The City of Yellowknife’s top staff member has defended the continued employment of a senior employee accused of sexual misconduct and bullying, insisting the man’s behaviour has since changed.

Doug Gillard, manager of Yellowknife’s municipal enforcement team – colloquially referred to as bylaw officers – is said by several former colleagues to have created a work environment characterized by “disrespectful and degrading” incidents.

Examples alleged by complainants range from using the City’s closed-circuit TV cameras to look at women, to making inappropriately sexual comments about female colleagues, to punching junior bylaw officers in the groin and other forms of workplace bullying.

The allegations span a number of years up to 2014. They are contained in a series of stolen City emails and leaked recordings of spoken legal testimony from that year – a collection Cabin Radio understands at least three Yellowknife news organizations have possessed for a number of months. Cabin Radio has had sight of the same files since December and city councillors, who learned of the stolen emails last year, were provided with at least one of the audio recordings earlier in January.

A summary of the allegations was first published by Northern News Services on Sunday afternoon.

Requests to Gillard for comment went unanswered. However, senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett addressed the allegations – and the broader City Hall working environment – during a 30-minute interview with Cabin Radio, recorded prior to the publication of Northern News Services’ story.

Gillard is not named in the interview but Bassi-Kellett (pictured above), who joined the City in March 2017, is questioned regarding several of the alleged incidents.

‘Leopards change their spots’

Asked why an employee facing such allegations remained in post more than three years later, Bassi-Kellett said: “People make mistakes and they pay for the mistakes they make, and then they move on.

“It’s no different than someone who is incarcerated. Appropriate action is taken and you don’t damn that person for the rest of their lives. Leopards change their spots. People can have wake-up calls. Things can be done.

“If someone makes a mistake, and you correct them, and they stop making the mistake, that’s kind-of what you wanted in the first place. I watch closely and, in my time there, I have seen nothing – nothing has been raised to me. There’s no reason to believe that any of this behaviour has continued.”

Listen to an extended interview – Sheila Bassi-Kellett speaks to Cabin Radio’s Ollie Williams about allegations of workplace bullying and sexual misconduct up to 2014 – and says she believes a significant shift in workplace safety for City employees has occurred since.

On several occasions, Bassi-Kellett stressed her belief that the City’s working environment and its suite of policies governing staff behaviour had both significantly improved since 2014.

“The incidents that happened in 2014 were not nice. They were not pretty,” she said. “It’s out there now, but what I think is really important to emphasize is that since that time, there has been extensive work done to really work on creating a workplace where this kind of event, those kinds of thing, do not happen.

“In the 10 months that I have been there – because I’d heard those stories, and I’d heard about things that may or may not have gone on, and I watch closely … I have not yet received, from anyone, any kind of a complaint to say [they are] uncomfortable with the work environment, that there are some bad things happening, some sexual misconduct, inappropriate actions.”

‘Action was taken’

Bassi-Kellett cited a revamped anti-harassment and respectful workplace policy, alongside the recent introduction of a whistleblower policy allowing anonymous reporting of similar incidents, as examples of strides made by the City since the alleged incidents involving Gillard.

Asked if every director and manager is now setting the right tone in the workplace, Bassi-Kellett said that was “a hard question to answer” but added she has “a lot of faith” in the policies in place.

The City has expressed frustration that a confidentiality agreement regarding earlier legal proceedings – involving a former member of municipal enforcement – appeared to have been breached in the provision of recorded testimonies to Yellowknife newsrooms.

Amid the stolen emails lay references to a separate complaint, largely against Gillard, that formed the subject of an internal investigation under then-senior administrative officer Dennis Kefalas. The City has not clarified the exact outcome of that investigation. Kefalas stepped down from that position prior to Bassi-Kellett’s arrival but remains a director at the City.

“Appropriate action was taken,” said Bassi-Kellett, who formerly served as the Government of the Northwest Territories’ deputy minister for human resources. “There are times when people feel a need to publicly know exactly what was done. That’s the kind of context that we don’t share in the world. It’s not everybody’s business to know that.

“What I do want people to know, though, is that the matter was taken very seriously; that an investigation was done, I’ve read the investigation and the subsequent ways that staff were dealt with around that and this was no laughing matter, it was taken exceedingly seriously.

“We’re in a hashtag-me-too world right now. Thank goodness we’re in that. This is unacceptable behaviour for people. I really want to stress that there are avenues open. The City has taken a lot of the work that came out of this pretty ugly time and worked hard to try to turn it into something positive.

“What the City wants, what I want, what Council wants, is that residents have faith in what the City of Yellowknife does. I don’t take lightly that there may be things that have made people question the ability of the City to do our job effectively.”

The allegations against Gillard have been documented extensively by both Northern News Services (subscription required) and the CBC since Sunday’s first reporting. None of the allegations have been tested in court.