Correction: A previous version of this story indicated former CTV News employee Erin Paul died due to an overdose after her dismissal. Though she did die in Nov. 2020 at the age of 49, her sister stated that was not her cause of death.
CTV News is a toxic and abusive workplace, according to 20 current and former employees who have penned a document outlining their personal experiences working for the company, in the wake of the high-profile dismissal of the organization’s lead anchor Lisa LaFlamme.
Accounts of bullying, abusive language and unsustainable labour demands have created an environment that has caused a great deal of damage, in the eyes of those who have come forward.
The complaints mainly focus around the workings of CTV’s News Channel team based in Scarborough, Ontario. All complainants have been granted anonymity due to fear of professional repercussions, with the exception of one former employee, Veronika Tkach, who spoke with Canadaland on the record.. She worked in various roles as a casual employee at Bell Media for more than six years beginning in 2014. (She did not return to working at CTV News this year after her casual work contract was terminated by the company when she left to have a baby.)
Tkach said that while problems have been present in the CTV newsroom for years, LaFlamme’s dismissal offered a moment in time where she felt their complaints would finally be taken seriously if current and past employees came forward together. “I saw so many people burn out in my time there because they were given so much work, not enough time to do it, and they weren’t getting paid nearly enough and given impossible tasks. And when they would complain, my boss would say, ‘Are you telling me you’re not capable of doing the job that you were hired to do?’” Tkach told Canadaland.
Verbal abuse from superiors
Many of the individuals remember being yelled at on a regular basis, berated and sworn at by superiors and managers.
“Imagine an aggressive high-level producer who believes it’s common practice to holler and curse within a foot of someone’s face in a room full of people, during a live broadcast or in a newsroom. Or a producer who lashes out in a fit of rage at anyone who dares disagree with them then proceeds to viciously and publicly trash and attack the reputations of anyone who is not in their small circle of inner allies,” one source said.
“In a nutshell, CTV is a toxic breeding ground for narcissistic, abusive managers. Narcissistic people who are elevated because of their aggression. Employees are in a constant state of anxiety because of the ticking time bombs surrounding them. If you dare talk back, you’re the target of organized venom for months and in some cases years.”
One former employee who worked at Bell Media for multiple decades recalled having been told to “fuck off” by a superior.
Tkach explained these occurrences of abusive language and tone were so common that individual stories have blurred together. “You would hear someone getting yelled at and… it was really common to see someone crying at work,” she said.
Another source said that it is so common to need to cry during a shift that employees have a nickname for a willow tree outside the building — the crying tree — where workers take reprieve.
Increased and unrealistic workloads have led to stress, a great deal of staff turnover and many people leaving the industry, according to multiple interviews. Numerous people said they’d often not have time during a shift for a washroom break. This also led to mistakes being made in the content produced, Canadaland was told.
“If I made a mistake, (my superior) would make sure that she addressed it in front of everybody. She wanted to humiliate me,” Tkach said. “She would say, ‘Why did this happen, Veronika?’ And it’s because I’m doing 12 stories in one hour and I don’t have the time (to go to) the bathroom during my shift. I don’t have time to go to the bathroom, I’m so busy. So, yes, I made mistakes and she would just humiliate me in front of everybody until I just felt like a dog with my tail between my legs, you know?”
Hypocrisy of Bell Media as mental health hero
Several sources took umbrage with the fact that Bell Media, through its Bell Let’s Talk Day event and other initiatives, brands itself as a national leader on the topic of mental health awareness. They say Bell Media and CTV News failed employees at moments of mental health crisis.
Three sources told Canadaland that on-air reporter Erin Paul, who was also working on precarious contracts, was dismissed from CTV despite her superiors knowing that she was struggling with addiction.
After showing up to work intoxicated on one occasion, she was sent home and her employment with CTV News was severed. According to Canadaland’s sources, there was no effort made to ensure Paul was connected with addiction treatment resources.
“CTV did nothing to help Erin Paul. They knew and not only did they let her drive home in those conditions, they fired her rather than help her,” one source said.
Her former coworkers were cautious in talking about Paul, they didn’t want to be seen to be exploiting her. However, they believe this instance points to how extreme cases exist where more support from Bell Media as an employer could have made some level of difference.
Canadaland asked Bell Media specifically about the circumstances around Paul’s dismissal but spokesperson Christy Sullivan said they would not comment on the case of individual employees due to privacy concerns. Sullivan added that the company is “committed to the mental health of our employees and offers unlimited mental health coverage for team members and their immediate family.”
Precarious contracts and unfair compensation
Many of the individuals who agreed to speak with Canadaland say they were strung along on precarious employment contracts for years. They detailed how this led to an increased level of competition between staff members, and in some cases unethical behaviour in order to curry favour with superiors.
“There was intense competition where freelancers were often pitted against each other to get interviews (and by extension, fight for shifts). If a guest would not answer or agree to an interview, it was often held against you. It put you in a position where you were forced to get people to do interviews even when they weren’t comfortable. This perpetuated a survival of the fittest atmosphere,” one source recounted.
Another former employee discussed how she was largely treated well at CTV News, she had managed to find favour with her superiors. However, as she advanced her career and was working in more advanced positions, she continued to be paid for the lower level of work.
“My biggest disagreements personally with my superior came when I was offered what I thought was a promotion. This job included longer hours some days, and was much more stressful. But I never received a new contract to sign. When I brought it up, considering I was doing this new role three to four, and sometimes five, days per week, I was simply told that they ‘didn’t have enough contracts’ for the job I was now doing. I would have to wait until someone in that role quit or was promoted in order to be given that role officially, and paid accordingly. That’s when I became aware of the contract issues at Bell Media. Simply put, everybody on the News Channel team (chase producers, writers, lineup editors, producers) are all doing a job above their pay grade and title. … None of them are being paid appropriately, or can formally use the title of the job they’re literally doing. If you bring it up, nobody does anything about it,” she said.
Bell Media was asked to respond to the other allegations made in this story, regarding reports of yelling, unfair pay and other poor working conditions. Spokesperson Christy Sullivan provided this statement:
“Bell Media has always taken matters regarding any potential discrimination very seriously, and we are committed to a safe, inclusive, and respectful work environment for all our employees, devoid of any toxic behaviour. A third party has been retained to conduct an independent review regarding the work environment at CTV News, which is currently underway. Upon completion of the review, we will assess the findings and do what may be required in order to ensure a work environment built on respect, and where employees can thrive.”
Tkach said that the dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme and the controversy that ensued should be a wake-up call to CTV News and Bell Media that an overhaul of the work environment is required.
“I want to help people who are there now,” Tkach said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”