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Lawsuits Allege Sexual Harassment, Assaults at Northern Work Camps

Two women have filed statements of claim saying managers failed to curb a culture of drinking and sexual misconduct in camps.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 3 Jun

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Two lawsuits filed last month in B.C. Supreme Court allege a culture of excessive drinking and sexual harassment, at times leading to sexual assault, in some worker accommodations for LNG development in the province’s north.

The lawsuits, both filed in May, allege two separate sexual assaults in work camps run by Civeo, a Houston, Texas-based company that also has offices in Alberta.

One allegation refers to events at a camp in Kitimat used at the time to house workers of some companies subcontracted to the LNG Canada project.

The second alleges wrongdoing at two remote worker camps in the western portion of the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

All three Civeo facilities are named between the two filings, which alleges that superiors knew about the toxic workplace culture but did little to address safety issues, instead making work life miserable for the two women who reported the sexual assaults. In both cases, the women were ultimately forced to leave their jobs and continue to suffer mental health effects, the claims state.

The allegations made in statements of claim filed by the two women have not been proved or tested in court.

The most recent lawsuit, filed May 20, names Civeo and several sub-contractors who worked on the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat and had staff stay at Sitka Lodge, which can provide worker accommodation for up to 1,100 residents.

According to the claim, the woman began working as an environmental technician with Vancouver-based Sartori Environmental two years earlier, work that required her to stay at the camp.

The toxic work culture and lack of action by superiors led to a worker employed by another contractor entering her room and sexually assaulting her in July 2020, the claimant, identified only by the initials P.C.H., alleges in the statement of claim.

In addition to Sartori Environmental and camp operator Civeo, the claim names several companies that worked on the export facility, including BAM Canada Construction, JJM North Coast Construction and Mason Marine Canada — which operated jointly as BJM Venture — and Triton Environmental, which was employed by BJM Venture on the project. Sartori was sub-contracted by Triton, the filing says.

“The Corporate Defendants knew or ought to have known that the presence of intoxicated employees and contractors at the Project Premises increased the risk of sexual harassment and assault and posed a risk of injury to other employees and contractors,” the claim states, adding that the defendants should have known that staff “were regularly engaging in casual sexual relations with each other and that there was a prevalent hook-up culture on the Project Premises.”

The claim alleges employees staying at the Kitimat work camp were permitted to be onsite while “excessively intoxicated,” increasing the risk of sexual assault and injury. On multiple occasions the plaintiff “was subjected to sexual harassment… including sexualized comments, questions and gestures,” it adds.

One employee in particular posed a risk, the statement of claim alleges, and managers did not take steps to ensure the woman’s safety.

The Tyee has chosen not to identify that worker, as he could not be reached for comment. The claim alleges the worker, employed by BAM Canada Construction under its partnership as BJM Venture, had a history of sexual harassment that the companies should have known about and posed a risk to others working on the project.

The statement alleges he entered P.C.H.’s room at Sitka Lodge on July 5, 2020, and subjected her to “unwanted sexual activity to which she did not consent.” She sustained physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health-related effects, according to the claim.

When she reported the assault to RCMP and managers with Sartori and BJM Venture the next day, the companies “failed to take any or adequate steps” to investigate the assault or address the culture of sexual harassment at the facility, it adds.

Instead, the defendants minimized the sexual assault and the woman’s injuries, the statement alleges, engaging in “intentional, high-handed, malicious and bad faith conduct” that amounted to a breach of contract.

That conduct included the alleged attacker being permitted to remain on the project site, and requiring P.C.H. to use vacation time off to support her recovery following the assault, according to the lawsuit. The claim also says she was removed from lucrative work opportunities and placed in “unsafe work conditions that jeopardized her safety and exacerbated her injuries following the sexual assault.”

The employers had no policies to prevent sexual harassment and assault, or with respect to alcohol consumption, and no attempt was made to investigate after she reported the sexual assault and the response to the allegations was “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious,” according to the claim.

By last October, P.C.H. felt she had no choice but to leave her job, described in the claim as a constructive dismissal.

“By reason of Sartori’s wrongful dismissal of the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer loss and damages,” it says. “The manner in which the Plaintiff was dismissed from her employment caused, and continues to cause, the Plaintiff to suffer from embarrassment, loss of dignity, emotional upset, anxiety, nervous shock, depression, panic attacks, disturbed sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The claim, which argues that the defendants had a responsibility to ensure that employees would be “reasonably safe in using the Project Premises,” seeks damages for occupiers’ liability, negligence and wrongful dismissal, in addition to damages for personal injuries resulting from the sexual assault.

The claimant is suing the alleged attacker for lost income and related expenses, including legal fees. From the corporate defendants, she seeks damages for wrongful dismissal, lost income, medical costs and legal fees.

