Ottawa situation highlights governance obligations in managing misconduct risks.

AuthorBroder, Peter
PositionColumns: Not-for-Profit Law

News earlier this year of the mass resignation of the Board of the Ottawa Lions Club should come as no surprise to followers of recent developments in organizational governance. The resignations came in response to a report commissioned by Athletics Canada into the group's handling of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. The report didn't mince words about the organization's governance shortcomings and fiduciary failures.

The allegations related to incidents that took place over many years, involved both male and female athletes and were made against more than one member of the organization's personnel. The Ottawa group, one of the top track and field clubs in Canada, has had its reputation badly tarnished by the controversy. It drew fire for the original incidents, but more particularly for its ineptness in dealing with them.

Among the report's 21 recommendations was a call for resignation of the Board. In response, the full Board decided to depart and let new leadership of the group deal with the continuing fallout of the allegations.

At least two Ontario arts organizations--a theatre company and a radio station--have seen board turmoil in the wake of misconduct allegations. From the various controversies it has become apparent that, while sometimes accusations involve staff and program participants, it is also common for frontline volunteers and/or individuals with governance roles to be the subject of allegations.

And anyone thinking these types of problems relate primarily to voluntary sector organizational governance can have that view dispelled by a recent American PwC study of leadership changes in major corporations, which found that ethical lapses (including sexual misconduct) were the number one reason for top executives leaving their jobs in 2018. That category even outpaced poor financial performance as a cause of CEO turnover.

There has clearly been a societal shift in attitudes around this issue, and a growing expectation for measures to identify and deal with this type of misconduct.

Among the steps recommended by the report on the Ottawa group were:

* exclusion of coaches and former coaches from board positions;

* establishment of an ombudsman to handle misconduct complaints; and

* mandatory harassment training.

Where someone subject to an allegation has a governance role, it can make it particularly difficult to address the situation.

It is now well established that voluntary groups dealing with vulnerable...

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