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The new Remai Modern Art Gallery is pictured in Saskatoon, Sask., on Oct. 19, 2017.Liam Richards/The Globe and Mail

The outgoing executive director of Saskatoon’s Remai Modern gallery has for the first time publicly addressed a Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission complaint about him. In a statement sent to The Globe and Mail, Gregory Burke says the allegation dates back to 2013 and was filed in 2016, and that it is unproven.

“I continue to co-operate fully and engage actively in the process. I am eager to clear any speculation of wrongdoing since the allegation has been incorrectly characterized in media reports. However, given the sensitivities involved, I am unable to speak publicly on the matter until the process has concluded,” Mr. Burke wrote to The Globe.

The allegation is not specified and the commission does not make complaints public.

Remai Modern, a 130,000-square-foot gallery designed by KPMB Architects’ Bruce Kuwabara, opened in October, 2017, with ambitions to put Saskatoon on the international cultural map and further fulfill its Paris of the Prairies moniker.

But “the challenges and stress” leading up to that opening resulted in internal problems, according to the outgoing board chair. In a statement released Sunday, Scott Verity wrote that these difficulties “significantly affected our employees and contributed to workplace conflicts.”

He revealed that there have been three formal internal complaints at the gallery, which were investigated by independent third parties and unsubstantiated. These complaints are also unspecified. Mr. Verity wrote that Remai Modern acted “reasonably and responsibly to every concern and implemented extra measures to support our employees and foster a healthy workplace culture.” He said the outcome of the human-rights complaint, which is separate, is pending.

Open this photo in gallery:

Pae White's neon art work in the stairway during a media tour of the new Remai Modern Art Gallery.Liam Richards/The Globe and Mail

Open this photo in gallery:

Phillippe Parent's installation 'Speech Bubbles (Transparent)' is pictured during a media tour of the new Remai Modern Art Gallery.Liam Richards/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Verity declined to speak with The Globe when contacted last week.

The Remai replaced the city’s former Mendel Art Gallery. Mr. Burke, former director of Toronto’s Power Plant, was appointed executive director and CEO of the Mendel in 2013 and worked “tirelessly to successfully open Remai Modern,” read a December news release announcing Mr. Burke’s departure to become director at a gallery in New Zealand, where he is from.

His final day is this Friday. “I appreciate the messages of support that I have received to date,” he said in his statement.

“I think he’s done an amazing job at putting Saskatoon on the map, between him and Bruce Kuwabara,” said Paul Bain, who served on the Power Plant board during Mr. Burke’s tenure. “That should be celebrated. Why is this only coming up now? The timing is curious.”

In his statement, Mr. Verity also pointed to “a confusing and difficult governance relationship with the City of Saskatoon.”

Read more: Saskatoon gallery a community-building masterpiece

Read more: Saskatoon’s Remai Modern gallery breathes new life into the art world of the West

The gallery is a city-controlled corporation. Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says council’s primary job is to appoint board members who oversee the facility and keep council informed.

“It’s been important to me that the integrity of that governance relationship is maintained, that we do not get involved in the day-to-day operations,” Mr. Clark, a big Remai booster, told The Globe in an interview Monday.

But a former board member tells The Globe that the volunteer board was bogged down with long, unproductive meetings, dominated by its city council members.

“If the conversations were managed by the chair and conducted respectfully; if the conversation wasn’t monopolized like it was by city council members, I really believe the situation like the one with the executive director could have been addressed properly,” says Dion Tootoosis, who says he felt like a “token” Indigenous board member and eventually stopped attending meetings.

Mr. Tootoosis says Mr. Burke had planned for some time to leave the gallery after launching and establishing the new building.

The Globe was unable to interview the two city councillors who were on the board with Mr. Tootoosis. The chair at the time, Alain Gaucher, declined an interview request.

When asked by The Globe, Mr. Clark was unable to address this issue directly, but pointed out that a working group has been established to discuss how the board and council work together.

He also paid tribute to the work done by the Remai team, including Mr. Burke. “I’ve seen how hard people have worked to make this gallery possible and to open a gallery that has brought the attention of the world into our small prairie city.”

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