Ottawa ‘committed’ to parole board changes after scathing report

Click to play video: 'Public Safety minister shares ‘frustration’ after parole board member found to have sexually harassed co-workers'
Public Safety minister shares ‘frustration’ after parole board member found to have sexually harassed co-workers
WATCH: Public Safety minister shares 'frustration' after parole board member found to have sexually harassed co-workers – May 29, 2024

The federal government says it’s time for renewed leadership at the Parole Board of Canada following a sexual harassment investigation.

Harriet Solloway, the public sector integrity commissioner, began investigating allegations of misconduct perpetrated by board member Michael Sanford in April 2022, in light of a whistleblower coming forward. The investigation found “irrefutable evidence” that Sanford, a former Ottawa Police Service inspector, sexually harassed four women employees over eight years beginning in 2014.

“The misconduct included lewd, sexually suggestive emails and phone calls, unwelcome, persistent flirting, unwanted and unwelcome personal invitations, and even unwanted physical contact including a kiss on the lips at a workplace holiday lunch,” Solloway said.

According to the report, one employee said Sanford put his hands on her shoulders while she worked at her desk and repeatedly asked her to go on dinner dates. When she refused to have a private discussion with Sanford, he followed her around the office until she hid in a washroom. He waited for her outside, which she said caused her to tremble with fear.

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“There is no question that the Board Member’s actions had a serious negative impact on the affected employees. He inflicted fear and humiliation, resulting in sick leave for one of the employees and even the resignation of another,” Solloway said.

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Sanford resigned in 2022 when he learned the probe was launched, according to the report, but it also says the problems go beyond just one individual. The commissioner found Parole Board of Canada management put employees in danger by failing to respond.

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“The actions taken by PBC management failed to convey the seriousness of the matter, and actually fostered an environment that enabled the Board Member’s misconduct,” Solloway said. “PBC management also failed to convey the seriousness of the incidents to the Board Member, advising him that he should ‘refrain from being too friendly with the public servants.’”

Despite the report finding that Sanford’s misconduct dates back to 2014 when he first joined the board, he was reappointed by the Governor in Council for a second term in 2020.

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Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told Global News he is frustrated by the parole board’s performance, which he says he was briefed on weeks ago.

“The ability to have a safe and healthy workplace is something that every Canadian understandably expects. And the parole board did not achieve that basic standard,” LeBlanc said.

“So I’ve directed the public safety department to work with the parole board, to tell us exactly what plans they have in place to obviously implement the recommendations, but ensure that this kind of circumstance can never happen again.”

When the current chair of the board retires at the end of the month, LeBlanc says there will be “an opportunity” to renew leadership at the Parole Board.

“That’s something we’re committed to doing,” he said.

The board chair was not available for an interview. However, a Parole Board of Canada communications advisor said the commissioner’s recommendations of conducting a management review of the PBC Ontario office in Kingston, establishing policies to deal with harassment complaints and implementing a process to assess past workplace behaviour for prospective board members, all align with the board’s ongoing efforts.

“The PBC’s senior leadership team is committed to ensuring compliance with these recommendations and will undertake necessary follow-up action,” the spokesperson said. “Where inappropriate conduct is identified, the PBC takes immediate steps to address it, and put measures in place to ensure that it does not reoccur.”

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In her report, the commissioner states she is “satisfied” with the parole board’s response and expects a progress update in six months.

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