History museum addresses growing 'anger' over workplace harassment

·3 min read
Mark O'Neill resigned as CEO of the Canadian Museum of History in April, just two months before his mandate was set to end. He had been at the centre of a workplace harassment investigation. (Canadian Museum of History - image credit)
Mark O'Neill resigned as CEO of the Canadian Museum of History in April, just two months before his mandate was set to end. He had been at the centre of a workplace harassment investigation. (Canadian Museum of History - image credit)

After months of silence, senior management at the Canadian Museum of History have acknowledged a growing sense of frustration among staff since a formal complaint over alleged workplace harassment was filed against its then-CEO last summer.

In an internal letter obtained by Radio-Canada, the museum's interim CEO apologized for the fact employees have often learned more information on internal matters from the media than from senior management.

"I know there are feelings of frustration, confusion and anger," said Caroline Dromaguet, acknowledging a recent "void in communications."

Dromaguet added she cannot say anything about the museum's next CEO because the appointment is not yet official. CBC has already revealed the federal government chose Henry Kim as the institution's next leader.

Dromaguet's statement echoes a widespread sense of anger inside the museum, as relayed in recent weeks by a number of sources who did not have the right to speak publicly about the situation.

The Canadian Museum of History is a Crown corporation responsible for managing the museum of the same name located in Gatineau, Que., along the shores of the Ottawa River, as well as the Canadian War Museum located on the other side of the river in Ottawa.

Jonathan Dupaul/Radio-Canada
Jonathan Dupaul/Radio-Canada

Workplace harassment

Dromaguet's letter offers more details on the complaint, whiich was first filed in July 2020 against the former CEO of the Museum, Mark O'Neill. O'Neill retired in April, two months before the official end of his second five-year term.

"With respect to the nature of the workplace harassment allegations and the findings of the investigation involving our former president and CEO, I can confirm that the allegations involved a complainant and were related to conduct that undermined a collaborative, healthy and safe work environment where our employees could develop and thrive," said Dromaguet.

She added she is aware of "questions regarding Mark's ability to go on leave throughout the investigation period and his ability to submit a resignation shortly after the independent investigation was completed."

However, she explained, "these were choices available to him pursuant to our policies, procedures and the law."

Speaking on behalf of the museum's senior management, Dromaguet sought to reassure her staff they are taking "all necessary steps to ensure we have the best processes and policies in place to ensure a safe, inclusive, and diverse workplace to support your professional development in an inclusive and collaborative environment."

Martin Trainor/CBC
Martin Trainor/CBC

New CEO not yet approved

Sources have said the museum's board of trustees recently approved the appointment of Kim as the next CEO. His appointment still needs to be approved by cabinet.

Born in the United States, Kim studied archeology and ancient Greek history at Harvard and Oxford universities. He moved to Toronto in 2012 to oversee the creation of the Aga Khan Museum, an institution that opened its doors to the public in 2014 and is dedicated to the study of Islamic civilizations. He left the museum in late 2020.

During an appearance in front of a parliamentary committee in 2018, Kim said he managed a budget of $16.5 million and a staff of 60 employees. The permanent collection of the Aga Khan Museum consists of approximately 1,000 objects.

The Canadian Museum of History, by comparison, has a budget of more than $100 million, a staff of more than 400 employees and a collection of over three million artifacts and objects.

In her letter, Dromaguet thanked the museum's employees for their efforts during a year that was "extremely challenging for everyone".

"You have all been working in exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic, combined with significant disruption at the leadership level. Yet you have done so with professionalism and dedication," she told her staff.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting