POLITICS

CBC issues apology after scathing report on Jian Ghomeshi scandal

04/16/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/01/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A scathing report detailing the failure of CBC managers to stop star radio host Jian Ghomeshi's alleged inappropriate workplace behaviour elicited a profuse apology Thursday from its president, who admitted Canadians "have a right to expect a higher standard from their public broadcaster."

A humbled Hubert Lacroix offered his "sincere an unqualified apology to our employees and to Canadians" as findings of a 52-page report were revealed, including allegations that the disgraced Ghomeshi belittled colleagues, played cruel pranks, and, in a "small number of cases," sexually harassed them.

The report, which redacted portions that could identify employees, also concluded that Ghomeshi's managers knew about inappropriate behaviour but failed to act or hold the former "Q" host accountable. In effect, that "gave him licence to continue," the report said.

"The findings of this report are troubling, they're disappointing and they point to lapses in our system and concerns about our culture," Lacroix told a conference call. "We remain committed to creating a workplace in which safety and respect for one another is a fundamental attribute and is non-negotiable."

Outside investigator Janice Rubin interviewed 99 people over five months to prepare the report, which proposed nine recommendations that include a confidential hotline for employees, a "respect at work and human rights" ombudsperson and a task force with the union to support younger workers who might be vulnerable to impropriety.

The investigation was launched after CBC fired Ghomeshi in October, saying there was "graphic evidence" he had caused physical injury to a woman.

Claims eventually emerged from more than a dozen women who alleged sexual or physical assault. Ghomeshi has admitted in a Facebook posting that he engaged in "rough sex'' but insisted it was always consensual.

Ghomeshi faces seven counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking, but his lawyer has said he will plead not guilty to all charges. One of the complainants is a former CBC employee.

Rubin's report listed several alleged transgressions that initially went unpunished, most of them non-sexual in nature such as chronic lateness, being "moody and temperamental" and "critical and mean" to co-workers.

According to the report, a majority of witnesses who worked with Ghomeshi over the course of his CBC career described "a pattern of behaviour and conduct" that was "deeply disrespectful to employees," however some witnesses reported have "no difficulty" working with him.

"Sexualized conduct" included allegations that Ghomeshi was "overly familiar" with a number of female employees and gave them "back rubs and massages," the report said.

"Most of the witnesses did not find these massages sexual (although several did) but instead described them as creepy and disrespectful of their personal boundaries," the report said.

One woman was allegedly subjected to unwanted physical contact "that was sexual in nature," while Ghomeshi also asked women out on dates, flirted with colleagues and on-air guests and made colleagues uncomfortable by speaking graphically about his sex life, the report said.

Ghomeshi's lawyers did not return a phone message seeking comment Thursday and he refused to be interviewed for the report.

The report also contained allegations that managers who worked with Ghomeshi failed to investigate his behaviour or take steps to stop it, describing any actions they did take as "ineffective, infrequent, and inconsistent."

"The evidence shows that while Mr. Ghomeshi's star was allowed to rise, his problematic behaviour was left unchecked," the report said.

Rubin took particular issue with at least two unnamed managers who knew about a relationship between Ghomeshi and a junior co-worker in a non-permanent position. The report noted that even though the relationship appeared to be consensual it was problematic because Ghomeshi was in a position to influence her career.

But when it came to sexual harassment claims, the report stated: "To be clear, we did not find evidence that managers were aware of information relating to sexual harassment, or any complaints or allegations in that regard."

In fact, the report found "no evidence of a formal complaint made against" Ghomeshi under CBC's policies, but went on to say that's not surprising.

"We do not wish to overstate the powerlessness of those who worked with him," the report said.

Witnesses said they were reluctant to complain because of "a lack of trust and confidence in the complaint process ... and that it was expected that they deal with their concerns regarding Mr. Ghomeshi internally."

CBC also announced it was "severing ties" with two top executives, Chris Boyce, executive director of CBC Radio, and Todd Spencer, the head of human resources and industrial relations for English services.

Before Rubin's report was ordered, Boyce and Spencer conducted interviews with "Q" employees as part of an internal investigation. The two were put on indefinite leave in January.

A heavily redacted portion of the report also took aim at the Canadian Media Guild, noting that although a union member alerted them to "an allegation of sexual harassment" there was no convincing evidence that anything was done to investigate.

CMG national president Carmel Smyth said she's not privy to the information referred to and didn't know how Rubin came to that conclusion.

"We could have done better, it's true," said Smyth. "We relied very heavily on a formal process of filing a formal complaint and it turns out many people don't want to do that. I think the lesson we've learned from this is that in future if someone doesn't file a formal complaint we still have to investigate and find different ways of getting the information."

She said a joint committee is already in place to bring in the recommendations.

The CBC said it will be working with the union to review the recommendations and "implement as many of those as we can, as quickly as possible."

Lacroix said the report needs to "be a turning point in our continuing journey."

The report noted participation was "entirely voluntary" and investigators did not see it as their role to "aggressively cross-examine" anyone involved.

Ghomeshi is free on $100,000 bail with numerous conditions and is due to return to court on April 28.

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