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Egale in crisis

Board survivors scramble to plug holes

TIGHTLIPPED. The sudden departure of Gilles Marchildon leaves Egale without any full-time staffers, but he won't give the details.

Gilles Marchildon is no longer the executive director of Egale, he said Nov 16. He “hasn’t been in the office” since Oct 26, confirmed Egale board member Hilary Cook.

Marchildon was the last remaining full-time employee at the national queer lobby group. Two full-time staff left over the summer, neither of whom has been permanently replaced. The Egale office sat unstaffed for weeks, the phone unanswered and at least one donor’s monthly donation unprocessed.

The latest staffing disruption comes at a time when a Conservative bill to raise the age of consent to 16 awaits justice committee hearings, and a motion to re-open the debate on same-sex marriage looms in the first week of December.

Marchildon’s departure was not announced publicly, leaving some Egale members and donors to wonder why their phone calls were going unreturned and, in at least one case, why their donations weren’t being processed. Marchildon won’t comment on the circumstances of his departure.

In September, Capital Xtra also reported that Marchildon had filed an internal complaint against an Egale board member. Bruce Hicks, the board rep from Quebec, was the subject of that complaint and a second one filed after Marchildon’s departure, according to e-mails from Egale president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey obtained by Capital Xtra.

At the Nov 26 board meeting, Hicks was asked to resign. When the dust had settled, Hicks and two other board members — Enrique Lopez de Mesa and Ottawa representative Jean-Bruno Villeneuve — had quit, leaving the board with just six people.

Schlamp-Hickey says that since those resignations “there are a number of people who have come back [to Egale] now that we’re getting back on track” even in the 48 hours since the latest spate of resignations.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel like we have a team,” Schlamp-Hickey says.

Hicks released a statement which he described as “the only statement I intend on making” with respect to his resignation.

He attached a unofficial 13-page plan to raise $25 million in five years. Egale’s annual budget is approximately $350,000.

“I am optimistic that others will step forward to continue the work we started,” wrote Hicks. “Egale has great resources in its committees and there is no shortage of great leaders in the community.”

But Schlamp-Hickey says of the unofficial plan: “That’s just not where we’re at as an organization.

“We need to think practically, and we need we need to think about where we’ve come from.”

Cook would not give a timeline for filling Egale’s executive director position. “We would like to have a new ED in two weeks,” she says, “but there’s not a lot of people who can do this job.”

In the meantime, she notes, Egale’s board of directors will take steps to hire a part-time administrative staff person immediately. On Sep 1, Egale hired a part-time consultant to oversee its legal cases and advocacy work.

Schlamp-Hickey says that there are two more temporary employees lined up to fill in the gaps, and information about their hiring will be available soon. She also said that she plans to fill vacancies on the board “as soon as possible” in advance of the AGM.

According to a Nov 16 press release, Marchildon’s departure has not affected Egale’s ongoing legal work.

“As usual, Egale is involved in a tremendous amount of advocacy, including a number of important court cases,” says Cook, who is also chair of Egale’s Legal Issues Committee. “While the director of advocacy position is vacant pending the appointment of a new executive director, the Legal Issues Committee is as active as ever. For example, this week we contacted the Justice Committee in Ottawa to ensure that Egale is able to make submissions on Bill C-23, the Government’s ‘Age of Protection’ legislation when it goes to Committee.”

Egale is currently intervening in several court cases as well, including the Freeman case, which challenges the prohibition on men who have had sex with men from donating blood, and the Little Sister’s case seeking advance federal funding for its case alleging ongoing discrimination by the Canada Border Services Agency.

But with no staff at the office, some donors are getting frustrated. Long-time donor Paul Larocque was surprised when his direct-debit contribution to Egale was not processed for October. The automatic payment scheduled for Oct 15 did not appear on his monthly statement. Money was not withdrawn until Nov 9, some 25 days late.

“The board of Egale has been actively managing the organization, and as with any transition, there are going to be bumps along the way,” acknowledges Schlamp-Hickey in the press release. “October’s donations were processed late, but they have been processed and we are, as always, grateful to our donors for their support.

Allegations of infighting and internal harassment at Egale first surfaced in September when several former board members expressed concern that the gay lobby group might be faltering.

“Several board members have resigned, and there is now only one full-time person left on staff,” said former Ottawa representative Ariel Troster at the time, after she left the board in August. “Egale has been reduced to a shell of the organization that it once was, and is now on shaky ground, at a time when the queer community needs it most.”

When reached for comment Nov 27 after the resignations, Troster appeared more optimistic.

“I’ve been very concerned with recent turmoil, but I’m encouraged with the leadership Gemma showed by being forthright with the membership.”

Egale’s listserv is buzzing with requests to hold a special general meeting (SGM), or to move the annual general meeting forward to January, or even to hold several regional SGMs in order to get in touch with the organization’s members.

In an e-mail obtained by Capital Xtra, Chris Boodram, the co-chair of the intersections committee, resigned Nov 21, citing a “lack of transparency and accountability” on the part of Egale’s board, among other reasons.

Schlamp-Hickey acknowledges that there have been departures from Egale’s board in the last year, but says there have also been additions. She says she is considering requests to hold an SGM.

Troster urges Egale members to take action.

“Egale is the only organization in Canada that advocates for [gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans] equality at a national level, in the courts and on the streets. Without a functioning Egale, our community could lose out — especially in the face of Harper’s Conservatives,” she warned Capital Xtra in September.