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Feature Articles : Workplace Violence: Why it happens. Why it will continue.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the Asper/Canwest Temple of Hypocricy
 

Three Part Series on Mobbing Overview Profiles Effects Mandate

  Pierre Lebrun - OC Transpo - Target of Mobbing Who Fought Back
   
 

Pierre Lebrun
Stood Up to Bullies

   

Workplace Violence:
Why it happens. Why it will continue.

"The tiny percentage of mobbing victims – like Pierre Lebrun – who lash back in violent attack would probably have lived out their lives peaceably and productively had they been spared the excruciating pain of relentless humiliation."

~ Prof. Kenneth Westhues,
   At the Mercy of the Mob: A summary of research on workplace mobbing

Workplace violence has become a pressing problem facing businesses and society as a whole. Generally speaking, workplace violence encompasses many behaviours which constitute violence. However for the purposes of this article we will focus on the most extreme form of workplace violence which from time to time captures the media's attention – workplace homicide. What has gone so terribly wrong in these situations? Why are so many of these incidents eerily similar?

We've all seen the news reports. A lone gunman returns to his workplace or former workplace to exact revenge for harassment that has gone on sometimes for years. We learn that the gunman has lashed back in the past at those he considered to be abusing him, albeit in non-lethal ways. We are told the gunman has been disciplined in the past for his behaviour (reacting to the abuse) and has been ordered to go to counselling or anger management courses. Even though the precipitating abuse may have gone on for years any response in kind gives the bullies and management the opportunity to turn the tables and claim that the victim of abuse is the real problem after all.

 
   

Of couse what we don't hear is that the bullies provoking this reaction are almost never disciplined or required to attend counselling themselves. At this point targets of mobbing are often further humiliated by being forced to sign so-called 'last chance agreements' which threaten the target with termination if they dare to challenge the bullies again. So once the target of harassment returns to work after "counselling" they are greeted by cynical bullies who simply renew their attack with added vigor now that they know management will do nothing to stop them and will even join in the persecution. This tacit approval and participation by management guarantees the situation will only get worse.

News reporters interview the gunman's co-workers, union respresentatives and managers. Those not directly implicated in the harassement of the gunman usually describe him in positive terms. For example in the OC Transpo shooting in Ottawa a co-worker of Pierre Lebrun, Ozzie Morin, commented that Pierre was "a pretty peaceful lad", "I didn't think he was ill. I can't really say anything today that would say he was whacko, you know." Another co-worker, Grant Harrison remembered Lebrun as "very clever, very nice". 1

While those closer to the abuse, union reps for example, intent on distancing themselves from blame, respond "We're going to look for causes but really, I don't think we're really going to find a cause," said union head Paul Macdonnell. "This individual was just sick."

Lebrun's mother believes that taunts by co-workers about her son's speech impediment sent him over the edge. "He said a group of people were harassing him - not only one person but a group of people," Jeannette Lebrun told The Ottawa Citizen. "That's why he went there - to kill the people who harassed him." ... The trouble may have started in 1996, when Ottawa endured a tense transit strike and Lebrun, at the advice of doctors, took sick leave rather than join his colleagues on the picket line. After the strike, sources say, Lebrun's fellow employees started to harass him. 1

It seems finding a cause, the real cause, is the last thing the union would want. Better just to label the victim of their harassment "sick" and leave it at that.

Although the bullies who tormented Pierre Lebrun deserve the bulk of the blame for this tragedy, the balance of the responsibility lies with incompetent management who did nothing to stop the harassment. Bullying cannot occur in workplaces with vigilant managers who understand how counterproductive and destructive unchecked harassment can be. Mobbing cannot occur without the tacit approval and participation of management in the abuse.

The past few years have been tumultuous ones at OC Transpo. A consultants' review of operations last year painted an unflattering picture of the company with rock-bottom morale and poor management. "Quite apart from what's alleged or otherwise with Mr. Lebrun's situation, we know we've had a very unhappy work environment for a long time," Loney* told Maclean's. (The company has recently undertaken changes, such as management shuffles.) In the mechanics department, for example, where Lebrun got into a fight, Loney says minor altercations "were not at all unusual" in the past. 1

*Al Loney, chairman of Ottawa-Carleton's transit commission

Management's failure to take complaints about bullying seriously is key to developing a dangerous and toxic work environment. Especially disconcerting is management that have been made aware of mobbing and its conscquences, including workplace violence, but choose to allow the abuse to continue.

