A woman from Wrigley, N.W.T. says she was kicked out of her 14-week Mine Training Society program in Fort Smith with just two weeks to go, based on what she calls false accusations.
Jessica Clillie said she and fellow classmate Hilary Daniels, who was also terminated from the program, never got the chance to defend themselves against bullying charges that were central to their dismissal. Now, both students must pay back thousands of dollars the training school provided them in financial support, which would have been forgiven had they completed the program.
According to Clillie's termination letter, she was dropped from the surface mining program on Nov. 8 because of "bullying and a near physical altercation."
"They gave me no warning. Nothing," Clillie said. "The manager just went ahead and said, 'Okay, well, we don't put up with bullying.' They didn't hear my side of the story. They just went ahead and terminated me."
In an email to CBC News, Alisa Blake, acting general manager of the Mine Training Society, said the organization takes a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying.
"When we receive complaints in this regard, our policies require that we investigate the situation promptly, thoroughly and in a fair manner to all parties. We can confirm we adhered to that process in this instance."
Clillie signed a waiver allowing the Mine Training Society to provide CBC News with details about the reasons for her termination and the process that led to that decision. However, Blake repeated she would not comment on "individual issues" to protect the privacy of all parties.
Daniels was also given a termination letter, and she corroborated the details provided by Clillie.
The Mine Training Society provides training to N.W.T. students seeking careers in mining and partners with industry to help its graduates find employment. The surface miner program gives students training on mobile mining equipment and simulators.
An 'uncomfortable' friendship
The students' terminations centre on a relationship with one of their classmates that Clillie says became "uncomfortable," souring their initial friendship.
The students took steps to avoid the classmate outside of school. Clillie said she believes this is what has been construed as bullying. Clillie said she now thinks they should have informed staff about the situation with her classmate earlier.
"We didn't bring any of that to the instructors and staff because we didn't think it was a problem," she said.
Clillie believes the "near physical altercation" complaint found in her termination letter stems from an interaction she had with the student in the lunchroom on Nov. 5, but she maintains there was nothing threatening about the conversation.
It was on the following Monday morning that Clillie said two instructors — with Blake on the phone — handed her a letter of termination in person.
Clillie said she was not provided an opportunity to defend herself against the complaints, adding the other student's word was taken as truth.
She also disputes the letter's claims that she was warned about her conduct numerous times. Clillie said the women in the class were subject to a sexual harassment talk, but it was not in response to anything she had done. She said bullying was also discussed with the class, but nothing was specifically directed at her.
Clillie said neither she nor Daniels were given information about how to appeal the Mine Training Society's decision.
Clillie asked a counsellor with Aurora College how to appeal the decision. She was told the college, which delivers some programs for the Mine Training Society, does not handle appeals for that organization.
"Like most third-party funders, the Mine Training Society has eligibility, attendance, and other requirements that may be different than or in addition to Aurora College's," Jeff O'Keefe, vice-president of education and training with Aurora College, told CBC News by email. "Students are made aware of those requirements before they begin their program and normally sign a contract with the funder that outlines the rules."
'This is going to ruin my career.'
The termination has upended Clillie's life.
She's a single parent and now, she and her son — who she said has special needs — must return to Wrigley with uncertain job prospects. She said she had possible job offers lined up with the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation and with a construction company, but those were contingent upon her completion of the program.
She's not sure if those offers will still be available.
Clillie also has to pay $4,464.48 in allowances and support back to the Mine Training Society. "If I were to complete the course, I wouldn't have to pay anything back," she said. "But since I got terminated from the training, I have to pay everything back because of the agreement I agreed with them."
On Friday, Clillie and her son were waiting in Fort Simpson, hoping for the weather to improve so they could fly home to Wrigley. Earlier in the week, she paid for a ride service to cover 700 kilometres from Fort Smith to the east bank of the Liard River, where she needed to take a helicopter to get into Fort Simpson. The ferry over the Liard is out, and the ice road crossing isn't ready yet.
All these travel expenses, and a hotel in Fort Simpson, cost Clillie thousands of dollars. Prior to her termination, she said she was scheduled to fly out of Fort Smith on Nov. 19, with the travel paid for by the Mine Training Society.
In 2018, Clillie completed the Mine Training Society's six-week Introduction to Mining program.
"This is the first time I've ever got accused of bullying," she said, adding she just wants to return to her program to complete the training.
"This is going to ruin my career."