusting (and blatantly defamatory) lies.
-Miriam Hird-Younger, Board member, said in a closed door meeting at xChange conference that I’m saying these things because I’m mentally ill, and ‘she does this.’ A particularly vicious, victim-blaming, ableist, gross, discriminatory, and dangerous lie, that ticks the boxes of: breaching my privacy, attempting to discredit me by citing medical information she has no direct knowledge of, defaming me, suggesting I should not be believed, suggesting people with disabilities should not be believed, and likely constitutes both disability and sex discrimination (as those often intersect- see the ‘crazy/ hysterical woman’ trope that has lasted several millennia).
-Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, commissioned his old buddy Derek Evans to do another ‘independent’ review of EWB’s handling of my case, and more generally of their policies and practices (it is not clear how anyone thought the optics of this would be good given the original problem was a bunch of dudes getting their most trusted dude to handle a gender issue they were implicated in). Some cursory googling revealed that Cameron was Board Chair at CUSO when Evans was CEO. When put on the spot, Cameron continued to proclaim Evans was totally independent and that this was not a conflict of interest. These lies are getting tiresome, fellas.
-Prateek Awasthi and Cameron Charlebois both promised -ON THE RECORD- that Derek Evans’ report would be provided to stakeholders in April. This was a lie. This report continues to be concealed despite repeated demands that it be released publicly, despite EWB’s public committments to ‘transparency’ and ‘Admitting Failure’, and despite sector best practices and basic ethical principles that suggest humanitarian organizations should not be concealing abuse and harassment.
-Shivani Patel and David Enriquez both sent written communications committed to being TRANSPARENT about the findings of Derek Evans’ review– which included a review into how my specific case was handled. EWB continues to conceal those findings, and will not clearly state why they are withholding them. Shivani and David also both stated in those emails that the investigation was completed in 2013 and “found no employment harassment.” EWB is now in meta-lying territory.
-The findings of Derek Evans’ review were also promised by Board Chair Cameron Charlebois ON THE RECORD to be given to chapters and Junior Fellows (JFs) before the fellows left on their placements in May, since the contents of the review concerns their health and safety. This was a lie. EWB concealed this report from the JFs, including concealing the recommendation that the JF program be suspended altogether.
-Prateek Awasthi told a worried member that I filed ‘lawsuits’ against EWB. That was a blatant lie and was intended to discredit me.
-Prateek Awasthi said that I had been contacted by Boris Martin (CEO), Cameron Charlebois, and several lawyers in an attempt to engage, and that I refused to speak to any of them. That was a bunch of lies, again an attempt to discredit me. No one from EWB had contacted me or attempted to speak to me.
-Boris Martin has not spoken to me or attempted to contact me since 2011. In response to a request that he attend meetings this past weekend in Toronto (with myself, Alex Fox, EWB Board, and our respective lawyers), Rebecca Kresta (Board Chair) told us that they decided with Boris that he would not attend because the issues did not concern him. Rebecca also just announced that Boris Martin will now be attending member phone calls tonight and tomorrow, because the issues concern management decisions.
-At the meetings this past weekend, EWB Board representatives Rebecca Kresta, Manissa Patel, and Kaitlyn Gillelan acted like they were hearing the disclosures of nearly a decade of concealed abuses and misconduct at EWB for the first time. Their lawyer literally said ‘this is news to us.’ We actually met with Rebecca Kresta and former Board Chair Cameron Charlebois on April 6/7th in Montreal and told them almost the exact same list of disclosures (with a few added since then), which Cameron described as ‘a powerful act of whistleblowing’ and was so shocked that he remarked ‘I don’t know if this organization deserves to exist.” Cameron and Rebecca promised to pass the info on to the rest of the Board. It is unclear if that happened, if they forgot, or just didn’t care.
-Derek Evans was also present for April 6th meeting in Montreal, at my request. He listened to all of those same disclosures, which he may or may not have included in his report. Leaving those disclosures out would call his own professional ethics and diligence into question. In any case we don’t know because EWB continues to conceal the Evans report.