Claude Brazeau said it's time OC Transpo started addressing the issue of harassment at work. Brazeau witnessed the murder of his colleagues while on the phone with police after he dialed 911.
"I've been working at OC Transpo for 22 years, I've been harassed and complained about it and nothing got done," Brazeau said. 2

 
   

Many incidents of workplace violence have elements in common other than incessant harassment and complicite management. We learn that as the shooting unfolded many were spared while only certain individuals are shot. This is a common theme in these kinds of workplace shootings. In a shooting in Hawaii at a Xerox warehouse, "Byran Uyesugi picked out the targets of his rage, shooting two co-workers at close range in a small office but sparing a third man who was working at his desk in the same room..." 3 In yet another shooting, "Police ... said there appeared to be nothing random about the killings at the Kansas City ConAgra Foods Inc. plant. They said he (Elijah Brown) passed by some co-workers, telling them, "You haven't done anything to me, so you can go." "This person acted with purpose, he knew exactly what he was doing," Police Chief Ron Miller said." 4

In reference to the OC Transpo shooting:

"It's very curious as to why he selected certain individuals to kill and permitted certain people to live," said Ottawa-Carleton regional police Insp. Ian Davidson. "He could easily have killed many more people." 1

There is nothing random or senseless about it. Considering that targets of workplace bullying and mobbing are subjected to years of traumatizing abuse that has been equated in its emotional and mental impact to rape, and that this torture has been perpetrated by specific individuals, it is not the least bit curious why Lebrun "selected certain individuals to kill and permitted certain people to live".

 

It is important to remember that not everyone who is killed in workplace violence incidents are necessarily bullies.

None of the four OC Transpo employees murdered by Pierre Lebrun were on his list of those he felt responsible for his abuse. For example, one of those murdered, Clare Davidson, was actually covering the position of someone else who was on Lebrun's list.

Workplace bullying not only takes the lives of targets (who often commit suicide) and bullies, but also claims the lives of innocent people – devastating entire families.

   

Unfortunately, after a workplace shooting there is a willful ignorance that falls on the scene. The bullies responsible, including management, are at a complete loss for a reason, other than branding the target of their abuse "whacko" or "sick". Since it is taboo to speak ill of the dead, even if they should be, the police, the media and politicians dance around the real cause and frame the bullies as loving family men, beloved by all, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when, inexplicably, they were shot for no reason by a guy who just snapped because God only knows why.

Mr. Ian Murray (Lanark-Carleton, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to convey ... Our sadness and grief, in particular the sadness and grief of the victims' loved ones, are made more acute and painful by the senselessness of it all. It defies human understanding and explanation. ... One brief eruption of madness has caused your lives to be changed forever. 5

Mr. Werner Schmidt (Kelowna, Ref.): Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the tribute just read, the deaths of those five OC Transpo employees last week were senseless and heartbreaking.
Four innocent citizens of this community were killed by a lone gunman ... No law or social system could have predicted or prevented what took place and there are no guarantees that such an incident will not occur again. 5

Indeed, and willful ignorance such as this guarantees that it will.

Even though OC Transpo experienced a worst-case-scenario response to rampant workplace bullying, it seems that little has been learned. One can only imagine how much less has been learned at companies which are equally abusive but haven't had a violent incident - yet.

The following stories link to a series of radio pieces by Katrina Roman of the CBC. They describe a disturbing lack of response to addressing the issues of a toxic workplace culture at OC Transpo. Once the gunsmoke cleared, it was back to business as usual.

Just click any of the headlines below (or click here) to go to CBC.ca, then click 'Listen' to hear the full audio for each story.

Lasting Legacy?
Seven years after the OC Transpo shooting, have lessons been learned? If the stabbing of a nurse in Windsor is any indication, maybe not.

The Challenge of Changing Workplace Culture
The OC Transpo shooting seven years ago shocked Ottawa and the rest of the country. The jury at the coroner's inquest made dozens of recommendations, many on how to improve the workplace environment. Karina tells the story of what OC Transpo is like today and how it's an example of how difficult it is to change the culture of a workplace.

Workers Fear the Past is Becoming the Future
Seven years after the OC Transpo shooting, employees are speaking out. They fear the organization is backsliding to the days where bullying and harassment were rampant and bosses did nothing to stop it.

What Have the Bosses Learned?
Workplace experts say the OC Transpo shooting impacted employers all over Canada. But some labour organizations worry that as the tragedy falls further into the past, corporations are forgetting the lessons learned.

Amalgamation No Friend to OC Transpo
Sources at OC Transpo say the organization's progress towards fixing the workplace was slowed by having to manage amalgamation at the same time. The mayor and one of his opponent's in this year's election have different takes on the issue.

Ontario Drags its Legislative Feet
Seven years ago the OC Transpo inquest made 77 recommendations with the aim to prevent other such tragedies. Number one on that list was for the province to create a regulation to address workplace violence. Karina explains how workers are still waiting.

If having four workers shot dead and a fifth committing suicide isn't enough to wake up management at OC Tranpo, and for that matter all businesses in Canada, then what will? How many more shootings and how many more lives will it take before managers and politicians begin paying attention? Instead of turning the blame on the real victim of abuse after a shooting, why not put a stop to workplace bullying and mobbing before it has to come to a violent conclusion?

Perhaps the next time something like this happens and management is found to have tolerated mobbing, the officers of the company should be criminally charged for causing the deaths - along with any bullies who happen to survive.

Perhaps companies will only respond if the bottom line is threatened and very, very heavy fines are imposed. Fines commensurate to the size of the company and sufficient to cause the executive managers and shareholders to shudder. Body counts mean nothing to some companies, so perhaps this is the only way to get their attention.

