In July of 2012, a core group of staff at the radio show Q began meeting quietly to draft a document complaining that the work culture at the program, then hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, was “unsustainable.”
Early on, the six CBC radio employees would gather at a downtown restaurant away from the office to avoid notice, and code-named their endeavour “Red Sky” to keep it secret. Once the document was written, they convened a meeting at CBC headquarters on July 19 with Arif Noorani, the show’s executive producer, and Linda Groen, director of network talk radio.
The group did not discuss allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Ghomeshi. But the document, obtained by The Globe and Mail, alleges staff often had to work according to “the whim of the host,” and that “if we don’t do what he says, we will be punished in some way.” The document suggests solutions, including that Mr. Noorani should hold the “host to account, rather than operating out of fear of ‘stirring the beast.’”
Sources involved in the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity said that in an act of solidarity, the staffers split into groups of two to present the three sections of the document: on the show’s growth, its management and staff workload.
The complaint reveals that a clear, official attempt was made to address Mr. Ghomeshi’s behaviour in the workplace, and it was reviewed and acknowledged by CBC managers long before the star host was fired last month. Sources said they felt management was sympathetic, but that Mr. Ghomeshi’s office conduct never significantly changed.
“Just the fact that we had to present [the proposals] in this way speaks to the culture of fear – that these things weren’t things that we felt we could address on an ongoing basis,” said a staffer who was involved in drafting the proposals.
Since his dismissal on Oct. 26, at least nine women have made allegations of sexual abuse or harassment against the former host. The CBC has launched a third-party investigation and Toronto Police are conducting their own probe after three women contacted them with complaints of sexual assault.
The Red Sky document details an array of problems inside the Q offices, each with “possible solutions.”
The group said employees of Q felt they could not “honestly express criticism or speak up for themselves without being blamed,” and that they did not have “the power to ever say no to requests” from Mr. Ghomeshi and Mr. Noorani. Decisions were “often made in the interest of the host,” the group wrote, and “Feedback on our work is rarely given. If it is, it is usually specific and negative.”
Staff also said the show was outgrowing its resources, and staff members were overloaded with extra tasks outside their job descriptions, keeping them at work for long hours.
Ms. Groen confirmed the meeting in an e-mail, saying her superiors were informed of all the group’s concerns. Only some of the “many issues” discussed in the meeting related directly to Mr. Ghomeshi, but the staff members’ “principal concern around him was a general feeling that he lacked respect for them.”
“We had discussions with Jian. Some changes were made. I believe some things did improve. Unfortunately, some improvements were temporary,” Ms. Groen said.
The Red Sky code name was chosen as a flourish of dark humour based on staff planning meetings known as “blue sky” sessions, at which they were supposed to be free to put forward opinions and big ideas. In reality, Mr. Ghomeshi kept a tight grip on the show and had power over their careers. “The sky was definitely not blue,” one source said.
As a solution, the group suggested Q’s leadership – by which they meant Mr. Ghomeshi and Mr. Noorani – should set “boundaries to help protect staff members.” Sources said Mr. Ghomeshi would call them late at night, was routinely late for meetings, would berate employees and “freeze out” anyone who objected to what he asked for.
The group’s meeting was not the first complaint over Mr. Ghomeshi’s conduct brought to CBC managers. Two years earlier, in 2010, a woman working at Q told a representative of her union, the Canadian Media Guild, she had endured years of unprofessional interactions with Mr. Ghomeshi. In one instance, she alleges the host said, “I really want to hate-fuck you to wake you up,” after she yawned twice during a staff meeting.
According to e-mails obtained by The Globe and Mail, union representative Timothy Neesam recalls meeting the woman, who was then a producer for Q, “about Jian behaving inappropriately (verbally/in attitude) toward you.” The woman told The Globe that she recalls telling Mr. Neesam of the “hate fuck” comment, but no written notes were taken at the meeting, and she did not file a formal grievance out of concern Mr. Ghomeshi would find out if she did.
“The general vibe was people were protecting Jian,” the woman said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity over fears of a reprisal from Mr. Ghomeshi. “No one wants to make a fuss around this guy.”
Mr. Neesam was an elected volunteer for the Canadian Media Guild at the time. In e-mails, he writes that he relayed what the former Q employee told him “verbatim” to Mr. Noorani, who said he would speak to her about appropriate workplace behaviour, and to “a CBC Radio manager.”
The woman says she met with Mr. Noorani in his office and Mr. Noorani asked what could be done to improve the work environment. She says she emerged from the meeting distraught, feeling “it was futile” to try to change Mr. Ghomeshi’s behaviour because no one wanted to “shake the foundations” of a successful program. A source who worked on the program at the time confirmed the meeting took place.
Mr. Noorani, who took time away from the show this week, denies he was ever approached about sexual harassment. In an e-mail on Tuesday, Mr. Noorani said he “asked to take a few days off while the CBC investigates the matter of the union complaint and will respect the process as it unfolds.
“At no point was an allegation of sexual harassment brought to my attention.”
Mr. Noorani did not respond to a request for comment about the group meeting in 2012. In an e-mail, Mr. Neesam directed questions from The Globe to Carmel Smyth, the CMG’s president.
Ms. Smyth told The Globe in an e-mail that after investigating, “we have found that although there was no formal complaint filed with any union staff, the victim did speak to” a union colleague who “has volunteered on committees.” The union did not initiate its harassment protocols because “She did not tell this volunteer any details only that ‘inappropriate comments were made,’” Ms. Smyth said, adding: “We take these issues very seriously.”
Union officials were expecting to meet this week with the CBC’s labour relations department to discuss the complaint.
Chuck Thompson, the CBC’s head of public affairs, said he “would never comment or confirm anything along the lines of any internal review involving a current or former employee.”Report Typo/Error
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