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‘Worst case’ of workplace harassment at rights tribunal: Integrity commissioner


1297405013966_ORIGINALOTTAWA — The former head of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal systematically humiliated staff in the “worst case” of workplace harassment the federal whistleblower watchdog says he’s ever seen.

A report tabled Thursday by Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion describes a workplace brought to the brink by Shirish Chotalia’s tyrannical ways.

In a series of public humiliations, Chotalia mocked employees, spread rumours throughout the office, blamed employees for mistakes they didn’t make, spied on them, interrogated them, accused them of stealing, kept secret files on some and — as a kicker — refused to let them evacuate the building during an earthquake, forcing staff instead to attend her swearing-in ceremony.

In one case, Chotalia forced “an individual to carry a set of keys to the office around their neck despite the fact that this person complained that this caused discomfort and pain.”

Employees reported being brought to tears by her bullying.

Dion admitted to the irony of finding gross mismanagement and “totally unacceptable behaviour” at a tribunal meant to be a beacon of human rights.

“It was a poisonous environment, largely attributable to her behaviour,” Dion told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

Chotalia refused to participate during most of the investigation and quit as tribunal chairperson in November.

But over the course of the four-month-long inquiry, numerous witnesses quoted her as saying she believed there was a conspiracy against her.

She also told the investigator early in the probe her behaviour was under scrutiny because: “I was chosen by the Conservative government; I am a brown woman from Alberta and the unions want to remove me.”

She also repeatedly complained she was overworked and insinuated that others weren’t pulling their weight in the office.

Dion’s office also received complaints that Chotalia contravened the employment act, but dropped that part of the investigation because it’s currently being looked into by the Public Service Commission, which oversees federal staffing.

In the report, Dion recommends the tribunal improve the “wellness” of its office and offer support to employees who bore the brunt of Chotalia’s abuse.

He also urged the Conservative government to do a better job vetting people placed into senior management positions in the public service.

A lawyer by training, Chotalia now runs a law and mediation business that promotes “emotional closure and reduced legal costs” on its website.

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