–8 of the 13 Board members resigned subsequent to learning of my disclosures, and receiving the results of Derek Evans’ review. EWB refuses to state the reasons for those resignations, and the resigned Board members have been silent. In a recent phone call, I asked Rebecca Kresta (new Board Chair) why the Board members resigned, and she replied, “for personal reasons.” That was clearly a lie.
-EWB assured us that Boris Martin would not be communicating about these issues to members. In May, he attended a ‘EWBetter’ session at a member retreat, also attended and facilitated by Shivani Patel and Prateek Awasthi. This was after Rebecca Kresta promised me that Boris and other members of the executive would not be communicating about these issues to the membership- yet another lie.
-Miriam Hird-Younger, Board Member and former EWB staff, in 2013 sent out an email internally (later forwarded to me) and cc’ed my ex-boss who abused me (he had been promoted and was involved in the organizational response to ‘the Chelsey problem’) and called me ‘negative’ and ‘deconstructive’ and insinuated that the issues I was raising were not accurate.
-Rebecca Kresta, the new Board Chair, has tried to tell me repeatedly that Boris Martin had removed himself from my case in 2012. In 2013 Boris Martin facilitated a session at a team retreat with my ex boss who he had promoted, about what to do about ‘the Chelsey problem.’ Since January he has been witnessed telling people that my claims were without merit and that if people knew what really happened they’d see I was lying.
-Shivani Patel, VP Operations, attended that same closed-door meeting in January and said that she had read ‘every word’ of the 500pg harassment investigation report (?!) and my claims were not credible. Prateek Awasthi (Director of Policy) also stated he had read the report. Not sure when they squeezed in that light reading or why they thought that was appropriate to share. EWB has hidden that report from me for 6 years and ongoing, and I’m not sure it exists– how did Russell Groves manage to write 500 pages of findings for an ‘investigation’ in which he never interviewed the complainant i.e. me? Not sure why Shivani and Prateek thought it was okay or appropriate to broadcast the contents of that report to random chapter members. Shivani, Prateek, and the rest of those present: breaking the NDA, breaching my privacy, and lying. Boris Martin (CEO) and Miriam Hird-Younger (Board member- still active) also present for that bunch of lies.
-Despite a veritable shitstorm of traumatizing and retraumatizing behaviour aimed at denying the fact that abuse has been carried out by men in leadership positions and then concealed, EWB continues to proclaim that it is pursuing a ‘survivor-centred’ response. This is a lie, unless they think this means putting the survivors at the centre, pushing them to the ground, and then getting everyone to stomp on them over and over.
-EWB continues to see no conflict between proclaiming their ‘survivor-centred response’, and also that I was not harassed, i.e. did not survive anything. This is one of many examples of Orwellian doublespeak, which also includes EWB proclaiming themselves respectful (while being constantly disrespectful), transparent (while concealing important information), and following my requests (while refusing to do them). Words do not mean things, apparently.
-The biggest lie of all, of course, is that I was not actually harassed in 2011. EWB continues to double down on this lie, over and over and over. George Roter (former CEO) remains so convinced of the innocence and wonderfulness of my ex-boss Mike Kang, that he not only promoted him at EWB after absolving him of any wrongdoing, he recently hired Mike Kang to work on a gender project at his new company, Mozilla (you cannot even make this shit up). Mike Kang previously included this on his website under ‘portfolio’ and the project title “Strengthening diversity in Mozilla’s open source communities, but appears to have removed it/ made his website private. That’s okay, we have screenshots. Mike now works on peacebuilding and conflict resolution at Reos Partners, because that also makes sense. His current employers have also blocked me- because they are world-class conflict intervenors, and everyone is very mature around here.
-These men: Boris Martin, Mark Abbott, George Roter, Russell Groves, Mike Kang, Prateek Awasthi (who appear fully grown but without ever actually having grown up) have variously ignored me, insulted me, tried to shut me up with a NDA, blocked me on Twitter, attempted to triangulate people against me, mobilized tens of thousands (or more- probably in the hundreds of thousands) of EWB charitable funds to try to discredit me, hired multiple lawyers and a PR firm, and appear to be in almost complete denial. It appears to be easier for men with misogyny problems to destroy an entire organization, causing collateral damage to everyone around, rather than simply tell the truth and apologize.
-To be continued… there’s more. Lots more.