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Transcript of statement by CSIS director Vigneault during town hall meeting for staff

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OTTAWA -

The director of Canada's spy agency, David Vigneault, says the officer at the centre of an investigation by The Canadian Press into allegations of rape and harassment no longer works for the agency, and an ombudsperson will be put in place to monitor workplace-related issues.

He apologized to CSIS employees at a town hall event on Tuesday for his response to last week's report about what officers called a "toxic workplace" in the British Columbia office.

Here is the transcript of Vigneault's remarks in English:

I just want to start by saying: this is an extraordinary moment. As an organization, we have been through a lot. It is very challenging to be an employee of the service. I want you to know that I understand that and I also feel that. It is also a very emotional moment. We are talking to the entire organization and what is happening to one of us is affecting all of us. And so, I want to be very clear about that.

For many, this can be triggering and deeply personal, especially for our colleagues in (the) B.C. region. I want (the) B.C. region to know that we are with you. B.C. colleagues and for the (physical surveillance unit) team, I want to thank them specifically for continuing to carry out their activities and duties in challenging times. You are indeed true professionals.

Many people I have talked to personally, and also through the exchanges I received, said that they were gutted by the information in the media last week. And I want to tell you that also I was deeply troubled. Not that I was unaware of the issues, but to see it, in that format, that way, was very deeply troubling for me as well.

I am distraught that anyone in our organization is hurting or has experienced sexual violence.

And I am distressed that anyone in our organization would believe that allegations of this nature would not be actioned. Clearly, two of our colleagues have felt this way and are hurting.

I apologize for the lack of empathy in this past Friday's message. It was unintentional but clearly insufficient in expressing my personal and deep empathy for what people are experiencing. And I am sorry for that.

I should have also ensured that you understood that I care deeply about this issue both as a person, but also as the director of CSIS. I know that it takes extraordinary courage to come forward with issues like these ones, like these types of cases.

I also encourage anyone implicated or impacted to do so with our collective assurance that you will be supported and treated with the utmost respect; we will be taking additional measures to ensure this. And I will elaborate on that in a second.

I am personally committed to discussing this matter with you in a way that respects the parties directly involved – their dignity and their privacy.

It is my intention today to give you a clear picture of what we have done, what we are currently doing and what we will do in the future to keep our workplace and people safe.

I am also committed to providing you with better visibility into exactly how CSIS is supporting your fundamental needs as employees:

– By ensuring your right to personal protection and safety; building trust in how CSIS responded to the matter in the media, and how the organization addresses these issues; and

– By securing your confidence in what the service is doing now to eliminate this type of behaviour.

Over the last few days, I have heard that some feel as though investigations into these incidents were not actioned swiftly. I want to reiterate that the service is dealing with these cases as quickly as possible.

Due process takes time to run its course. It never feels fast enough. And I can tell you it does not feel fast enough for me. But we also need to ensure the outcomes are just and fair. As your director, your personal safety is of the utmost importance to me. And I don't want you to think that these are words that I have just written here, it is a deeply held feeling for me, and those who have had a chance to work with me closely will attest to that.

The second thing I'll say is that this is going to get harder before it gets better.

The specific cases mentioned in the media are extremely serious, and due processes for them are technically ongoing, so there are details we will not be able to share with you, by law.

Unfortunately, as you know, and has been said before, these are also not the only cases in the service when it comes (to) unacceptable behaviour.

I will say again something, and I don't want you to think it is a "bumper sticker." When we say: there is zero tolerance for harassment, inappropriate behaviour, wrongdoing in the workplace, I really mean it. And I will speak to what I have received from you, and some people are definitely not thinking that it's the case, and what other measures we are putting in place, right now, to make sure that you have confidence. It is also absolutely vital that we have in place and follow due process, and that there are consequences. And I underline the word, consequences.

In this case, this is what we've done: As of yesterday, the respondent is no longer with the service. This was the culmination of an internal investigation that was concluded in the summer, resulting in decisions being rendered in November.

The media coverage last week had no bearing on the decisions. These decisions were already made.

Over the past few years, we have taken a number of steps to improve our processes and systems. However, it's clear through the feedback we've received, that this is not enough, that we need to do more. And this is what I want to tell (you), that on this, I clearly and loudly heard you.

This is why, with that in mind, I have directed that we establish a separate ombudsperson to provide a trusted, confidential and impartial space for employees to openly discuss workplace-related issues or concerns without fear or reprisal.

I have asked Nicole (Giles), the (deputy director), to urgently develop a plan on how to create and staff this office and ensure its independence. She will be communicating back with all of you after the holidays.

In the interim, if you do not trust or feel comfortable using the current mechanisms, please reach out to myself, Renee or the employee association.

In addition (to) the creation of the ombudsperson, we will also develop an annual public reporting mechanism outlining incidents of harassment and wrongdoing.

So, we will be telling you, our colleagues, and we will be telling Canadians what is happening inside the organization. We will be reporting on it publicly and we will want to do it annually to ensure we hold ourselves accountable.

We will better inform employees on the various mechanisms available to them, as well as how to access them in an informed and supported manner.

It's clear that the information that exists is not easily available or well understood enough, and so, we will be creating a separate page, and will have separate communications with employees to be very clear that everybody understands what are the mechanisms and how can they use them to address their own issues or to address the issues of one of their colleagues.

We also reiterate our commitment to the workplace climate assessment that has been launched in the (physical surveillance unit) in B.C. But I have to say Laurie-Eve, our colleague, the (director general, health and wellness management,) is currently in B.C. region and she's working there at all levels to better assess what needs to be done. And you know it's quite possible that we'll have to do more specifically in the region, but she's there to work with all employees to ensure she understands and provides the best advice possible.

I also want to be categorical with this: employment with the service does not, and will never prevent you from going to the police if there is anything that is happening to you or someone, if you are witness to something.

If you see something, or if you are the victim of a crime, please go to the police.

I ask that you to speak up and that you work with us in a collective way. And so, you have been very vocal through the (public service employee) survey, through the emails over the last few weeks, but also through your management chain and engaging directly with our colleagues in labour relations and by engaging directly with me.

We have an obligation to address all harassment complaints and attempt to resolve it through whichever mechanism available. How we move forward, will determine the character of what we will become.

We will get through this because you know, we are committed to our mission, we are committed to doing the right things, we are committed to respecting each and every employee, and if some of you feel that this is not the case, I want to be clear that there is a way for you to be heard. If you are a victim or if someone engages with you in any behaviour that is unacceptable, there are real mechanisms that are effective and that there are consequences.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2023.

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