External reviewer called to Toronto Star after suicide

Reviewer, who is yet to be named, will look into newsroom culture after death of prominent reporter

The Toronto Star building is shown in Toronto, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

The Toronto Star building is shown in Toronto, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

TORONTO — Canada’s largest newspaper has agreed to an independent review of its newsroom culture in the aftermath of the suicide of a prominent reporter, its chairman and editor said Wednesday.

The newspaper had earlier rejected a union call for an outside probe of the circumstances around the suicide of Raveena Aulakh, saying it would have been too bureaucratic.

In a memo to newsroom staff, the senior executives say a seasoned professional will facilitate the review and come up with recommendations.

“The union has publicly called for an ‘independent investigation’ of the newsroom’s ‘poisonous workplace’ where ‘ harassment’ and ‘bullying’ are rife,” Torstar Chaiman John Honderich and Star Editor Michael Cook say in their memo.

“The union’s assessment is not our view.”

Honderich and Cook acknowledged the strong language in the union’s statements, saying if they were true, such a workplace environment would not allow a “great metropolitan newspaper” to publish.

Nevertheless, newsroom staff have raised “legitimate concerns” in recent weeks that merit investigation, the memo states.

The union has agreed to take part in the review. The person who leads the review, to be announced next month, will be free to quiz managers and staff.

Representatives of Unifor Local 87-M, which represents Star journalists, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a column last month, Star public editor Kathy English talked of the newsroom turmoil that followed Aulakh’s suicide in May. The column stated that Aulakh, 42, had been in a relationship with a senior editor, Jon Filson. A “clearly heartbroken” Aulakh had sent emails in which she made allegations about a relationship between Filson and managing editor Jane Davenport, English said.

Filson left the Star and explained his behaviour in a recent magazine article, while Davenport was reassigned within the company.

In an ensuing internal investigation, Brian Daly, vice-president of human resources, and Alan Bower, the Star’s executive director of labour relations, concluded that Aulakh’s immediate manager had provided “outstanding and exceptional levels of support and assistance” to her but that “extensive efforts by many individuals were not enough.”

Daly also asserted the Star had “investigated this matter thoroughly and objectively and taken appropriate and necessary action.

A union grievance filed after Aulakh’s death is still pending.

Torstar holds an investment in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail and the parent company of Montreal’s La Presse.

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