Barinder Rasode and Doug McCallum

Barinder Rasode and Doug McCallum

Election 2014: Harassment debacle a sign of bad leadership: Rasode

City of Surrey: Doug McCallum acknowledges he could have better handled the sexual harassment problem at city hall.

Mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode said it’s time to address the elephant in the room – the fact that one of Surrey’s mayoral candidates pre-emptively shut down a sexual harassment investigation of a high-ranking manager at city hall while he was mayor.

“It absolutely speaks to leadership,” Rasode said Wednesday of Doug McCallum’s time as mayor. “It speaks to how women should have received a full opportunity to have their concerns reviewed…”

McCallum said in his defence at the time that he “followed the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy to a T.”

He said this week he acted on the advice of the city’s lawyer and realizes the situation could have been handled better. He also said he has “zero tolerance for such behaviour.”

The Leader revealed in August 2005 that McCallum limited the scope of a harassment investigation to one complaint, even though more had come to light.

The harassment problem had been ongoing at city hall for several years.

This issue was raised back in March 1998 when a woman told her superiors that a senior manager was touching her inappropriately.

She was afraid to file a formal complaint, so the complaint was dropped. But she also relayed information about another woman in a similar situation who didn’t feel comfortable reporting harassment to her superior.

In November 2000, after learning more incidents had occurred, a manager reported the issue to the human resources department. A counsellor was arranged through the city’s Employee Assistance Program for the complainant.

In September 2003, another complaint emerged, this time from an employee working in the senior manager’s office.

She complained again in November 2004 as the “touching” incidents continued. She was fearful and unwilling to lodge a formal complaint. The management team couldn’t agree on how to proceed, so they sought a legal opinion.

In December 2004, the senior manager was informed of the allegations and the employee was moved to another department.

However, some managers at city hall believed more needed to be done.

One of the women decided to come forward and in March 2005, lawyer Richard Hamilton, of Vancouver law firm Hamilton Howell, was hired to investigate.

McCallum was informed at that time.

Hamilton rented a room at the Vancouver Sheraton Guildford Hotel and began to interview several complainants and witnesses.

On April 4, 2005, McCallum – on the advice of Surrey’s solicitor – called Hamilton and told him to stop interviewing complainants, except for the most recent one.

Hamilton objected in an April 7 letter to McCallum and select senior managers.

“Each of the witnesses whom I met exhibited fear of retribution as a result of providing information,” Hamilton wrote. “It would be inappropriate for me to expand upon the results of my investigation to date. However, I can say that, if the information provided to me by a number of witnesses were accepted, there would be a prima facie case that the Respectful Workplace Policy has been violated.

“If one were to accept the information about (the original complainant) alone, one would be driven to this conclusion.”

In June, 2005, The Leader began an investigation, gathering documentation and interviewing complainants and witnesses.

The story broke in August 2005.

McCallum said at the time that he followed the Respectful Workplace Policy as it was written.

In November 2005, Dianne Watts unseated McCallum in a general election.

On Thursday, McCallum told The Leader he would handle a similar situation differently today.

“As a husband, father of a daughter and grandfather of granddaughters, I take this matter extremely seriously. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace,” McCallum wrote in an email response to Leader questions.

“I have acknowledged that this could have been handled better more than a decade ago.True leadership is having the ability to acknowledge where improvement can be made and this is exactly what I am doing.”

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