Op-Ed: Does Vigilante Justice Help or Hinder?

Until now, the big-city #MeToo movement has outed mostly politicians and celebrities. But what happens when it hits a small business in a rural community?

Photo by Community Grown

 

Last week, one of Prince Edward County’s most celebrated winemakers, Norman Hardie, found himself facing allegations of sexual misconduct. The story broke as a result of a Globe and Mail investigation, which found that more than 20 former employees and restaurant workers had been subject to sexual misconduct and harassment. Hardie responded: “Some of the allegations made against me are not true, but many are.” The story has shaken the Ontario wine community as well as lovers of local and artisanal foods across Ontario. Below, Valerie Hussey, a prominent resident/supporter of Prince Edward County and a past LiisBeth contributor wrote this email to friends and colleagues who asked her about her views. She had this to say. We asked if we could publish it. She said yes. 

Everyone in the county is following it; I don’t like the piece in The Globe and Mail, which is ridiculous in suggesting that without Norman Hardie’s winery, the place will dry up. It’s ignorant and insulting to the other 30 wineries, the 25 breweries, and other enterprises who operate there, many of whom have struggled hard to achieve financial sustainability and, in come cases, big-time success. Closson Chase Winery just celebrated its 20th anniversary on Saturday. I’m upset by this sort of coverage because it fails to address the collateral damage—the people who could lose their jobs in a place where there aren’t many alternatives. The economy in PEC is still pretty fragile but people don’t understand that; they say the Drake has arrived so everything is good, as if an infusion of Toronto makes everything good. Nothing about this is good but I really hope there are productive ways to address it without shutting down the entire business and putting everyone in the entire chain of production, sales, marketing, etc., out. And please don’t hear me as saying, “So let him be.” I’m not, but I am saying let’s work on several fronts to make the changes we need and want and determine who might have the capacity to learn, change, course correct, because there’s a lot at stake. We send people to jail for criminal activity with the hope they can be reformed, and if we think they can, we work to reintegrate them into society. Hardie has admitted that lots of what is being said is true; that’s better than all the jerks who go to the wall denying it. I don’t know the right solution to something like this, but big companies work with PR firms that advise them on how to address the damage. We saw how Maple Leaf Foods did it (contaminated meat in 2010), and it worked to rebuild trust. In this era of #MeToo (which is so long overdue) when women are entitled to say, “Enough’s enough” and “I don’t give a damn about your loss, it’s your problem Norm because it was your own doing,” I don’t know what the right outcome is, but I somehow believe there should be an approach that is productive and progressive for the women harmed without harming a whole bunch more in another way. Hard, hard, hard.

2 Responses to Op-Ed: Does Vigilante Justice Help or Hinder?

  1. I agree with Valerie that this is very hard situation. In my work as an employment lawyer, I have dealt with this situation from all sides (representing women, men, transgendered individuals, etc, employers, conducting investigations — all angles), and in every situation I like to think that ultimately, there should be a sense of proportion: if the person who is the victim(s) has been egregiously harmed, or the conduct was egregious, then the consequences should be much greater (ie termination for cause) than situations where the victim has been offended but not assaulted or otherwise seriously harmed, and there is acceptance of misconduct on the part of the harasser.

    Each case is a little different, and each case demands consideration of all factors. Norman Hardie’s case, if the allegations are true, strikes me to be at the higher end, as there was apparently a pattern of sexual misconduct including advances and harassment, and there was a great deal of fear of speaking out. There does not seem to be any allegation of assault though? The response has been very swift: ostracization as a supplier of wines, stripped of an award, reputation completely ruined…. with ripple effects to everyone in the industry. I don’t know if any of us, outside of those directly involved and if any investigation ensues, will ever know if the consequences of his conduct are proportionate as we may never know what he actually did.

    But Valerie is right: there are consequences to people in the industry that makes everything very difficult.

    Warm regards,

    Lai

    Lai-King Hum
    Principal/Senior Lawyer
    office 416.214.2329
    direct 416.277.5453
    fax 416.596.9055
    email lhum@thehumlawfirm.ca

  2. Agreed. People who knowingly benefit at the expense of others should get the treatment and/or punishment they deserve. But: 1. People should be careful how they handle their pitchforks. 2. And maybe professional media can balance the returns they derive from sensational happenings by including people caught in the periphery in the story.

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