Managers need to be convinced that there is no 'shareholder value' in mobbing or in blithely causing the deaths of their employees. But it is unlikely that there will be the political will to hold corporations and incompetent managers accountable for their actions. Politicians know which side their bread is buttered on, don't they.

Our government has failed to address the issue of workplace harassment and mobbing. (Except for Quebec which has lead North America as the first jurisdiction to introduce protection against psychological harassment of employees. More info here - Commission des normes du travail.)

Contact your local MP and make him or her aware that you are very displeased that the Canadian Government is choosing to do very little to stop businesses who support mobbing which can and does result in destroyed lives, financial ruin, suicide and even homicide. Look up your local MP here.

Contact the PM's Office and do the same. Click here for contact information.

Provide them with information about mobbing, include links to this and other websites.

mobbing.ca - http://mobbing.ca
OvercomeBullying.org - http://www.overcomebullying.org/

Democracy Watch provides tips for contacting politicians including hand writing or typing a letter rather than sending an email. They suggest it is important to send your letter to your MP but to also send a copy to the Minister responsible.

It is time to demand government and business leaders take action against bullying and mobbing in our workplaces or face severe penalties for failing to do so.

Enough is enough. Lives are at stake!

This is where I originally intended to end this article, but unfortunately simply passing laws is not only ineffective in itself but would likely make the situation even worse for targets of workplace abuse. With laws in place, feeble and toothless as they would likely be, it still requires companies to adhere to them. This may result in more companies actually developing a psychological harassment policy, but unless there is real will to enforce these policies they are, like the laws, just meaningless words on paper.

If our target of mobbing dared to accuse bullies and/or management under such laws they would not be protected from abuse, they would in fact be subjected to even more. They would now be whistleblowers and would be viciously retaliated against - regardless of any feeble laws against it. This has been a lesson learned the hard way time and time again by whistleblowers. Click here for more info on suppression of dissent and whistleblowing.

If, on the other hand, our target of mobbing does not file a complaint under such laws, hoping to avoid even further abuse, the tables would eventually be turned on them anyway and they would be charged BY THE BULLIES! What!? Yes, as the mobbing escalates the target eventually responds to the abuse. Sooner or later the target will say or do something the bully can twist and use against their victim claiming that it is the bully who is the REAL victim.

This is stereotypical in mobbing cases. Even though abusive companies, such as OC Transpo, allow bullying to go on unchecked sometimes for years, talking back to a bully or even suggesting corporate culpability or liability is not tolerated and is dealt with swiftly and harshly. These companies are profoundly cynical in this regard. Laws such as this would only provide bullies and abusive managers with yet another weapon with which to bludgeon their victim.

While society as a whole remains ignorant about workplace abuse and mobbing it is easy for bullies and companies to pull the wool over our eyes and continue to get away with savage abuses including using the very laws designed to stop it against their victims. Laws against bullying and mobbing are dangerous without also educating people about the dynamics of this phenomenon.

Once educated it is easy to tell what is really happening, who the real victim is. Once it is named and brought out into the light for all to see bullies can no longer operate in the grey area. Only once everyone sees mobbing for what it is, brutal systematic psychological torture, will it become unacceptable. Only when co-workers, supervisors, department heads, HR managers, EAP providers, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, judges and politicians understand what is being done and comprehend the staggering toll it takes on individuals, companies and society as a whole will laws proscribing mobbing become effective.

In the meantime, the body count will continue to rise.

~ Anton Hout

 

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Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

~ Elie Wiesel

 
 

Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury.

~ Francis Quarles

 
 
Support Group

Calgary, AB

For more information about joining our workplace bullying support group in Calgary please
click here to
email Anton.

 
Interview with a Target of
Workplace Bullying

by John Peel
on Home Truths,
BBC Radio 4
(mp3)

Courtesy BullyEQ
 
 

WEBQuotes


Calgary Herald
"...grossly unacceptable employer behaviour."
> AFL
"There was a lot of bullying in the newsroom and it was a gift to be able to stand up and say we are prepared to do something about it."
> UNB

Canwest Global
"The CanWest corporation is showing the ugly and intolerant face of modern media," ... "While openly interfering in editorial content it cravenly punishes those journalists who have the courage to protest."
> IFJ
"Many journalists left CanWest, deciding to quit or take disability leave after the frigid mood of their newsrooms made them ill."
> Canwest Watch

Imperial Parking
"Timothy Lloyd decided he had had enough of "going in to war every day." ... I was very unhappy in my work -- burned out, stressed out ... There were constant threats of dismissal, constant invading of my personal space, and use of profanity that was personally directed at me."
> HealthSmith

Annuity Research & Marketing Service Ltd.
"Every employer, said Justice Dambrot, owes a contractual duty to its employees to “treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect, and dignity.” By failing to protect Ms. Stamos from Mr. Hammami’s harassment, the court concluded that the employer had breached this contractual duty."
> Labor Relations Consultants


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