The Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association (CREA) may soon be investigated by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
A human rights complaint on behalf of multiple victims was filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal on July 12.
The complaint was filed by a lawyer “on behalf of workers and volunteers who have experienced discrimination contrary to section 13 of the Human Rights Code committed by the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association.”
In the complaint, allegations of eight years of systemic racism, sexism and physical abuse are being levelled at Mike MacSorley, former general manager of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association.
From 2014 to 2021, the non-profit association employed MacSorley as general manager even though they knew of his “blatantly racist views of South Asian people and ongoing egregious conduct toward female staff and volunteers,” the complaint contends.
The complaint also alleges key board members from the association – president Shannon Claypool, vice-presidents Dale Saip and Rich Kitos, and treasurer Gerry Spielmacher – were made aware of the allegations but did nothing to fix the situation and that they conspired to cover it up.
The complaint does not mention non-executive board members, Kathy Sheppard (Members & Volunteers), the city’s Kelsey Swanson (Parks & Rec.), John Kageorge (Co-chair Country Fair), Doug Elford (Surrey City Council), Farhad Alizadeh (Facilities/Operations), and Sierra Pilcher (Co-chair Country Fair Representative).
The rodeo association has contravened the Human Rights Code “by upholding a hostile and poisoned work environment and by failing to respond to race- and sex-based harassment,” the complaint alleges.
The City of Surrey funds the rodeo association each year to operate the Cloverdale Fairgrounds for the city. According to a city report, the association received an annual base payment of $380,000 for the years 2017-2019. The proposal for 2020-2022 was $407,000 per year.
The CREA also receives a $225,000 grant each year to operate the annual rodeo and exhibition.
Some allegations came to light in January 2021 when a former rodeo employee was terminated. He wrote several letters and emailed them to the rodeo board, all City of Surrey councillors and Mayor Doug McCallum; high-ranking city workers including two top-ranking city managers Vincent Lalonde and Rob Costanzo; the city’s general manager of finance Kam Grewal; Kelsey Swanson, community and recreation services manager for Cloverdale; and RCMP members.
The emails detailed allegations of abuse by MacSorley, matching claims in the human rights complaint.
The complaint says the executive directors received a letter from a former employee talking about MacSorley’s inappropriate conduct in January of 2021.
Initially ignored, the emails eventually prompted a review that “went through the motions of an investigation” into MacSorley’s conduct. But that was ultimately undermined by “dismissive and sexist comments from MacSorley and the association’s executive directors,” the complaint states.
But it did prompt MacSorley’s departure. On March 15, MacSorley abruptly resigned as GM. At the time, Claypool told Black Press that “Mike resigned for personal reasons.”
The complaint details incidents that accuse MacSorley of anti-South Asian racism, misogyny, and physical and psychological abuse. It also accuses the association of failing to respond to the “racist and sexist work environment” along with continuing to ignore new information and new instances of wrongdoing.
The complaint also asserts the CREA is still in “continuous contravention” of the Human Rights Code and claims the association failed “to provide a harassment-free workplace” and that this “may constitute a contravention” of the Human Rights Code.
The complaint charges the association has “failed to provide a a harassment free workplace by creating an environment where it heavily relied on volunteer labour without making any effort to protect volunteers from harassment or to accept feedback or complaints about ongoing harassment.”
The court filing alleges, “The Association is directly responsible for MacSorley’s racist and sexist conduct.”
Lawyers representing the victims are seeking seven “remedies,” including: an order the “Association provide harassment and discrimination training for all managers; an order that CREA create a meaningful anti-harassment policy and an effective complaint mechanism; damages for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect for each group member,” among other demands.
Some of the incidents are detailed in the complaint.
The complaint contends MacSorley targeted South Asians with racist remarks, notably the CREA’s accountant, the only South Asian working in the office.
“MacSorley would direct comments about ‘you people’ or ‘your people’ at the accountant” and then say after he was talking about “accountants not brown people,” the complaint asserts.
The complaint contends MacSorley “refused to interview or hire anyone he believed to have an Indo-Canadian name.”
