News Brief

Toronto Star Memo on Investigation into Death of Raveena Aulakh

CANADALAND has obtained a memo presenting Toronto Star staff with the findings of management's investigation into the death of Raveena Aulakh. Here is the memo sent to all staff.

CANADALAND has obtained a memo presenting Toronto Star staff with the findings of management’s investigation into the death of Raveena Aulakh:

Subject: Note To All Toronto Star Staff
Date:          June 15, 2016
To:            All Staff
From:      Brian Daly

I am writing to all Toronto Star staff in my role as Chief Human Resources Officer, to provide an update on the actions that the Star is taking in response to the tragic death of Raveena Aulakh.

Yesterday evening we met with union officials to discuss the internal investigation into the tragic circumstances of Raveena’s passing.   Joining me from the company were John Honderich, Chair of the Board of Directors of Torstar, and Alan Bower, Executive Director of Labour Relations (and my co-investigator on this matter).   Present from the union were Paul Morse, Gary Ellis, Steve Gjorkes and Jim Rankin.

During the meeting, union representatives indicated that employees are seeking more transparent communication from the company concerning the investigation that has occurred and the actions that are being taken.    We are hopeful that this memo will bring more transparency in this regard, while still respecting the privacy of individuals involved.

Immediately following Raveena’s tragic passing in late May, HR began an investigation and review of the circumstances, led by me in partnership with Alan Bower.  Both Alan and I are experienced and trained workplace investigators.  I hold degrees in clinical psychology and human resources.   Alan also has extensive education and training in industrial relations and related areas.    I report directly to David Holland, President and CEO of Torstar, and this report was conducted entirely independently from the Star newsroom, as is the standard protocol in such situations.

At the outset, we did consider engaging an external investigator, which we always assess in more complex or executive-level cases.   Our conclusion was that an external legal investigator was not necessary or appropriate in the circumstances.  Such 3rd party investigations, by their very nature, follow formalized, legalistic protocols, with minimal if any transparency of findings or conclusions.  It was our professional assessment that such a formal legal procedure didn’t make sense in this case, and that an internal independent investigation would allow for greater transparency as well as providing the necessary level of independence.   We stand firmly behind that conclusion, and we believe that our investigative procedures, conclusions and recommendations further affirm that this was the right decision.

Our investigative process included a series of interviews, review of emails and other correspondence, and a thorough review of all related policies and practices.  Based on our investigation, I brought forward a series of conclusions and recommendations to John Honderich and David Holland, all of which were fully endorsed and are outlined below.

Consistent with our recommendations, two senior managers are no longer in their positions in the newsroom.  This is a matter of public record.  Understandably, specific details are private personnel matters between the company and these individuals.

We are also modifying the company’s Code of Business Conduct, which applies across all Torstar-owned businesses.  That policy includes a Conflict-of-Interest clause, which states that  “Employees should avoid situations in which their personal interests interfere or conflict in any way, or might appear to interfere or conflict with, the interests of Torstar.  Not only actual conflicts of interest but the very appearance of conflict should be avoided.”

The current policy then goes on to list a number of examples of potential conflict-of-interest situations.   We are modifying the policy by adding an additional example, explicitly indicating that a personal relationship between a manager and his/her staff represents a conflict-of-interest situation, unless appropriately declared and approved.  This policy change will be distributed to all staff once the necessary formalities are in place.   We recommended this change to ensure that all managers and staff are aware of the company’s expectations in this regard.

We are also moving forward this year with revisions to the Star’s Respect in the Workplace Policy and related complaint procedures, to bring greater clarity on expectations in this area.   These changes were already underway and will be rolled-out to all staff in the next few months.

Our report also concluded that newsroom staff should have better access to HR, independent of the newsroom management team.   As in all workplaces, it is helpful for employees to have access to an independent sounding board to discuss workplace issues and opportunities.

Subsequent to this initial investigation, HR has conducted a second review, which focused on the extent to which Raveena was appropriately supported during her period of mental distress.  As we reviewed in detail with union leadership yesterday, this second investigation concluded that Raveena’s immediate manager provided outstanding and exceptional levels of support and assistance to Raveena.  The company’s Health Services unit also, by all accounts, provided active support and assistance, both during and following Raveena’s sick leave.  Raveena was cleared by her own doctor to return to work on a modified work schedule following her sick leave, and the company’s Occupational Health Nurse contacted her every few days to monitor her state of health.   Overall, our conclusion is that the company provided all reasonable support and assistance to Raveena.   Her co-workers should also be acknowledged for their support.   Tragically, such extensive efforts by many individuals were not enough.  But it is nonetheless important to acknowledge the efforts by many to support and assist Raveena.

Notwithstanding this conclusion, we do believe and have recommended that the Star take steps to ensure that all managers are well-equipped and trained to deal with individuals experiencing significant mental distress.  We have begun to develop such a training program for roll-out this year.   We also believe that HR needs to do a better job of informing staff of the various support services that are available, and efforts are underway in that regard as well.

I hope that the above summary provides greater transparency into the investigation that was conducted, and the actions that are being taken as a result.  In such tragic and difficult circumstances, we all seek answers and strive for ways to avoid such a terrible incident in the future.  I sincerely believe the Star has investigated this matter thoroughly and objectively, and has taken all appropriate and necessary actions.

Both Alan Bower and I remain available to speak to any Star staff who may wish to speak to us privately on this matter.   I also want to make note of Irene Gentle’s recent note to newsroom staff, encouraging anyone in the newsroom with questions or concerns to meet with her directly.

Our thanks to Unifor officials for participating in our discussions yesterday evening.   Most of all, we thank all staff for their continued commitment and dedication during this tragic period.

Brian Daly

VP & Chief HR Officer


John Honderich
Alan Bower
Paul Morse – Unifor
Gary Ellis – Unifor
Steve Gjorkes – Unifor

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