Probe of workplace harassment claims at Museum of History to extend into 2021


The federal government will prolong the mandate of the temporary head of the Canadian Museum of History in an attempt to bring greater stability to the institution as it waits for the results of a probe into allegations of a toxic working environment.

That investigation, led by lawyer Michelle Flaherty, is expected to go on for at least a few weeks into 2021. Under current rules, interim president Caroline Dromaguet would have to be replaced before Jan. 20 by the museum’s third temporary leader in less than a year.

Sources have told Radio-Canada that the government has decided to extend Dromaguet’s mandate beyond the regular 90-day period. The move still needs to be confirmed by cabinet, which will act on the basis of a recommendation from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, sources said.

Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault will make a recommendation to cabinet on whether to extend the term of the Museum of History’s interim president. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Dromaguet has been acting as the interim president of the Gatineau, Que., museum since Oct. 20. The full-time holder of the title, Mark O’Neill, has been on sick leave since the summer, when an investigation was launched in response to allegations of workplace harassment.

O’Neill’s mandate will officially end in June of next year. It is not known if he will return into his position before the investigation results are released.

The government already has launched a search for a new president. While some candidates are lining up, the final choice is months away.

Institutional paralysis

A number of former and current employees of the museum have told Radio-Canada they feel the investigation is moving too slowly, leaving the institution paralyzed while it also deals with the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its workplace and public activities.

The sources also say the museum has provided little information to staff about the investigation and the timeline for its completion.

Sources have said the complaints that led to the launch of the investigation in July were filed directly with Guilbeault’s office. The complainants’ decision to bring the matter to the government was widely seen as a rejection of the internal human resources process at the museum, which is an independent Crown corporation.

A spokesperson for Guilbeault said the government has “full confidence” in the ongoing investigation.

“We invite all employees who would have gone through or witnessed any problematic situations to participate in the investigative process,” said press secretary Camille Gagné-Raynauld.

According to sources, the complaints are related to O’Neill’s behaviour with his employees, as well as his management style and his temperament.

Former employees who worked with him alleged that O’Neill was unpredictable, ill-tempered and became extremely angry at times. The sources said that while he has undeniable qualities that explain his rise to the top of the organization, he has kept staff constantly on their toes.

The museum has lacked stability in upper management for some time. The position of director general has been vacant since the departure of Jean-Marc Blais over the summer. Dromaguet herself was previously in an acting capacity as the director general of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

The museum’s board is operating under the leadership of an interim chair, Jean Giguère, who took the position in September.

After O’Neill’s departure on sick leave this summer, he was replaced initially by vice-president Heather Paszkowski for a 90-day period.

O’Neill’s lawyer, David Law, said his client does not have any comment to make on the current situation.

The museum is also offering little information on the status of the investigation or Dromaguet’s position.

“There is no change in the status of any museum executive team members at this time,” said spokesperson Bill Walker.



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