The Tyee reached out to Civeo and the other named contractors for comment but most did not respond before publication.

A spokesperson for Netherlands-based Royal BAM Group, parent company of BAM Canada Construction, said the worker named as the alleged attacker in the filing is no longer employed by the company “and has left Canada to return to his home country.”

In an email to The Tyee, an LNG Canada spokesperson said workers on the project haven’t been housed at Sitka Lodge since late 2020.

Non-resident workers stayed in various locations — including Sitka Lodge — while its current accommodation, Cedar Valley Lodge, was under construction. Cedar Valley is operated by Sodexo, a European company with operations in Canada.

In response to questions about the company’s policies for alcohol consumption and sexual harassment, a spokesperson for LNG Canada provided The Tyee with a detailed list of its activities for gender and cultural awareness initiatives and the management of drugs and alcohol.

The company says that all project workers sign a code of conduct and complete cultural awareness training, which includes findings from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, prior to beginning employment. Code of conduct violations can include indefinite removal from the LNG Canada project, the company says, with a specific process in place to handle complaints raised by workers “regarding respectful work and harassment issues at site or at Cedar Valley Lodge.”

“Cedar Valley Lodge has been designed with a recreational lounge that makes alcohol available to workers when off-shift with strict alcohol consumption limits,” it says.

LNG Canada is not named as a defendant in either lawsuit.

However, Coastal GasLink is one of two companies, along with Civeo, named in another lawsuit filed May 11, which alleges similar behaviour at two remote workcamps, 9A Lodge and P2 Lodge, located about 100 kilometres east of Kitimat on the Coastal GasLink pipeline route.

In an emailed response to The Tyee, Coastal GasLink declined to comment on the allegations, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss legal matters that are before the court.

It also declined to provide information about policies related to alcohol use and sexual harassment in camps, or whether policies differ between work camps, which are managed by several different operators along the pipeline route. Civeo operates three out of roughly a dozen Coastal GasLink work camps.

The claimant in a second lawsuit, filed May 11, told The Tyee through her lawyer that she was unaware that a similar lawsuit had also been filed.

In the May 11 lawsuit, first reported by the CBC, the claimant, identified by the initials J.M., alleges she received “humiliating and malicious” treatment after she reported a sexual assault that occurred in her office at the work camp, where she worked for Civeo as executive chef for almost a year.

The claim describes how “harassing and abusive behaviours by inebriated employees, agents and guests” led to an incident where “an agent of the defendant” entered the woman’s office, embraced her and then “during the embrace, without her consent, fondled then forcibly grabbed” her buttocks while commenting on her body.

The treatment that followed her report of the incident to superiors was “callous, reprehensible, malicious, high-handed and markedly departed from the standards that ought to be expected in a Canadian workplace,” the claim alleges.

It claims the defendants failed to “screen for suitability its agents, employees and guests especially in light of the remote nature of the worksite and prevalence of sexual violence at such remote worksites.”

“The Defendants’ conduct in ridiculing the nature of the Sexual Battery and disseminating information about the Sexual Battery to the Plaintiff’s colleagues and subordinates, without her consent, further humiliated the Plaintiff, exacerbated her Injuries, and demonstrated a callous disregard for the Plaintiff’s privacy and well-being,” it alleges.

It states that after J.M. reported the incident, the defendants did not investigate. Instead, her supervisor disclosed information about the incident to colleagues without her consent, derided and dismissed the accusations, and failed to provide adequate safeguards against future sexual assaults.

It also alleges “retaliatory poor performance reviews and kitchen audits” following J.M.’s complaints and “discriminatory and inappropriate behaviour toward female kitchen staff.”

The claim adds that when anti-pipeline protests in November closed the Morice Forest Service Road, blocking access to the camps for several days, the company did not inform staff or give them a chance to leave, despite having advanced notice of the blockades.

The statement also alleges that low staffing levels forced the plaintiff and her team to work more than 20-hour days for roughly 30 to 40 days straight, and the company restricted access to supplies, water and septic services to the camps during the blockade, creating a “sustained unhygienic and unsafe working and living environment.” The plaintiff and kitchen team were not permitted to wash their clothes or leave their workstation to bathe for approximately 10 days on three occasions, it claims.

J.M.’s employment was terminated without notice on April 4, according to the claim, in violation of her contract.

The statement alleges she has continued to suffer severe physical and emotional injuries including worsening of a pre-existing heart condition, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and humiliation. She is seeking damages against Civeo for breach of contract, and additional damages against both companies, including for negligence and sexual battery.

The claims in her lawsuit have not been tested in court and are not proven.  [Tyee]

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