Bear Clan board has ‘made a huge mess,’ ousted executive director James Favel says

By | August 11, 2020

The ousted former executive director of the Bear Clan Patrol is breaking his silence and speaking publicly about why he no longer works for the organization he helped found.

James Favel says conflicts with the Bear Clan’s board of directors came to a head earlier this spring, leading to his removal, which was announced July 31 via a news release issued on a Friday afternoon. No reason was given at the time for why he was fired.

“I kind of saw it coming because of what was going on, but again, I really didn’t believe that it would happen,” he told CBC News.

Favel accused the board of directors of interfering with his running of the day-to-day operations of the organization, which does evening community patrols and delivers food to people in need. 

He also said the board members have become unrepresentative of the community and are serving illegitimately past the expiry of their terms, after they failed to hold an annual general meeting in November.

“I built Bear Clan largely on my own and just the fact that nine people, you know, not representative of the community, can come in and take it away is quite frustrating,” he said.

Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, chairperson of the Bear Clan’s board, has denied Favel’s allegations.

Conflict with board

Favel was one of three people who helped revive the Bear Clan in 2014, after it had gone dormant for years. It grew from 12 volunteers with a budget of $900 in its first year, to roughly 1,700 volunteers throughout Winnipeg.

Last year’s financial contributions reached $1.5 million, Favel told CBC News in February.

In a letter explaining the reasons for his dismissal, the board cited a complaint from his office manager, who said he forced her to work from home, denied her a raise, refused to let her travel with the organization and called her outside of work hours, Favel said. The CBC hasn’t seen the letter.

He said the board used his office manager to undermine him by having her go to them for approval before acting on his instructions.

“She was with us for less than a year and having my office manager question my work, it was — it was bothersome to me,” he said.

Favel said he confronted his office manager in March and demanded to know what was going on.

“I called her out on it and said, ‘What’s going on? Why is this happening? Why are you doing that?’ And next thing you know, everything started falling to pieces quite rapidly.”

In an emailed statement, the board of the Bear Clan said Favel’s allegations are false.

“These numerous statements made to media by Mr. Favel are not true,” said Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais in an emailed statement Tuesday. “But more to the point, they’re all efforts by Mr. Favel to ‘change the channel.’ He knows the real reasons why his employment was terminated, and he’s not being forthcoming about them.”

Robinson-Desjarlais accused Favel of “inappropriate behaviour,” including being unprofessional and intimidating toward an employee, while in his role with the organization.

She said the board wouldn’t tolerate that behaviour and was required to take action. She dismissed his suggestion the board is acting illegitimately or has lost its way.

“The continued effective operation of the Bear Clan is the board’s responsibility,” Robinson-Desjarlais said.

“That means stabilizing the organization and ensuring a safe, supportive and professional environment for our staff and volunteers, so they can continue to do their important work.”

Police overrepresented: Favel

Prior to his exit, disagreements with the board had already been piling up, Favel said Monday.

The board had expressed concern about honoraria he had received for travel and speaking engagements, saying it could threaten the organization’s non-profit status. Favel called that a “red herring” and said he had spoken to a lawyer who assured him his activities didn’t threaten the Bear Clan’s charity status. 

Favel envisioned a Bear Clan with a fully Indigenous executive and a majority-Indigenous board, but the current board doesn’t represent the community the Bear Clan serves, he said. 

He also was concerned about the number of current and former police officers serving on the board, he said.

“Exactly what I was fighting against,” he said.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province, police officers on the board led a voting block that shut down the nightly patrols against Favel’s wishes, he said.

“That’s one of the things that set us apart was that Bear Clan was consistent,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to maintain. The board decided that they were just going to pull the plug.”

Controversy erupted earlier this year over social media posts from board member Rejeanne Caron, a Winnipeg police officer. The tweets denied the existence of systemic racism among police and eventually Caron stepped down.

Favel spoke openly against Caron, which he said could have exacerbated tensions with the board.

Favel doesn’t know what the future holds for him or Bear Clan.

“I will always cherish my time with the organization. I wish them nothing but the best,” he said. 

The Bear Clan’s board, however, has “lost their way,” he said.

“They’ve made a huge mess.”

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