Kim Campbell, 19th Prime Minister of Canada, addresses the Daughters of the Vote (DOV) event, organized by Equal Voice Canada, as it takes place in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Advocacy group Equal Voice faces fallout after firing three racialized staffers

Eleanor Fast with Equal Voice said she can’t comment on internal human resources matters

An organization aimed at supporting women in politics is facing backlash over its decision to fire three racialized employees last week, sparking resignations and a social media campaign calling its commitment to diversity into question.

Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to getting more women elected at all levels of government, had four members of its board of directors resign in recent days as young women have been tweeting about what they call negative experiences with the organization.

That online conversation, taking place under the hashtag “notsoequalvoice,” has included stories shared by young women who were delegates at the Daughters of the Vote conference, which brought 338 young women — one from every federal riding — to Parliament Hill this spring.

The fallout began after three young women — Shanese Steele, 26, and Cherie Wong and Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, both 23 — were dismissed from their jobs at the national organization’s Ottawa office following months of tension and issues with management.

Eleanor Fast, executive director of Equal Voice, said she cannot comment on internal human resources matters, but she defended the organization against allegations that their identities played any sort of role in terminating their employment.

“The recent staffing changes had nothing to do with anyone’s race, ethnicity, religion,” Fast said in an interview. “The insinuation in that regard is completely false.”

Nonetheless, she said, she is concerned about the online discussion, adding that the organization is working on how best to learn from its mistakes and be more inclusive, both internally and externally.

She said Equal Voice wants to take the time to get it right and has hired a senior adviser to work on the issue.

READ MORE: Most Canadians don’t feel more women needed in politics: Equal Voice survey

Equal Voice works closely with politicians from all parties and receives its funding from big business, the labour movement and other sources.

It also received $3.8 million from Status of Women Canada for a project aimed at expanding leadership opportunities for young women in politics, for which the organization committed to “using an anti-oppression approach.”

A spokesman for Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, said the department is aware of the situation but cannot comment.

The turmoil is expected to come up as the board meets Thursday, although it’s not the first time the organization has grappled with the charge that it has failed to take the needs and perspectives of women and gender non-conforming people from all backgrounds into account.

The Daughters of the Vote event in April saw dozens of young women turn their backs on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addressed them in the House of Commons; others walked out when it was time for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to speak.

The National Observer reported that several of the young women who took part in the protests said they had faced open hostility for doing so, and did not receive enough support or accommodations from Equal Voice throughout their experience.

The latest development has raised the question of whether Equal Voice can continue to straddle the line between supporting all women in politics, no matter their ideologies on hot-button issues such as immigration, while also satisfying stakeholders who want the organization to pick sides.

Fast said she does not see a conflict.

“We may support women who have different views on the world than what we believe in at Equal Voice in terms of our commitment to our employees and stakeholders and those that take part in our programs, and there is no issue there,” she said.

The three former employees said their work at Equal Voice had included a push for greater cultural competency they felt was not being taken seriously by the organization’s leadership. Each described relationships with managers that were fraught with tension.

“I want to make sure that advocacy includes and raises the voices of black and Indigenous women,” said Wong, who identifies as a Hong Kong-Canadian, and said she felt as if she was being seen as a troublemaker for pushing management on the issue.

Emails the women provided to The Canadian Press show the situation devolved after a dispute over flexible working arrangements, especially after Fast raised the issue of activities during work hours, including streaming television shows while in the office.

The three former employees said they viewed her comments as contributing to an unsafe and inequitable work environment. They also said they felt threatened after another member of the leadership team described their criticism as “personal attacks” and said continuing may result in discipline.

Then last week, Steele published a social media post that she said referred to Fast — without specifically naming her or Equal Voice — as “an ignorant white colonizer.”

Steele, who identifies as an Afro-Indigenous woman, said in an interview that she stands by her statement: “I was not aware that calling someone white was a derogatory term.”

The other two women shared the post on their own social media accounts. All three were fired shortly thereafter.

Moumouni-Tchouassi, who identifies as a Franco-West African woman, said she has been encouraged by the reaction online.

“It really made me hope and see that Equal Voice would maybe take a position of more accountability and be able to recognize their wrongs and move forward,” she said.

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

It happened this week in Cranbrook: 1912

Aug. 11 - 17: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Kootenay Orienteering Championships coming to Kimberley, Cranbrook

The championships take place from September 6 to 8, 2019.

Local rowing club comes up big at Nelson Sprints Regatta

The Rockies Rowing Club saw multiple members have positive results at the annual regatta

City gets $100K grant for improving National Disaster Mitigation Program

The City of Cranbrook successfully applied for and has been awarded a… Continue reading

Family on way to a wedding when girl, 4, killed in crash near Creston

The Alberta family was travelling through B.C. for a wedding when their RV was in a serious collision

Fashion Fridays: How to dress and feel powerful

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Toronto activist calling on federal parties to nominate more black candidates

Fewer than 20 black Canadians have been nominated so far, including some Liberal MPs seeking re-election

Portland, Oregon, awaits right-wing rally, counter protests

Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson surrendered Friday on an arrest warrant for felony rioting

Kraft Heinz brand baby food recalled in B.C. due to possibility of insects

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the product should not be consumed

First Nations women finally to be treated equally under Indian Act: Bennett

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action thanked the feds

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

‘Easy Rider’ star Peter Fonda dies at 79

Actor and writer was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the 1969 psychedelic road trip movie

Bob Lenarduzzi out as Vancouver Whitecaps president

MLS team is at the bottom of the Western Conference standings

B.C. daycare operator denies negligence in death of ‘Baby Mac’

Infant died in early 2017 after biting an electrical cord, according to a lawsuit filed by his mom

Most Read