The complaint charges that Claypool “condoned MacSorley’s conduct and directly participated in the creation of a poisoned work environment,” as Claypool was CREA’s president during MacSorley’s tenure as GM.
Under a subheading “Misogyny,” the complaint also details incidents in which Claypool made “unwelcome sexual advances toward female volunteers.” It contends Claypool sent a sexually explicit text message to one volunteer and personally propositioned another volunteer.
The complaint alleges MacSorley often made sexist comments to staff and volunteers and often used “bitch” to describe women. The complaint document claims MacSorley habitually told staff and volunteers, “Harass is two words — her ass” whenever the question of sexual harassment arose – allegedly a monthly occurrence.
The complaint also says for about four years MacSorley physically and psychologically abused and harassed the only woman in the office.
“From 2016 to 2019, MacSorley harassed this employee incessantly,” the complaint states. MacSorley allegedly snuck up behind her to pull her hair and poke her in the ribs, causing her to jump up, injuring herself on her desk. MacSorley would also regularly throw balls of wet paper towels at her when he would come out of the washroom.
She was also the target of MacSorley’s mood swings, the complaint alleges, often yelling at her, sometimes close to her face.
The employee went to Spielmacher in 2018 to ask for help from the board, but “the harassment continued without any meaningful intervention.”
In another incident, MacSorley tried to get a young female subcontractor to meet him at a bar, but when she refused and called her female contractor boss. “MacSorley became so irate with (the boss) that a security guard had to intervene,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint says Claypool followed up with the contractor and told her she’d “have to find a way” to work with MacSorley. The contractor then raised her concerns directly with MacSorley but was told the rodeo board “had his back and would never fire him no matter what he did.” The contractor was told to accept that or “stop being involved in the Cloverdale Rodeo.”
The complaint contends that as of 2016, all four executive directors “did little or nothing to respond to MacSorley’s misconduct or to create a safe and inclusive environment for women and South Asian people.”
It also says MacSorley was antagonistic when anyone tried to address concerns about his behaviour and that he bragged about being called the “Dark Lord of Operations” by staff at his previous workplace, the PNE.
The Human Rights complaint concludes by contending the CREA is guilty of being in continuous contravention of the human rights code, of failing to provide a harassment-free workplace, and failing to respond to reports of harassment.
Speaking to the Cloverdale Reporter on Tuesday morning (July 13), Claypool said he was unaware of any Human Rights Tribunal complaint against the rodeo association. He added he didn’t see or hear of MacSorley making any racist or sexist remarks or comments. “Not at all. Not at all.”
Also commenting on Tuesday morning, MacSorley told the Reporter he wasn’t aware of any racist actions or sexual harassment on his part during his time as rodeo GM.
MacSorley also said he wasn’t aware of any alleged abuse of the office manager, such as throwing wet paper towels at her, poking her in the sides, or pulling her hair.
“That’s what she told me that I did. I don’t remember doing it. I just left because it wasn’t worth this,” he said. He confirmed he did step down for personal reasons. “My mom died. The rodeo hadn’t happened in a couple years. I’m 60. People started hurling accusations at me for no reason and it was just time to go.”
MacSorley said the accusations are untrue, but they did lead to him stepping down. “It became a toxic place, and I was part of it, and people didn’t like me … it was time to go.”
He said a human resources investigation was launched after a former employee quit, and sent emails and letters out to anyone that would listen.
“They didn’t find any truth to (the accusations). The police investigated it as well,” he said. “Nothing was covered up. Simran (Bhullar) did an investigation. There was eight years of stuff. He talked to me about it. And I said, ‘Eight years? I might have done some stupid things, sure.’ But there was no malicious intent.”
The Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association has a long history. It began in March 1888 and has changed its name a few times since then as it took on different responsibilities. It became the CREA in 1994.
Rodeo board member John Kageorge reached out to the Reporter Tuesday afternoon (July 13).
“This morning the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association was surprised to receive notice that a complaint had been made to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. It is an anonymous, serious complaint, and we’re reeling from it. We will study this with vigour and respond accordingly.
“Our Board, staff, and volunteers intend for our actions to have a positive impact on our community. The Association will address this in due course, but have no other information to share at this time.”