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Professor removed from Enbridge investigation amidst bias allegation says investigation not over

By Saima Asad, May 26 2017 —

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has responded to allegations from the University of Calgary that their investigation into the U of C’s relationship with Enbridge is flawed.

In 2015, a CBC investigation revealed that Enbridge had significant influence in the shaping of the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability as a result of a large donation from the energy company.

At the time, U of C President Elizabeth Cannon admitted to mishandling the matter.

“There was some confusion and concerns raised by some of our academic colleagues so I think things could have gone better. No question about it,” Cannon said in 2015.

The U of C responded to the allegations by launching an independent investigation into the claims, which became known as the McMahon report.

U of C Board of Governors (BOG) chair Gord Ritchie said that investigation is the comprehensive report that closes the book on the controversy.

“At the time that these events came public, the board at the university established an independent committee that retained independent counsel to complete an independent review around the circumstances of the Enbridge Centre,” he said. “We believe that that report is the comprehensive and independent review that speaks to this.”

The McMahon report concluded that there were no breaches of university policy or procedures, no conflicts of interest pertaining to Cannon and no improper conduct by anyone involved in the creation or operation of the centre. BOG hoped that this report would conclude the matter.

“We had assumed this was a closed matter,” Ritchie said.

However, CAUT launched their own investigation into the controversy in April 2016, chaired by Leonard Findlay.

The U of C alleges that the CAUT investigation is biased due to evidence of pre-judgement in Findlay. The U of C cited a March 4 presentation by Findlay, which is publicly available and was partially circulated on social media, as evidence of bias in his investigation. The other two committee members responded by asking Findlay to step down from the committee and continuing the investigation without him.

However, Findlay said the investigation is far from over.

“It is my fervent personal wish that the report be published in full, or appropriately modified by my two co-investigators in light of concerns from possibly affected parties, as soon as possible,” he said in a statement. “It is beyond time for others to be the judge of what went on in relation to the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability. The U of C community and the people of Alberta deserve no less.”

Ritchie said he was concerned about Findlay’s statements regarding the investigation.

“[Findlay] made some very damning comments about the university [and] its leadership. He used extensive flowery adjectives that were extremely critical,” Ritchie said. “Our biggest concern is that CAUT holds itself as being an organization that’s run with rules of fairness and independence and this was put out in the public domain. The chair of the committee was in the public domain indicating his personal biases while they had not completed or were holding out that they had not completed their investigation.”

Findlay’s removal from the committee followed an open letter from Ritchie published in UToday addressing the evidence of bias and pre-judgement in the chair’s decision making. Findlay calls Ritchie’s letter a “pre-emptive strike.”

“[The letter] seeks to undermine the credibility of an investigation in which the Board and senior university leadership refused to participate in and worked openly to discourage and pre-empt,” Findlay said.

This is not the first time that the U of C has been accused of hindering CAUT’s investigation. During investigators’ visit last year, provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall sent an email to all faculty members informing them of CAUT’s investigation and the fact that CAUT is not bound by the university’s confidentiality and privacy rules.

“It was a pretty crass attempt to dissuade people from coming forward and giving information,” CAUT director David Robinson said in a 2016 Gauntlet interview.

CAUT is continuing its investigation into the U of C’s relationship with Enbridge.

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