'This kind of behaviour is perpetuated:' Street Culture Project investigation is overdue, former staff say
Joey Tremblay, co-chair of the board of the Street Culture Project spoke to media on Wednesday. (Wayne Mantyka / CTV News Regina)
REGINA -- The Street Culture Project is dealing with the fallout after a landslide of online allegations. Former staff say this “Me Too” moment is a long time coming.
“I think that they definitely need a clean sweep,” said Erin Fogarty, a former Street Culture employee who worked for the organization for five years before moving out of the country. “I think there’s a lot of emotions that surround this and people again are hoping for the right thing—because we believe in what Street Culture said it was” she said.
Joey Tremblay, Co-chair of the Board of Directors of Street Culture Project, announced Wednesday that the organization will conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment on social media.
The board also revealed CEO and Street Culture Founder Kim Sutherland is on leave. Tremblay also said two other employees are working remotely.
“[They] are not physically involved with the day-to-day operations of the organization and are not in contact with youth or staff,” Tremblay said.
This follows the resignation of Executive Director, Dustin Browne, following the posting of anonymous allegations of sexual harassment on social media.
A post on Street Culture’s Instagram page Wednesday explained “We welcome people to come forward. We cannot lead change without hearing from people.”
In addition to Fogarty, CTV News Regina spoke with four other former Street Culture Project staff who were involved with the organization between 1997 and 2015. The former workers spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The former staff members all said they did come forward years ago with complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and other issues in their workplace, but none of the complaints were taken seriously.
Fogarty says she received communication from current Street Culture staff informing her of the initial plans for an investigation. She was asked to contact Street Culture Human Resources for details. Forgarty said she is concerned the process could interfere with victim anonymity.
“It’s not protecting confidentiality, it’s also not removing you from your own investigation that you hired your own third party and you’re filtering all complaints through head office,” said Fogarty. “This site is exactly as we figured it would be. Hired by and paid for by Street Culture, reporting back to Street Culture and Street Culture Board. Absolutely disgraceful,” she said.
ALLEGATIONS ON INSTAGRAM
The allegations of sexual harassment at Street Culture Project were first made public, anonymously, in a social media post on July 29, on an Instagram page called Victim’s Voices Regina. The account is an anonymous platform for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse to share their stories.
Browne announced his resignation in a comment on that post as well as on the Street Culture Project Facebook page, which acknowledged the allegations and the forthcoming investigation.
“I have become aware that my actions have caused a negative impact with some staff, colleagues and friends,” Browne said.
He said his resignation is effective immediately. The reference to his resignation has since been deleted.
Fogarty has been vocal on social media, responding to Dustin Browne’s initial apology post, which prompted dozens of other comments.
Fogarty alleges Browne made sexual comments toward her and was inappropriate to women in the workplace.
“Whether it’s crawling under their desk and touching their leg or grooming people for jobs that existed exclusively in his private office. And then, when they turned it down, because they turned down his sexual advances, entirely stifling their careers,” she explained. “That’s what happened, consistently,” said Fogarty.
“Dustin and I have had conversions about his behaviour,” said another former staff member who asked to remain anonymous.
“I’ve had conversations with Kim about Dustin’s behaviour. I’ve had conversations with Kim about other staff members behaviour,” said the former employee.
Another man, who also wished to remain anonymous, says he became involved with Street Culture as a client at age 15. He said he stayed involved with the organization, off and on, as staff for 23 years. While he credits the group for saving his life, he said it came at a high price.
“Twice in one week I was called inept in a room full of people. Red face, veins bulging, [Sutherland] yelling at me,” he said. “It didn’t matter where I was. It just happened.”
He agreed Browne’s behaviour was common knowledge. “Highly inappropriate with almost every woman he comes in contact with. Everyone knew that,” he said.
When questioned by reporters at Street Culture Project’s Wednesday press conference, Board of Directors Co-chair Tremblay did not respond to claims that Street Culture Executive and Board of Directors may have been aware of past allegations against staff. CTV News Regina contacted Street Culture with additional questions following the press conference but did not receive a response.
CTV News Regina also attempted to contact Browne and Sutherland to respond to these allegations, but did not receive a response.
Before going on leave, Sutherland indicated to CTV that he could not comment on the allegations due to the investigation.
Street Culture Project is a local charity that works with vulnerable youth through training, mentorship, and community involvement. Many Street Culture clients offer face painting at public events.
According to its publicly available annual return from 2018-19, Street Culture Project had a total revenue of $4.3 million and received nearly $3.6 million in government grants. The largest financial contributor is the Government of Saskatchewan through the Ministry of Social Services.
Street Culture runs several youth shelters in Regina including one named after Board of Directors member Darryl Browne, called “Downtown Browne’s.”
Former Street Culture Project employees also allege nepotism may be to blame for the perceived lack of accountability.
The former employees noted Board of Directors member Darryl Browne, is Dustin Browne’s father.
Before she went on maternity leave, the director of Human Resources for Street Culture was Chalsey Boire. Former staff say Boire is romantically involved with Dustin Browne.
“I’m frustrated that this kind of behaviour is perpetuated unchecked,” explained a former employee.
THIRD PARTY INVESTIGATION
Street Culture has retained Donna Sigmeth Q.C., to conduct an independent investigation to review complaints using a secure website.
The site is to collect complaints regarding the conduct of Street Culture staff, volunteers or board members. The investigator will provide a report to the Board of Directors with a synopsis and possible recommendations as to workplace improvements.
Former employees that CTV spoke with acknowledge these allegations may have repercussions.
“If something happens and the organization implodes, there will be people, who are very good people, who are excellent workers, who are kind-hearted and generous and genuine, who may be impacted and lose their jobs,” she said. “There are still really good programs that exist and wonderful staff and I don’t want them to be hurt and I don’t want kids to be impacted negatively.”