Kathryn Borel revealed herself on Tuesday as the anonymous producer who told the Toronto Star in October that she had been sexually harassed on several occasions at the CBC by Jian Ghomeshi.
In an essay published in The Guardian, Borel said she is the employee claiming that Ghomeshi told her in 2007 “I want to hate f--k you, to wake you up,” when she yawned at a story meeting for the radio show Q. She was 27 at the time.
She told the Star Tuesday evening there were a few reasons for writing the piece, particularly that she was no longer afraid.
“I think the climate even two months ago was a lot worse for women trying to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Borel, who now writes for television in Los Angeles. “I think the pall has sort of lifted in the last few weeks.”
Borel said she’s also still in touch with many former CBC colleagues, and said that a few were frustrated with the public broadcaster’s response up until now to the allegations against Ghomeshi.
“I don’t want to put words in the mouths of anyone, but the general impression I got was that some of my old friends were frustrated with management and executives who were ducking and trying to obfuscate the larger truth about what happened, with semantic arguments and disingenuous apologies,” she told the Star.
Borel’s piece came on the same day that The Globe and Mail published a story about an email allegedly from a CBC manager telling her boss — head of radio Chris Boyce — that he was wrong to suggest on television last week that she was involved in a workplace investigation last summer looking into allegations of harassment against Ghomeshi.
The CBC has not publicly responded to these latest developments, citing a third-party probe currently underway at the public broadcaster led by employment lawyer Janice Rubin.
“(The) investigation will be looking into our internal review as well as the issues raised by Kathryn Borel and in order to ensure her investigation is not compromised in any way, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” wrote CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson in an email.
Ghomeshi was charged last week with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance — choking. His lawyer said he intends to plead not guilty.
Borel reiterates in The Guardian what she previously told the Star: that she complained about Ghomeshi’s behaviour in 2010 to a union representative, who took the complaint to a Q producer, who in turn asked her “what she could do to make this a less toxic workplace” for herself. No further action was taken by the CBC. Borel left shortly thereafter.
She wrote about “uninvited back massages” at her desk that would see Ghomeshi’s hands get a little too close to her breasts, as well as being groped from behind. She also recalled Ghomeshi standing in the doorway of his office, near Borel’s desk, and undoing his shirt’s top buttons, grinning.
Borel, who had wanted to work for Q because she knew arts and culture was her strength, said she initially blamed herself for the harassment, as many victims do. But with time, she recognizes that it wasn’t her fault.
“I don’t blame myself anymore,” she told the Star. “No one deserves to be told by their host that they want to hate f--k you, no one deserves to have their ass grabbed at the office. But I think when you’re in a paradigm where your bosses are basically saying (the host) is a difficult, eccentric person, you doubt yourself because you’re the little guy and you’re not the one who is setting the tone.”
She recounted how she left the studio crying in 2009 after being interviewed by Ghomeshi about her memoir Corked and the challenges of writing and marketing your first book. The video of the nine-minute interview resurfaced after Borel’s piece came out, and shows Ghomeshi calling her a “coveted” producer at Q.
Borel had reservations about doing the interview given the harassment she said she was facing, but said she knew an interview on a national radio show would be good promotion for her work. She told the Star the interview was supposed to be at least 15 minutes long, but that Ghomeshi decided to do an extra interview with a band appearing on the show that day prior to Borel’s interview, which cut into her time.
“It was hurtful, but I should have known better,” she said. “I should have known something like that was going to happen. I shouldn’t have said yes to the interview.”
Borel, calling herself “one of the lucky ones” in The Guardian because she was never physically abused, said she never had any intention to sue or have Ghomeshi fired. She said she put off complaining for fear of losing her job, but eventually did because she wanted Ghomeshi to stop.
She said she went to an elected representative of the Canadian Media Guild, but that he did not take notes while she detailed the extent of her allegations. When she went to then-executive producer Arif Noorani, she said Noorani told her she would have to figure out how to work with Ghomeshi.
Noorani, who has previously denied being informed about the allegations, did not return the Star’s request for comment. He no longer works at Q, having asked to be transferred to radio development, according to the CBC.
The union had repeatedly stated in the past that Borel spoke with a union volunteer, and did not provide the level of detail she gave to the media. On Tuesday, in the wake of Borel’s piece, the union said it was reviewing its actions.
“As a union our reason for being is to help people at work. We have a policy of zero tolerance for harassment, we have also negotiated a complaint process into our collective agreement with CBC,” said a statement from CMG president Carmel Smyth on Tuesday. “It appears these did not work. If this is the case we have to do better, and we are already reviewing and trying to improve our processes.”
Borel told the Star that she was “really heartened” to see the statement.
“It’s the fact that (Smyth) came out and took a stand and has said ‘I believe her,’ ” she said. “She’s the first person in a position of power to stand up for me. She didn’t before, and that’s too bad, but she’s making good now and I think that should be applauded.”
In a separate development on Tuesday, The Globe and Mail published an email apparently from the CBC’s director of network talk radio, Linda Groen, to her boss Chris Boyce, the head of radio, to “set the record straight” about what he told the fifth estate last week about the CBC’s workplace investigation last summer regarding Ghomeshi.
Boyce had said Groen took part in the investigation, and interviewed CBC employees, including some working at Q.
“At no point did you or any senior manager ever instruct me to conduct such an investigation, formally or otherwise,” Groen wrote in her email, according to The Globe. “To the contrary, I was assured and confident that you and HR were handling the matter and asking the appropriate people the necessary questions. To characterize, post facto, my role as investigative, however loosely defined, is a misrepresentation of facts and surprising.”
Groen and Boyce did not return the Star’s requests for comment.
- With files from Kevin Donovan