Employees with the City of Edmonton are hoping a candlelight vigil in Churchill Square Saturday evening will continue a conversation about harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
It’s an issue that was first raised nearly one year ago following the results of a 2016 employee survey.
Those results showed one in five employees in the public service reported systematic harassment and discrimination.
“I know how proud people are serving the public, working for the city, because I see it every day,” said Cecily Poohkay, one of the vigil’s organizers. “We just want to be able to do that in a respectable environment.”
The vigil included a few speeches along with a moment of silence. However, only a handful of employees showed up at the event, which Poohkay attributes to fear of speaking out and fear of retaliation from management.
Poohkay, who has worked for the city for two-and-a-half years, said she had experienced harassment herself and was one of a group of four people that lodged a formal complaint. She said it started while she was still on probation at the start of her career with the city.
“We unfortunately don’t know where things are at a year on,” Pookhay said.
Organizers of the vigil say the intent is to continue holding leadership at the city accountable for “the significant problems that continue to persist and fester and to support staff who serve the public under these conditions.”
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They hope the vigil will provide a safe and open place for employees to discuss what they’ve been experiencing and how to move forward.
“We use vigils when there’s been a loss and in this case there’s been a loss of trust between employees and leadership at the city,” Poohkay added.
Two deputy city managers were present at the vigil: Catrin Owen, the deputy city manager of communications and engagement, and Kim Armstrong, the deputy city manager of employee services.
“We wanted to listen and hear and see the women and men who would be here,” Armstrong said.
“It would never be something that anyone would wish for. However, we understand and recognize that those folks have spoken their truth.”
Armstrong’s department was created earlier this year in response to the survey results; she said employees have been busy working.
“Everything from re-examining our diversity and inclusion framework to looking at the recommendation that came from Deloitte’s review,” she said.
“We are actively working on implementing those recommendations,” Armstrong added. “I’m encouraged that there is opportunity for us to continue to work at building the vibrant, healthy workplace culture that everyone is entitled to. There’s real commitment on the part of our leadership team to make that happen.”
Linda Crockett, founder of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources and Recovery Centre, has been treating eight city employees and said the issue of harassment in city workplaces is still happening.
“There’s still bullying and harassment,” she said. “I do truly believe there’s people out in the City of Edmonton that are trying to do a very good job and make some changes and create some positives resources but it’s not far-reaching because I know they’re still suffering.”
Crockett said her patients experience psychological injury, anxiety, depression, isolation and hopelessness.
“They don’t feel safe. They don’t know where to turn because the message isn’t consistent in the sense that there’s help available,” she said.
Crockett believes the situation is actually worse now, compared to last November when the issue first came out, because more attention has been drawn to it. She has strong words for city leadership.
“We need to get down deeper,” she said. “We need to really see what’s going on. Listen to your employees — we need to find a way for them to feel safe to come to talk to you.”
As for Poohkay, she is hopeful that the small event sends a message to city management and leadership.
“The intention and purpose of this event is to hope that things can get better and that things will change.”