(OPINION/SUBMISSION) – Former employees of the Atikokan Native Friendship Centre say they were bullied into resigning or being fired for speaking out about workplace intimidation at the hands of the non-Indigenous executive director Sarah Laurich. Since she was hired by the ANFC board in 2016, fourteen of 17 employees have lost their jobs (eight were fired, six resigned. Also, the majority of the board has now resigned.
Most of the staff were coordinators of programs the centre receives specific funds to run to provide services to urban Aboriginals in Atikokan ranging in ages from prenatal to seniors.
With only a few of those positions now filled (the seniors lifelong care program coordinator was fired in just recent weeks) the centre is struggling to even keep it’s doors open.
Former staff say things went from bad to worse after eight employees signed a letter of concern about a toxic workplace environment which they sent to both the local ANFC board and the Ontario Federation Of Indigenous Centres. Every one of the workers who signed the letters subsequently lost their jobs and were informed that they could either quit or be fired, say staff.
One such terminated employee, a prominent parliamentarian of seven years in the region, attended the Centre’s last annual general meeting, where she reported a body check assault by the executive director’s husband Dave Laurich at the event. OPP investigated the incident and charges were laid after six of the remaining employees were questioned and some provided witness statements to the police. Regardless of whether or not the employees gave statements to the police, they have all subsequently lost their jobs.
These employees (many who are Indigenous) question how a Centre that is government-funded and runs programs for Indigenous people, seemingly has no oversight.
They question the legality and ethics of the treatment of employees and the lack of services now being provided to the community’s Aboriginal population, and the seeming discrepancy in the program enrollment numbers provided to funding agencies…
Many in the community are wondering if there is any hope for the OFIFC, the remaining ANFC board of directors–or virtually anyone in the community–to step up and investigate these allegations.