The drama never seems to end as the story at Centre for Inquiry Canada takes on a few new twists. For those looking to catch up, check out my first long post on the situation, followed by a few resignations, and finally my thoughts on where freethought can head in Canada.
Sunday was the big day for the associate members and the board of directors to sort their shit out. From the letter the board sent out [pdf]:
In reaction to this situation, the Associate Members of CFI Canada had, in accordance with the by-laws of the organization, called a meeting for December 11. The board of directors is also scheduled to meet on December 11, and it was expected that pending issues of concern to the membership would be discussed.
…a meeting has already been called by the Associate Members for Dec 11. This body is comprised of board members and key stakeholders in CFI Canada. We anticipate that many of the critical issues now facing CFI Canada will be dealt with on that day and that CFI Canada will be back up and running very soon. Given the current situation we cannot give you a timeline except to say that we will work to bring CFI Canada back to its full potential as soon as is humanly possible and that your commitment and continued support will not be in vain. [emphasis mine]
I’ve received a few reports of what happened at that meeting, with the general description that it was “a gong show” that lasted more than three hours. In summary: Justin Trottier brought forward as many excuses as people could raise criticisms. It seems like he will be put on probation as a volunteer for a few months, and one more key volunteer leader has resigned.
The meeting was apparently not restricted to associate and board members as Justin Trottier and a number of his friends and supporters were paraded out to defend his leadership. Only a couple key leaders from outside Toronto had been invited via Skype, with no regular supporters or volunteers from outside Toronto present. It’s not clear if any of these uninvited guests had any quarrels with Justin or if the entire affair was completely one-sided.
Justin deflected blame for each issue he was criticized for. He wasn’t an incompetent manager – it was the bank’s, the landlord’s, Canada Revenue Agency’s, the board’s, or other volunteer’s fault. To defend his lack of action on finding a new lease for CFI Ontario, he claimed that the landlord had only contacted him in the late spring with only a few months left on the lease. He should have known, however, that months earlier he needed to be looking into the situation. Many of his records were kept only as Google Docs, and while his access had been removed from some of them, he apparently maintained control of others – suggesting that either the Board and new management were unaware of these documents (meaning only Justin had access to some information) or they missed these Docs in their sweep.
He also appealed to the success of CFI Canada under his leadership, personally taking credit for some initiatives that were started by other volunteers – including volunteer agreement forms created by then Vancouver Executive Director Jamie Williams.
He also claimed that he didn’t believe his Green Party run constituted a conflict of interest based on discussions with other Green Party candidates. This irresponsibility could have seriously jeopardized CFI Canada’s charitable status.
Finally, there were appeals to his media exposure, but some dissented, noting that this exposure had been limited to Toronto and Ontario. Few of us outside Ontario hear much of Justin’s exploits.
After his defence finished, the board explained that Justin had been fired with due process, providing him with the legally required severance – something Derek Pert was denied. Finally the board got somewhat of a recommendation that Justin not be hired right away, but be allowed to volunteer for a probationary period of three months. He would also be required to take some leadership training courses. Justin’s uncle Lorne Trottier was asked to abstain for the vote and he did.
As far as I can tell, nothing else was accomplished at this meeting. No new board members were appointed, the branding process remains in shambles, and it’s not clear if CFI Ontario has any active leadership left. Larry Moran put his best guess as to the status of CFI Canada last Thursday, and despite this meeting that was supposed to address these issues, CFI remains spinning its wheels in the mud.
There will likely be an official statement coming from the remaining Board Members soon, but don’t expect miracles from it. See the addendum below for the official statement from the board.
Just after this Festivus-inspired Airing of Grievances ended, on Sunday evening CFI Edmonton chair Brent Kelly resigned his post. He cited many reasons for his departure: a lack of transparency, a lack of democratic accountability, a lack of support for CFI Edmonton, the departure of qualified management, and the continued association with Men’s Rights Activism – interim National Executive Director Michael Payton is also affiliated with some of the same groups Justin Trottier was. Brent’s full explanation can be read here [pdf]. He remains active in the Edmonton freethought community, specifically the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics.
To many it is becoming clear that the board of CFI Canada has abdicated its duties to ensure competent management over the organization. Instead the organization has been consumed by a cult of personality. Many local branches and leaders seem to be holding on in spite of the drama, hoping to weather the storm while continuing their local events.
On the other side of the rift, work continues behind the scenes on the skeptical activism project announced by Michael Kruse and Jamie Williams. They are taking their time to get it right though, hashing out a mutual understanding of what they hope to build. It’s clear that their organization won’t fill the void that would open up if CFI were to cease to exist next year, so other groups will need to step up if the freethought community is to continue to be successful in Canada (and I believe it will).
Here’s the Official Statement from the Board.