Halifax CAO apologizes for harassment text

“I should have known better,” Jacques Dubé writes in email sent to all HRM employees.

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Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé - RILEY SMITH
  • RILEY SMITH
  • Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé

The city’s chief administrative officer has apologized to HRM employees for an inappropriate text message he sent to a subordinate.

“As CAO, I should have known better and not assumed that I had permission to communicate about a matter unrelated to work,” writes Jacques Dubé, in an email sent out Thursday afternoon to all city hall employees.

The CAO’s text, sent back in February to chief financial officer Amanda Whitewood, included an “amended and personalized” version of a satirical Beaverton article made to read as if Whitewood was commenting about murdering her boss.

Dubé writes in his email (pasted in full below) that he sent the text “absent of any context or regard for how it could be received.” Whitewood subsequently filed a harassment complaint about the message, which contained several violent passages.

The CFO did not respond to a request for comment on today's emailed message, but Dubé defended Whitewood’s response to city staff.

“It’s not a complainant’s fault that they feel harassed and they should not be blamed in any manner for coming forward and looking to our harassment policy for a solution,” Dubé writes. “Just the opposite, HRM must support complainants and treat all complaints seriously.”

As previously reported by The Coast, Dubé took a two-week leave from city hall in March while council discussed how to respond to the complaint. According to Dubé, an independent investigator who was brought in determined that while the text was in breach of employee policy, the “incident was isolated and no harm was intended.”

Mayor Mike Savage and individual councillors have all so far refused to comment on the personnel matter, with Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage representative Bill Karsten yelling at reporters last week that “You embarrass yourself for even talking about it.”

Breton Murphy, manager of public affairs for HRM, says the CAO is not taking media interviews and city hall won’t be providing any other comment, “as this is a personnel matter.”

The Coast has previously been told by a source with knowledge of the matter that as many as three senior managers at HRM have taken issue with Dubé’s management of female staff since he was hired last September.

The same source suggested last week that if Dubé wasn’t fired, the municipality could be facing a discrimination lawsuit. It remains to be seen if today's statements from the CAO will do anything to quell those tensions.

“I should have thought about what I was doing before I pressed ‘send,’” Dubé writes.

“I didn’t think about the feelings of my colleague and I will always regret it. For that I am sincerely sorry.”

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Jacques Dubé's email to Halifax staff:

“Dear Fellow HRM employees:

“I want to take this opportunity to address a harassment complaint made against me by another HRM employee. I owe you an honest assessment of this situation and not only how I have learned, but how we can all learn from what happened.
 
“I want you to know that at the outset, like all complaints under the HRM Workplace Rights Harassment Prevention Policy, this complaint was taken very seriously. Properly, the Mayor and Council ensured that the complaint was independently investigated and that fair conclusions were drawn. Currently, the recommendations from the process are being implemented.

“In my case, I amended and personalized a satirical article from an online publication about snow and snow removal on the eve of a major storm. I then sent a text to a colleague absent of any context or regard for how it could be received.

“A complaint was filed and a thorough process undertaken. In this case, the independent investigator found that while I breached the Policy, the incident was isolated and no harm was intended.

“I have apologized to the complainant and take this opportunity to tell all of you as well that I am sorry.  As CAO, I should have known better and not assumed that I had permission to communicate about a matter unrelated to work. I have learned a lot from this experience.

“First, the HRM Workplace Harassment policy does work and it will be applied in every circumstance including those affecting the most senior members of the organization.

“Second, people do not react to situations in the same way. It’s not a complainant’s fault that they feel harassed and they should not be blamed in any manner for coming forward and looking to our harassment policy for a solution. Just the opposite, HRM must support complainants and treat all complaints seriously.

“Third, our workplace harassment policy is designed to ensure the confidentiality of the harassment complaint process and the privacy of the individuals involved. Clearly, it is disappointing that some of that confidentiality was compromised in this case but we must persevere toward building a workplace free from harassment in all its forms.

“Finally, I would urge each employee to reflect on their personal conduct in the workplace and whether another employee could, in any way, interpret that conduct as harassing. If so, change your conduct. Be kind, generous and considerate of your colleagues.

“If you are being subjected to inappropriate behaviour in our workplace, please contact your Manager or Human Resources. For ease of reference our Workplace Rights Harassment Prevention Policy is available here: \Documents\WorkplaceRightsHarassmentPreventionPolicy004.pdf  You have my promise that I will be an advocate for a workplace free of harassment for all of our employees.

“I recognize that this has impacted my colleague, Mayor and Council, and our organization. I should have thought about what I was doing before I pressed “send”. I didn’t think about the feelings of my colleague and I will always regret it. For that I am sincerely sorry.

“I urge you all to learn from my experience as I did.

“Sincerely, Jacques Dubé”

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