Rhino's Ramblings: Black Thursday

Robert Thomas

After months of speculation, rumour and innuendo, Councillor Brian Swanson has now commented at length on his side of the story revolving around the Scandal at the Downtown Facility and Field House (DFFH) or what is commonly known as Mosaic Place and Yara Centre.

But before I begin, let me state what the eight women allegedly endured (I only call it allegedly as it has never been before a court of law) was way out of line. And it should have never happened - period. In my own opinion, do I believe these things happened to the women?

Yes I do, 100 percent.

In his statement, what Councillor Swanson has done – despite what his detractors might state – is open the doors to a much wider version of the events.

A wider version Councillor Swanson, Councillor Crystal Froese and Councillor Scott McMann have never been able to ever fully state before because they have been restricted by two key things.

First, the City has never officially revealed the exact nature of the serious personnel matter which enveloped the DFFH. The City has consistently declined comment due to legal and privacy reasons. Only media reports have given details of the allegations which the City has never confirmed nor denied.

Secondly, Council is restricted by their own Ethics Bylaw when it comes to commenting on what happens at in-camera meetings.

It’s right in Bylaw No 5530, The Elected Members Code of Ethics Bylaw.

“Members of Council shall refrain from disclosing or releasing any information acquired by virtue of their office except when required by law or authorized by Council to do so. Members shall not take advantage of or obtain private benefit from information that is obtained in the course of or as a result of their official duties or position and that is not in the public domain. This includes complying with the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in their capacity as members of Council of a local authority.”

But what has changed? What, in my opinion, is now allowing Councillor Swanson to issue some type of statement?

Councillor Froese, in my opinion, made the nature of the allegations public with her October 22, 2018 motion and resultant comments requiring all Third Party Boards to comply with Occupational Health and Safety requirements regarding harassment. Although the motion was made at Council, for this scribe it revealed not only the nature of the allegations but also some of what was discussed in-camera.

Related column on Councillor Crystal Froese: Jet Lag & A Motion’s Hidden Target

This is, from my sources, not the first time in-camera details were inadvertently discussed by Council members without Council’s authorization on this matter. If my sources' opinions are correct the other occasion allegedly included Mayor Frasier Tolmie in an October 1st exclusive interview with Discover Moose Jaw regarding the DFFH.

It all begs the questions:

Did Councillor Swanson have his hands tied because the entire issue was discussed in-camera and he could not comment?

Did other Council members by inadvertently discussing the issue with either the media or at Council now legally allow Councillor Swanson to legitimately break his silence, as has been alleged?

Now here is what I can tell you and I did have a brief interview with Councillor Swanson in mid-August about the DFFH where he declined comment but added something intriguing.

When I ran into Councillor Swanson the response I received was “no comment” and a few seconds later he added “there is more to it than what you think.”

It needs to be noted that at that time only one reference regarding allegations of sexual harassment had been in the media and that was a Rhino's Ramblings column. Other local media were reporting that no details had been released other than it was a “personnel matter.”

Swanson Confirms Edge To Some Degree

But what Councillor Swanson's published statement in the Moose Jaw Express does provide is confirmation of some of the things former DFFH GM Graham Edge told MJ Independent.

And that is, Edge alleged two senior Administration members attended the February closed door meeting where the sexual harassment allegations were discussed.

It was something MJ Independent never released because we COULD NOT CONFIRM IT. It was merely a "he said, she said" sort of thing. Whenever asked about the DFFH Scandal all the City would respond is “no comment due to legal and privacy reasons.”

What Councillor Swanson’s statement has confirmed is more than the interim DFFH Board (comprised of Councillors Froese, McMann and Swanson) and GM Graham Edge were at the February secret meeting. It includes a senior Administration member actively involved in rectifying the concerns brought forward.

Swanson's statement, which was published in the Moose Jaw Express, said “The Board of DFFH, which included a senior member of City Administration in an Ex Officio capacity, took reasonable action when apprised of allegations of harassment and inappropriate use of language by DFFH employees based on the information available when the action was taken.”

Councillor Swanson's statement, when combined with what Graham Edge told us has confirmed the identity of one of the two senior Administration staff members who attended that meeting. One of the Administration members Edge named was former Parks and Recreation Director, Ted Schaeffer. Schaeffer served in an Ex Officio capacity on the DFFH Board.

Schaeffer coincidentally is no longer with the City but now holds a similar position in Martensville. His departure was due to family reasons as his wife had been working for over a year in Saskatoon.

In the investigation what the City did release as part of the public report prepared by Administration was first knowledge that Graham Edge went to City Human Resources Department for advice and later Councillor Froese regarding the DFFH. The City's HR Department advised her that the board needed to seek outside assistance. The Board in the end never did this.

But what has now been revealed is that senior staff in two City departments knew exactly what was happening at the DFFH regarding the allegations of sexual harassment.

Differing Narrative About Files

Now here is where Councillor Swanson's statements adds something intriguing which CONTRADICTS what the City released and that is when he removed the investigative files he was NOT ALONE and the files had already been removed.

According to Councillor Swanson's statement he did it at the request of “the senior DFFH employee responsible for Human Resources in the presence of another employee that I received files from DFFH that had been gathered by staff from the desk of a terminated employee. There was no surreptitious action or malevolent intent in doing so.”

However the report from administration stated the confidential files were taken from the General Manager's office by Councillor Swanson alone. The files, according to that report, were then taken to Councillor Swanson's home and subsequently turned over to his lawyer Ken Cornea who then turned them over to outside investigator Joe Dosenberger.

The two narratives leaves me asking the following questions:

Why are there two different accounts regarding the circumstances of the files removal? Which one is correct?

