Halifax housing agency manager sexually harassed job applicant, report finds

·6 min read
The former acting executive director of the Tawaak Housing Association in Halifax was found by an independent investigator to have sexually harassed a woman who applied for a job.  (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)
The former acting executive director of the Tawaak Housing Association in Halifax was found by an independent investigator to have sexually harassed a woman who applied for a job. (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)

A longtime senior manager with a Nova Scotia housing agency is no longer employed by the province after an independent investigation found he sexually harassed a woman who applied for a job with an Indigenous housing group.

Frank Carroll had been the director of the Cobequid Housing Authority since 1999 and was on a six-month secondment at Tawaak Housing Association in Halifax earlier this year when the incidents leading to the allegations occurred.

Tina Kane sent in her resumé in March for the job of property manager at Tawaak Housing, a non-profit organization that owns and operates rental housing for Indigenous people living in urban areas of Nova Scotia.

Kane, who is Black, said during the interview process, Carroll tried to kiss her, touched her leg, hugged her, held her hand and made inappropriate comments. Kane captured some of their interactions using a recording device hidden in her bra and surveillance set up in advance of one of their meetings.

"It has shaken my foundation," Kane said in an interview with CBC News. "The person who I thought I always knew, who was strong and assertive and stoic, I'm broken. I don't feel like that person anymore. I feel dirty. I feel ashamed. I know I shouldn't, but I can't help it."

When Kane came forward with the allegations, Tawaak Housing and the provincial Department of Infrastructure and Housing hired a lawyer with Halifax firm Nijhawan McMillan Petrunia to investigate. That lawyer, Kelly McMillan, found Carroll did sexually harass Kane.

Accused denies allegations

During the investigation, Carroll denied the sexual harassment allegations, saying Kane gave no indication his interactions with her were inappropriate, and that she was an enthusiastic participant in the incidents and "actively encouraged" conversations of a personal nature.

He suggested Kane could have been motivated to file the complaint because she realized she was "unlikely" to get the job at Tawaak, and because her friend who worked there could have benefited from Carroll's removal.

Carroll did not respond to a request from CBC News for an interview or to questions sent to him through his lawyer.

In a letter to Kane in late August, the Housing Department's executive director of housing authorities, Ed Lake, said the department accepts the investigator's findings and will be "meaningfully addressing" the violations of the housing authority's policies.

The letter also apologizes for Carroll's conduct.

Submitted by Tina Kane
Submitted by Tina Kane

The department offered Kane $10,000 as a settlement, saying that amount falls in line with decisions made by human rights tribunals. Kane requested a settlement of $140,000, which represents two years' worth of salary for the position she had applied for.

Kane declined the settlement offer and has since begun the process of filing a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Housing Department spokesperson Krista Higdon confirmed Carroll is no longer employed by the province.

The property manager for Tawaak, Leslay Harris, said the organization operates with "the highest standards of ethical accountability" and has zero tolerance for harassment.

Both organizations declined to comment further, saying there is an ongoing legal process.

First and second meetings

According to the investigator's report, Carroll interviewed Kane by himself at the Tawaak office on March 12, 2021 — an interview both parties acknowledged went well — and about a month later, the two agreed to have a second meeting at Tim Hortons. After they bought their drinks in the coffee shop, Carroll suggested they visit a nearby Tawaak property together in his car.

Kane said during the drive, Carroll held her hand and touched her leg, and when they stopped to sit on a park bench, Carroll commented on her eyes. Kane said Carroll also hugged her and tried to kiss her on two occasions during the second meeting.

Carroll denied any touching of a sexual nature during the meeting, and said any touching of hands was "accidental and purely friendly," according to the report.

He denied commenting on Kane's appearance and said while they exchanged a "friendly" and "mutual" hug at the end of the meeting in his car in the Tim Hortons parking lot, he did not try to kiss her, but rather she kissed him on the cheek when saying goodbye.

The investigator wrote that she was "satisfied on a balance of probabilities" that Carroll "most likely engaged in the behaviour" Kane alleged, noting that Kane called one of her daughters on the way home from the meeting and told her what happened, and she also consulted a lawyer, decided to file a complaint and made plans to meet with Carroll again to record their conversation.

Secret recording

Kane said she wanted to document the third meeting, which took place at the Parkside Pub in Dartmouth a few days later, because she was worried her harassment claim would not otherwise be believed.

"I could not have handled being called a liar after that," she said.

Kane hid a recording device in her bra and asked one of her daughters and a friend to sit in the pub, and later in a car in the parking lot, to observe and record Kane and Carroll's interactions.

The recording documents Carroll commenting on the length of Kane's hair, telling her she looks nice, asking if their meeting is a date, telling her that it is a date and saying that she's good for his confidence.

Carroll said in his written response to the investigator that his references to a "date" were intended as a joke — a joke he believed was mutual.

The investigator concluded that Carroll tried to hold Kane's hand at the pub, and, when they left the pub to sit in Carroll's car, he held her hand again.

Submitted by Tina Kane
Submitted by Tina Kane

Toward the end of their third meeting, in the car, Kane consented to a kiss on the cheek — in order to collect evidence in support of her complaint, she told the investigator — and Carroll immediately asked her which position at Tawaak she would prefer.

"The timing of the respondent's question is suggestive of a quid pro quo or an exchange of sexual favours for employment benefits," the investigator's report concludes.

Carroll's lawyer told the investigator that the third meeting was a "complete set up … to entice and encourage Mr. Carroll to say and do things that Ms. Kane could use to incriminate him," including by dressing in a nice leather jacket, a sweater that exposed her shoulders, wearing her hair down and wearing "more and/or different makeup."

Power dynamic

The investigator's report notes that Carroll "refused to acknowledge" that Kane may have seen him as being in a position of power. "He responded that he thought the complainant was professional enough that they could have a discussion without any power dynamic," the report said.

But Kane says in addition to being a job applicant in a hiring process, she worries that her position as a Black single mother was a factor in the interactions.

"We already know that women, African Nova Scotians and Indigenous people experience discrimination on a daily basis," she said. "I wonder constantly if this played a role in Carroll's actions. Did he think I was more desperate because I was Black and more likely to submit?"

Kane's human rights complaint is in the early stages and has not yet been adjudicated.

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