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Vision Vancouver in denial about VSB bullying

This is earth calling fired Vision Vancouver school board trustees. You may still be on another planet. We have now received a second in-depth report — this one from WorkSafe B.C.
Vision Vancouver trustees
Former Vancouver School Board trustees Allen Wong, Joy Alexander, Mike Lombardi and Patti Bacchus. Photo Dan Toulgoet

This is earth calling fired Vision Vancouver school board trustees. You may still be on another planet.

We have now received a second in-depth report — this one from WorkSafe B.C. — which confirms you were indeed engaged in activities that can clearly be classified as bullying and harassing senior school board staff.

And yet you have remained in some kind of state of denial for the longest time.

When the first report looking into allegations of harassment and bullying, the one by labour lawyer Roslyn Goldner, was made public earlier this month and confirmed those charges, you wrote her off as a stooge. Vision’s Patti Bacchus explained in her piece for the online magazine the Vancouver Observer: “I suppose it’s not surprising an investigator hired by senior managers and reporting to government-appointed senior managers would reach this conclusion.”

I’m sure that Steve Cardwell found this charge, um, interesting. When six members of the board’s senior management, including the superintendent and the secretary-treasurer, went on “indefinite leave” practically en masse late last September, Cardwell, the former VSB superintendent, put his work at UBC on hold and returned to help out.

At the time, Vision trustees held this up as a sign that things couldn’t be all that bad. After all, the much-respected Cardwell was willing to come back.

Within days of the mass departure, a letter surfaced — conveniently leaked to the media — from the president of the B.C. School Superintendents Association, Sherry Elwood, to the deputy minister of education. It alleged a toxic workplace and harassment of senior staff at the VSB. The minister of education asked WorkSafe B.C. to investigate.

Following rules set out by WorkSafe B.C., and the VSB’s own board policy, Cardwell began the process of investigating the allegations.

On Oct. 12, and a week before the board was fired, Cardwell confirmed the engagement of Goldner to conduct an independent investigation, in accordance with the district’s policy and WorkSafe B.C.’s requirement.

Her report, as you know by now, confirmed the board’s abuse of staff, particularly by Vision trustees, and pointed specifically at Bacchus and board chair Mike Lombardi.

Goldner wrote that “The ‘tipping point’ for staff was the September 26, 2016 private and public meetings held at Charles Tupper Secondary School” to deal with school closures.

A statement from Vision’s executive director Stepan Vdovine, following release of the Goldner report, attempted to deflect the findings of bullying and harassment to the issue of forced school closures: “The Vision Vancouver school board trustees were elected by the citizens of Vancouver on a platform of advocacy for students’ learning, not to do the provincial government’s dirty work of closing neighbourhood schools.” All the Vision trustees were doing was “asking difficult questions of senior staff at public meetings.”

Lombardi came off sounding like Sgt. Schultz in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes who would famously duck trouble by exclaiming, “I know nothing.”

And then last week, the WorkSafe B.C. report was released.

It is much more technical than the Goldner report. The investigators retained the services of an expert in the field of bullying and harassment. As well, they provided a definition of those activities.

And they looked at what could be considered “reasonable actions” as employers relate to employees and what could be defined as “work direction” provided by trustees to senior staff.

Then, following the description of each incident reported to them, they would conclude whether that could be defined as bullying or harassment.

The investigators also concluded that the reason acts of bullying and harassment by trustees were not reported to the board was because those being abused were “fearful for their jobs and future careers.” Senior staff also realized there was “nothing anyone could do to the trustees” short of the minister of education.

But in the end, they focused, as Goldner had, on that meeting at Tupper, the “tipping point.” And they concluded, as she had, that the trustees’ actions and words, and again particularly Bacchus’, constituted harassment and bullying by holding the senior staff members up to ridicule and intimidation.

This time there was no official statement from Vision and no suggestion the investigators were government stooges.

Instead, there was this comment from Bacchus to CBC radio: “I didn’t see or experience, to me, behaviour that I thought was ever intended to do that.” And she added, “I didn’t see how hard that was on staff and I regret that terribly.”

Indeed.

agarr@vancourier.com

@allengarr