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Sexual assault victim advocate fired after criticizing employer

by Archives February 10, 2009

SASKATOON (CUP) – A University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) employee was fired less than 24 hours after an article was published revealing she was opposed to prospective changes to her job description.
On Thursday Feb. 5, USSU victim advocate Joanne Horsley was terminated from her position, effective immediately. This news comes after she went on record in an article in the Feb.5 issue of the university student newspaper, the Sheaf.
USSU has neither confirmed nor denied Horsley’s termination is linked to her comments in the article, but has warned people against making unfounded assumptions.
The victim advocate position is intended to help people who have been sexually assaulted, with its official mission being to “provide a single contact point on campus for survivors.” They are also to “communicate with relevant individuals and organizations on behalf of the victim.”
That means Horsley regularly communicated with professors and deans of behalf of students to diminish the number of people to whom a victim has to disclose their situation.
“We’re there to reduce the number of people the survivor has to talk to. Something as simple as me contacting a professor to say: ‘Jane Doe came to my office. She’s dealing with something. Can you please give her an extension?'” she said.
But as part of the yearly review of the position, USSU management have decided to define advocacy as “the process of providing education and awareness on matters of concern in order to create positive change,” but not include the right to communicate on behalf of someone.
In the article, both Horsley and a former victim advocate say they are concerned the new definition of advocacy, which has yet to be approved by the students’ council, could adversely affect the position.
Just one day after the Sheaf was delivered to stands, Horsley arrived at her office to find she had been locked out of her computer and had a message on the telephone asking her to contact Jason Ventnor, USSU’s marketing and services manager immediately. Ventnor told her to come into the office, where she met him and USSU general manager Caroline Cottrell.
“They sat me down and said: ‘You’re being terminated,’ and pushed a letter across the table at me,” Horsley said. “I stared at it and asked: ‘What did I do?’ and there was no answer.”
Horsley was given a letter stating the USSU was terminating her employment with the organization, and that her recent conduct left no other choice.
She was fired in accordance with the USSU Human Resources general policy, under termination with cause, which states that employees can be fired for conduct away from the workplace that detrimentally affects the USSU’s operation or good name. In lieu of notice, Horsley was given two weeks of severance pay.
Horsley says the timing would indicate she was terminated as a result of her participation in the article. But she has yet to be officially been informed what actions caused her dismissal.
USSU protocol states employees must acquire permission from management prior to participating in an interview with media. Horsley had not asked for permission to do so because she said she had been given the green light for all interviews by a member of the management, and had assumed it still applied.
When she learned she hadn’t properly followed protocol she sent an e-mail apologizing to Ventnor and USSU president Josie Steeves. She received no e-mail in return, but was told by Ventnor she had acted poorly and not to do it again.
Then, following the publication of the article, Horsley was told she was being fired.
“As far as I knew, I had already received my reprimand,” she said. “There was nothing formal written up, then a week later the article comes out. Next day, I’m out.”
General manager Cottrell says few details can be revealed.
“This is difficult . . . because we’re talking about a personnel issue here, and personnel issues are confidential,” she said at Thursday’s council meeting. “I do not feel comfortable disclosing the reasons for the termination.”
“What I will say is that it was a consensual decision by the senior managers, [with] which I certainly concurred, but beyond that I’m not prepared to give specifics,” she said.
When pushed for further detail, Cottrell advised everyone present against making assumptions.
A Facebook group, entitled “Reinstate the USSU victim advocate,” has been started and now has over 300 members. One woman who was using the services of the victim advocate says she is worried about where she will take her case.
“The USSU unfairly provided no warning about their decision. I sent a confidential e-mail to [Horsley] two days ago not knowing she was fired and I do not know who may have seen this e-mail before a message was sent back to me informing me of the closure,” she said.
The USSU has already posted the job, and Cottrell says they are hoping to fill the position as soon as possible. In the meantime, various organizations and professionals on campus are stepping in to ensure students get the help they require.
When pushed for further detail, Cottrell advised everyone present against making assumptions.

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