New details have emerged in a legal action over a workplace harassment investigation at Canada's broadcast and telecom regulator, revealing claims that a commissioner created a "toxic work environment" as he repeatedly questioned the chairman's control over the organization.
Court filings show that soon after his appointment in 2013, Raj Shoan, commissioner for Ontario for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, clashed with chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.
Mr. Shoan, 39, is one of eight CRTC commissioners, including Mr. Blais, all of whom were appointed by the federal cabinet. The commissioners vote on telecom and broadcast issues.
Mr. Shoan filed an application in April for a judicial review of Mr. Blais's response to a third-party investigation that found Mr. Shoan had harassed a CRTC employee. On Tuesday, he filed an affidavit in support of his application with dozens of documents, including e-mails and the investigators' preliminary and final reports.
The documents show that tensions grew over seemingly minor incidents, such as Mr. Shoan's habit of tossing a stress ball around during video-conference meetings and Mr. Blais's offer of an executive coach for the younger commissioner. (Mr. Shoan turned down the offer.)
In several of the documents, Mr. Shoan takes issue with what he viewed as interference by Mr. Blais or his staff with the independence of commissioners. He issued repeated and legalistic demands that they provide justifications for the chairman's authority in various situations.
The investigators' report indicates that the dispute reached a tipping point during the CRTC's high-profile review of the future of television last September, when an e-mail from Mr. Shoan threatening to launch an official complaint left a senior staff member in tears in the hearing anteroom.
That employee, Amanda Cliff, filed the complaint to the CRTC under a Treasury Board harassment-prevention policy. Mr. Blais accepted the report's findings and placed limits on the Ontario commissioner's communications with staff members. In Mr. Shoan's judicial review application filed in April, he said the investigators made errors of fact and law, and alleged the investigation process was biased.
The 57-page affidavit filed on Tuesday with the Federal Court in Ottawa reveals the extent of a deep rift between the Ontario commissioner and the chairman, despite the fact that they have spoken in person only a few times.
None of the allegations in the filing has been proved in court.
The CRTC declined to comment on Wednesday, but Mr. Blais told The Globe and Mail in May that after a formal harassment complaint was made and investigated, he had an obligation to respond.
"The independent investigator had finalized a formal report, made recommendations, and I, as deputy head of this agency, under the Financial Administration Act, cannot ignore that," Mr. Blais said. "I have responsibilities to employees and there were recommendations and I acted upon them."
In a testy exchange last summer after Mr. Shoan sent numerous e-mail inquiries to staff members regarding what powers the chairman was delegating and to whom during a vacation, Mr. Blais wrote to him in an e-mail that was included with the filings: "Exercising my powers as both deputy head and chairman, no one shall be doing anything to respond to this latest query from you. Thank you. Move on."
Mr. Blais told the investigators that as soon as the Ontario commissioner arrived, he wanted to "take more and more of the spotlight," according to the final report. The investigators wrote that the chairman later described Mr. Shoan as follows: "He tries to intimidate and he has damaged relations with key people at the CRTC…. He has made the working environment toxic."
A CRTC staff member who gave evidence in the harassment inquiry indicated to the investigators that Mr. Shoan "makes staff with less experience nervous."
Mr. Shoan says in his affidavit the harassment complaint and court case are a "regrettable" result of "dysfunctional governance issues that I believe to be at the root of the discussion at issue in this complaint."
"I also consider that certain findings are tantamount to a personal attack on me and my character. It describes me as 'rude' and 'arrogant,' and finds that my conduct has created a 'difficult' and 'stressful' and 'toxic' work environment. I am essentially being blamed, in whole, for what I consider to be ongoing and persistent challenges within the CRTC," Mr. Shoan wrote in his affidavit.
In a letter to the investigators after they issued the preliminary report, Mr. Shoan began with the Shakespeare-inspired declaration: "There is something rotten at the highest levels of the CRTC" and later argued the chairman has created a "culture of fear" where "fear of reprisals trumps open dialogue."
The report says vice-chairman Peter Menzies told the investigators the e-mail that prompted the complaint was "certainly unpleasant," but added "he has seen and tolerated much worse in his more than seven years on the Commission."
In the e-mail exchange with Ms. Cliff that led to the complaint, Mr. Shoan argued there were legal problems with a new procedure for handling external speaking engagements set out in a memo she had circulated. Ms. Cliff reports to Mr. Blais in her role as executive director of communications and external relations.
Mr. Shoan argued the policy was an attempt by the chairman or his staff to supervise or direct commissioners, while Ms. Cliff said the procedures were not new but simply written clarification of long-held policies.
After several exchanges in which Mr. Shoan demanded a response from Ms. Cliff, he sent an e-mail on Sept. 17 stating that if her team proceeded with the policy, he would "consider it grounds for an official complaint to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Service Integrity." He concluded his message stating, "Govern yourself accordingly," although his court filing says he did not intend his words to be threatening.
Ms. Cliff told the investigators she found the e-mail – on which he copied other commissioners and their assistants – the "culmination of an escalation of inappropriate, bullying and harassing e-mails" from Mr. Shoan.
The investigators concluded it was a threat and an "attempt to destroy her career and reputation."
The complaint was also based on other e-mail exchanges between Mr. Shoan and Ms. Cliff. The topics included Mr. Shoan's concerns over the ethnic diversity of names used in scenarios for a CRTC survey; CRTC staff posting an "approved" version of a speech given by Mr. Shoan that removed a reference to Netflix and Canadian broadcasters; and the denial of Mr. Shoan's request that the CRTC consider a YouTube workshop for staff members and a subsequent remark by him that staff in their 50s and 60s would not be interested.
"I strongly reject the allegations against me," Mr. Shoan said in a statement on Wednesday. "I am eager for this process to continue."
With a report from James Bradshaw