Why would a DFFH staff member request Councillor Swanson to do this? What was their motivation?

Although I cannot tell you the answer I can tell you what Graham Edge told us just after he was terminated. At that time we asked Edge if he had any proof of what he alleged to us at that time. He responded that he had left all of his investigative work in his desk.

Edge told us he could not understand why he was hired if Councillor Swanson dictated what he could or could not do. Edge stated the “former French teacher (Swanson) is bad for your community.”

In my opinion Edge's statements bore a lot of hostility for losing his job. Were the files removed because of this?

At that time Edge told us he was fired because of his investigation into sexual harassment at the DFFH. He would repeat the same claims to the Regina Leader Post. The claims however were dismissed as unfounded in the City's detailed investigation into the matter.

An initial July 28, 2018 report was prepared by Dosenberger who found there was no evidence of impeding Edge's investigation.

“The report concluded “There is a strong prima facia case” that the complaints raised in January were valid. He also concluded that “the DFFH Board did not exercise the necessary due diligence to ensure the investigation was properly conducted and reported to them in a timely manner but they did not consciously suppress the investigation as alleged,” a report to Council stated when recommending sanctions.

The report called into question Councillor Swanson not understanding his role and responsibilities by taking the documents to his home and then handing them over to his lawyer.

I spoke to someone who is highly knowledgeable when it comes to the protection of privacy and if what happened at the DFFH breached provincial privacy legislation since the files went from a Council member to a lawyer there response was “Good question.”

There is the potential privacy legislation that was not breached as no evidence has been released and there a confidential bond between lawyer and client.

In his published statement Councillor Swanson said he took the documents from Mosaic Place to his home because he had no office at City Hall. Other than Mayor Frasier Tolmie no member of Council has an office at City Hall.

It needs to be noted that the legal profession through the Saskatchewan Law Society has higher standards to protect confidentiality and sanctions for breaching confidentiality than provided by legislation governing the City of Moose Jaw.

In the report recommending sanctions, Administration wrote the “mishandling of confidential files was an aggravating circumstance in assessing accountability by the Board Chair.”

I asked the privacy expert regarding a third party filing a complaint and was told that, generally, no person can do that unless it breached their own personal privacy, the breach involved a minor or someone under their direct care or they had WRITTEN AUTHORIZATION from the person or persons involved. To do so otherwise would in fact be breaching the individual(s)'s right to privacy. It could also give the person(s) whose privacy was breached legal grounds to commence a court action or alternatively impact any future court action they might be contemplating.

When MJ Independent discovered Graham Edge was terminated by the DFFH Interim Board we contacted Councillor Swanson who told us the termination was “unanimous” and Edge was let go as his probationary period had not yet expired. He declined to give any greater comment and only replied, when asked if there was more to add, by simply saying “nope, that sums it up.”

A confidential source very familiar with the termination of Graham Edge told me in October that when Edge was led out from the DFFH he allegedly said he would “get even” and “bring this place down.”

Edge, however, told us within days of being terminated that his raising the sexual harassment complaint had nothing to do with sour grapes but told to protect the women.

When the sanctions were enacted Edge told me, on Facebook Messenger, that he was employed but declined to provide details. When asked about being employed by the Regina Leader Post Edge, he said the dispute left him “basically unhireable.”

Staff Re-Interviewed

Following the Dosenberger report a second investigation was conducted where a female investigator sat down and interviewed DFFH staff. Although a report was never released into what was discovered in said investigation

It begs the question – Did the second investigation show any files and statements that were missing from Edge's investigation?

McMann's Words

In mid-August Councillor Scott McMann questioned whether the investigation into the DFFH Scandal was open and transparent when the new permanent DFFH Board was disbanded by Mayor Frasier Tolmie and Councillors Dawn Luhning and Chris Warren.

“Since it was not done in an open and transparent way and while I’m not in favour of the process they chose or the new bylaw, I do need to declare a conflict of interest and recuse myself from what I believe is a miscarriage of justice,” Councillor McMann stated.

The Bylaw saw City Manager Jim Puffalt assume temporary management control of the DFFH. Input from the Moose Jaw and District Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Moose Jaw followed by a later announcement by Puffalt on the need to change the direction of the DFFH to being more aggressive in seeking shows and events as a means to economically stimulate the Moose Jaw economy. Councillor Swanson would call it “voodoo economics.”

In his statement, Councillor Swanson makes mention of how during his tenure “significant improvements were made of the financial viability of DFFH as evidenced in the six month financial update provided to Council immediately prior to the dissolution of the DFFH Board.”

Lingering Questions

At the end of it all, Councillor Swanson’s printed statement raises numerous questions regarding the DFFH Scandal.

Questions like:

If at least two senior members of Administration knew about the sexual harassment allegations months before its was reported to the Mayor why didn’t they say or do something to put an end to it?

If they did say something who did they say it to and what was their reaction to the news?

Did members of Council and others know about any of this prior to Mayor Tolmie receiving an anonymous complaint from someone connected to former DFFH GM Graham Edge?

Why is there a cease and desist order against Graham Edge?

What sort of interaction did the City of Moose Jaw have with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner for the Province of Saskatchewan into whether or not a privacy breach occurred under applicable Saskatchewan legislation? If so what did they recommend?

What actions is the City undertaking when it comes to all Council members and Administrative staff who may regularly take home confidential documents as part of their elected or work responsibilities?

Is there the potential for this happening on other boards and how is privacy being protected there?

Are there people and groups using what happened at the DFFH for their own political purposes? If so, what are they attempting to accomplish?

And Finally....

What is the City doing to help the women who went through this?

It all comes up on Tuesday night at Moose Jaw City Council hopefully more answers will be provided.