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LCBO is putting Norman Hardie wines back on its shelves.Doug Ives/The Canadian Press

Six months after halting orders of Norman Hardie wines in the wake of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct, the Ontario liquor board is making plans to restock, and warning its employees who are uncomfortable with the decision to keep their opinions to themselves.

In an internal e-mail obtained by The Globe, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s vice-president of retail operations, Rafik Louli, says new shipments may begin arriving in stores next week. The e-mail also warns the Crown corporation’s employees to “avoid any speculation or sharing any personal opinion – negative or positive."

In June, The Globe published a report revealing allegations of misconduct by Mr. Hardie from more than 20 people, including former employees who described a “hedonistic” work environment. Three women described unwanted sexual contact, including instances of groping or kissing. Eighteen others described requests for sex by Mr. Hardie, and deliberately being exposed to pornography at the Prince Edward County winery.

The backlash was swift, with restaurants across the country pulling the wines from their menus, and government bodies such as Quebec’s SAQ and Alberta’s AGLC pledging to halt new orders. Mr. Hardie issued a public apology, and said that “some of the allegations made against me are not true, but many are."

On Tuesday, after The Globe approached the winery about the LCBO decision, Mr. Hardie released a statement. “I am pleased with the LCBO’s decision to resume sales of our wines,” he said. “We have taken several steps over the past several months to ensure our Winery is a safe and respectful workplace …"

Neither of the winery’s statements since The Globe’s report has provided details of changes made, nor specified which allegations it considers untrue. Instead, the winery cited a review conducted by an independent adviser that did not find examples of sexual harassment.

All three of the women originally named in The Globe’s report said that since the story was published, they have not heard from either Mr. Hardie or the winery to apologize or to make amends.

An LCBO spokesperson did not address questions on how the decision was reached, or why they are confident the winery is operating differently. The Crown corporation would not make available for interviews either Mr. Louli or LCBO president George Soleas. An e-mailed statement said only that the decision came after “careful review and consideration,” and that the choice on whether to purchase the wine is “in the hands of our customers.” A separate investigation by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has concluded and no further action will be taken – a probe that was unrelated to the LCBO’s review.

In the internal LCBO e-mail, employees who “do not feel comfortable selling or recommending his wines” are told: “A reminder that while sharing product knowledge is an important part of your job, adding individual opinions or speculating on matters outside of the LCBO is not appropriate.” OPSEU, the union that represents LCBO employees, did not respond to a request for comment.

Jenny Smith, one of the women named in the original Globe report, called the decision a “stamp of approval” for Mr. Hardie by the Ontario government.

“It’s a kick in the stomach for anyone who’s experienced predatory or misogynistic or exploitative behaviour," she said.

In The Globe’s report, Mr. Hardie admitted to kissing Ms. Smith on her first day of employment at the winery.

“I am still dealing with the outcome of that article in my personal and professional life,” she said. “No one [from the winery] has offered me a chance to talk further, or a private apology,” she said. “And the LCBO is deciding that he’s done enough.”

Sarah Reid, who told The Globe that the winemaker groped her at an event in Montreal in 2016, echoed this.

“I’m deeply disappointed with this decision," she said. “Giving the choice to the consumer whether to support him is simply passing the buck and choosing to not hold members of our society accountable.”

A recent survey by the Dandelion Initiative, which supports survivors of sexual violence, found that 87 per cent of Toronto bartenders said they’ve experienced sexual violence or harassment at work. “It’s an epidemic, and a crisis in this industry that needs to be taken seriously, especially by people holding power like the AGCO and the LCBO," said Viktoria Belle, who runs the non-profit.

“When the LCBO says they’re going to do something and fails to do so, knowing its impact on the community, they’re not being responsible alcohol distributors," she said.

The owner of Toronto’s Honest Weight restaurant, Victoria Bazan, was one of the first in June to pull Mr. Hardie’s wines from her menu. “I’d be very interested to hear the reasons for the LCBO’s decision,” she said. “We haven’t put the wines back.”

But Jamie Kennedy, a well-known chef and long-time friend of the winemaker, spoke in support of the decision. “I think he has taken, in my view, measures to address that both personally and corporately,” he said. He, too, did not provide details on changes made.

An e-mailed request for comment from Premier Doug Ford, who has spoken publicly about the need for a zero-tolerance approach to workplace harassment, was left unanswered. A spokesperson for Vic Fedeli, the Minister of Finance (to whom the Crown Corporation reports), referred questions back to the LCBO.

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