UnderstandUs founder resigns following sexual harassment allegations
REGINA -- The founder and executive director of UnderstandUs, a Saskatchewan non-profit created to spark conversations about mental health, has resigned from his position effective immediately following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.
In a CBC Saskatchewan investigation published this week, 15 women, whose identities were protected, allege they were sexually harassed by Jim Demeray while working at a Regina Earls restaurant location. Demeray worked there as a general manager from 2000-2016.
“The allegations that have been brought forward in no way reflect our values as an organization,” a statement from the Board of Directors for UnderstandUs said.
“We are a volunteer board of directors who [sic]committed to be a part of an organization with a mission to combat the stigma of mental health,” it said. “We also recognize how important the trust of the local community is in continuing with this mission. We will ensure we are doing everything possible to build that trust.”
In an email to CTV News, Demeray said the allegations against him are “baseless and untrue.”
“There was never a complaint or suggestion that I acted inappropriately around female staff,” he said.
A spokesperson from Earls Restaurant said the actions are in direct violation of the restaurant’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment. It said if the restaurant had received a complaint during Demeray’s time working there, it would have launched an investigation.
“During the time of Demeray’s employment, we were not made aware of, or have any record of any allegations being brought to the attention of our Human Resources department,” the statement from the spokesperson said.
“There have been careless words spoken that I regret,” Demeray said. “I’m sorry for that. But I have always respected my female colleagues.”
Demeray launched UnderstandUs in 2011. According to its website, in 2019 the organization gave 94 presentations reaching more than 11,000 people between the ages of eight and 68 in 12 communities across Saskatchewan.
In 2018 and 2019, UnderstandUs was the selected recipient of the proceeds from the Tim Hortons Smile Cookie Campaign in Regina. It received more than $250,000 over the two years.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Tim Hortons said “Smile Cookie proceeds in Regina this year will be donated to a different charity.”
It said it will work with its local restaurants to determine what charity that will be.
“I am saddened that anonymous accusers from ten years ago might undo the work of UnderstandUs which has helped thousands of people,” Demeray said.
The UnderstandUs board of directors said it will immediately be starting a review of the operations of the organization.
“It is our hope to take this opportunity to ensure we’re operating to the highest standards, so we can continue the important work we know is needed in opening up conversations and promoting a better understanding of mental health,” the board said.
Demeray was also a board member for the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation. On Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan confirmed that he has resigned from that position effective immediately.