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Is Egale sinking?

Executive director resigns from gay lobby group

TIGHTLIPPED: Neither Gilles Marchildon nor Egale president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey will say why Marchildon left the national gay lobby group last month. Credit: Trevor Clayton photo

OTTAWA–Gilles Marchildon is no longer the executive director of Egale, he confirmed Nov 16, but everyone is tightlipped about the terms of his departure.

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 gay national lobby group. Two full-time staff left over the summer, neither of whom has been permanently replaced.

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.

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 Money was not withdrawn until Nov 9, some 25 days late. Larocque is wary, but hasn’t halted donations yet.

“I’m worried,” he says. “We need a national organization.”

Marchildon won’t comment on the circumstances of his departure.

“I’m not in a position to discuss this yet,” he told Xtra West’s Ottawa sister paper, Capital Xtra. He says more information will be available soon, possibly within two weeks, on exactly what prompted his departure. He refuses to say whether lawyers are involved.

Egale president Gemma Schlamp-Hickey won’t say why Marchildon left, either. “The reasons for [Marchildon’s] departure were mutually agreed upon,” she says.

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.

Last week, Egale sent out a press release entitled “Rumours of Egale’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated.”

“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.

“Times change and people move on,” she continues. “We are coming to the end of the equal marriage fight and we are looking to the future to see what is next on the horizon. This is a natural time for people to move in and out of the organization.

“We are grateful to Gilles for his service to Egale, and wish him the best in the future,” she adds.

According to the 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.

“We have business as usual,” Cook insists.

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 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.”

In September, Xtra West also reported that Marchildon had filed an internal complaint against a board member. But Schlamp-Hickey said that complaint had been resolved and that there had been no further complaints.

She maintained that the situation was better than critics portrayed it to be.

Now, 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.

Former executive director John Fisher also called on the board to order third-party exit interviews of the staff and board members who have left the organization this year.

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 LGBT 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.