Native women’s agency staff left wondering: Did close family ties deep-six a government investigation into complaints against the wife of a prominent Manitoba judge?

For over a year traumatized employees of the Native Women’s Transition Centre couldn’t get anyone to listen to their complaints against executive director Katherine Sinclair, not the Board of Directors and not the government, and now they wonder if they’ve learned why. Click for the links to the entire investigative series about NWTC.

It was December 2014 and residents at the NWTC had reached their breaking point.

 They took their stories of bullying and intimidation to the top – to the Board of Directors. To make sure their complaints got into the right hands, they took them directly to the homes of the Directors, whose names and addresses were posted in the NWTC front office.

TINY URL FOR THIS STORY: http://tiny.cc/r9wy7x

They should have suspected something was wrong when, the next day, the list of board members disappeared, allegedly on Sinclair’s orders, according to an NWTC counselor currently on stress leave.

NWTC group followup conclusion res schoolAfter a month – and another set of complaints from residents were ignored – passed, and nothing was heard from the Board, the upset employees decided to raise the ante.

They contacted CLOUT, a committee of 9 area social agencies, to act as an intermediary between themselves and the  Department of Family Services. The written complaints against Sinclair, now supplemented by letters from 6 employees, were handed to Assistant Deputy Minister Jennifer Rattray on February 10th.

Another five months went by. Only from our investigation,  did the employees learn that the NWTC had been in near constant flux, with 21 directors coming and going during Sinclair’s time at the agency. The entire time, staff couldn’t learn who board members were, because there was no accurate or complete list available either through NWTC or even the government’s Corporation Branch. 

Finally in mid-July, a meeting with residents and staff was called by Sinclair. The counselor was shocked Sinclair knew who signed each letter, claiming she got them – unredacted – from the Department of Family Services. 

NWTC jan 15 complaint mrs judge snip
Part of one NWTC resident’s formal complaint about Katherine Morrisseau Sinclair

“She called the residents liars, and accused the staff, in front of the residents, of writing the letters for them, as she said the residents couldn’t have written such a professional letter. When the staff denied it, she called us liars in front of the residents. “

Another of the employees emailed the department asking if it was true the government had coughed up their names, worsening the already-toxic workplace.

She was told the complaints had made their way to the Ministers’ Deputy, Joy Cramer who hand-delivered them to new NWTC Board chair Sherri Walsh “with a strict confidentiality clause” not to reveal the names of complainants to Sinclair.

NWTC govt fingers Sherri Walsh for leak to KMS

Assistant Deputy Minister Diane M. Kelly, who was appointed in May, would be asking Walsh about the matter.

Another three months went by with no word from Diane Kelly who was supposedly handling the file.

In October one member of the CLOUT delegation received a list of Directors which was never registered with the Companies Office. She emailed Kelly, requesting an update:

“Elders have brought up concerns… last week I was contacted by media; the community is frustrated (and) expects CLOUT will assist them”.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister Diane M. Kelly, right, with Family Service Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross

The very next day Kelly telephoned her back, and the CLOUT member asked about the government investigation into the leak of staff names to Sinclair.

“Diane said “there’s no way she got them from the department.”  Kelly said nothing about investigating the role of Sherri Walsh in the leak.

So, the CLOUT representative contacted Jennifer Rattray again on November 4th about the breach of employee confidentiality and status of the complaints, explaining she wanted to update the CLOUT monthly meeting on the file.

She received no response.

At a chance meeting with Rattray a month later, she pressed for answers.

“I told her  I’ve been contacted by media and have held off on  a response because the government will be dealing with it.”

Diane M. Kelly. Photo by Ken Gigliotti, Winnipeg Free Press

In an email the next day, Rattray “told me Diane is very very busy and is of the impression that she dealt with my concerns over the phone in October.” 

That same day, frustrated by almost one full year of inaction by the organization and the government, the counselor directly emailed Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, asking for her to meet with the 9 NWTC employees on stress leave.

She, also, received no response.  

The counselor and her cohorts decided to take a new tack, copying a Workplace Safety official on a formal grievance sent to Walsh (a lawyer) over the toxic workplace at NWTC. 

NWTC Formal Grievance to bd Dec 9 15 That got somebody’s attention, because almost immediately the Board of Directors called a meeting with the staff, heard their evidence, and announced that Sinclair was ‘on leave from the organization’.

Diane Kelly has not yet explained to CLOUT or the employees her findings about the breach of their personal information to Katherine Sinclair.

But staff and residents at the NWTC over those long months of waiting for action are still waiting for an answer, especially in the wake of  news stories that appeared touting Judge Murray Sinclair for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The promoter of the idea is  Wab Kinew, associate Vice-president for Indigenous Relations at the University of Winnipeg and head of Mayor Brian Bowman’s Indigenous Advisory committee.

NWTC Dianne Kelly related to WabAccording to wabkinew.ca, Diane Kelly is Kinew’s biological sister.

And one of the new directors of NWTC is family doctor Lisa Monkman – who is married to Wab Kinew.

That makes Diane Kelly the sister-in-law of a Board member entrusted with the resident and staff complaints about Katherine Morrisseau Sinclair.

Next installment on Sunday:  The story behind the story – and, did CBC Manitoba walk away from the women complaining about Katherine Sinclair ?  A special podcast of The Great Canadian Talk Show.

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Clarification on our earlier story received via email: 

RE:  http://citycircus.ca/judges-wife-placed-on-leave-after-complaints-of-toxic-workplace/

” People who have read your most recent report about the NWTC Board accountability are assuming that I was the staff rep who was fired.

In your next report I would greatly appreciate it if you would publicly clarify that I represented Eagle Woman Lodge and resigned from both my position on the Board as well as an employee in December of 2014.

The staff/Board member you referred to in your report was the representative of the NWTC 1st stage complex.

Melody Stevenson “

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WHY SUPPORT OUR EFFORTS TO BRING THIS STORY TO PUBLIC ATTENTION?

1) WHEN THEIR PLIGHT WAS BROUGHT TO THE ATTENTION OF SOME MAINSTREAM WINNIPEG NEWSROOMS, THE WOMEN FROM NWTC WERE TOLD IT WASN’T WORTH COVERING.

2) FAWNING NEWS COVERAGE OF PROMINENT AND INFLUENTIAL PUBLIC FIGURES NEEDS TO BE BALANCED. MSM WON’T DO IT.

3) WHEN GOVERNMENT AND THE PRESS IGNORE WHISTLEBLOWERS, THEY HAVE NO VOICE EXCEPT FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA LIKE CITYCIRCUS.CA.

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