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Barbara Kay: In Canada, asking for a date can bring a harassment claim
Barbara Kay Jan 5, 2012
Dr. Ibrahim Said, late of Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), is a a pediatric anesthesiologist who trained in Italy and Israel before joining CHEO in 2001. As a criterion for maintaining his “clinician-teacher” status with the medical regulator, he needed to be promoted from assistant professor to associate professor by July 2010.
Dr. Said was on track to fulfill this requirement. There was nothing on his medical or teaching record to stop him. Indeed, a committee considering his application for promotion deemed that he had “demonstrated excellence in clinical care, particularly with response to pain control and the management of emergent agitation in children.”
The committee also cited his administrative competency and superior teaching ability.
And yet, instead of continuing to serve Canadian children in need of his services, Dr Said recently returned to Israel without even a parting reference from the University of Ottawa, under whose aegis the dean of medicine, Dr. Jacques Bradwejn, dismissed him from his post after the same committee that had previously praised his work and teaching unanimously rejected Dr Said’s promotion. Dr. Said’s medical licence was automatically voided in 2010.
What terrible deed had Dr. Said done to merit such a reversal of professional fortune? Well, in 2009 Dr. Said asked to dinner – not once, mind, but twice – Dr. Melissa Forbes, a family practitioner in anesthesia on a three-month rotation through CHEO. When she declined, he withdrew his attentions, and that was the end of it from his point of view.
But it was not the end of it in Dr. Forbes’ estimation. In Dr. Forbes’ mind, that second invitation raised such concerns about the power imbalance between them that she initiated a complaint of sexual harassment against him. An internal investigation was automatically set in motion. Dr. Forbes, Dr. Said and six other doctors were interviewed. The College of Physicians and Surgeons also began an investigation. And that is how it came to pass that a second dinner invitation ruined a man’s career in Canada.
The story fortunately did not end with Dr. Said’s dismissal. He initiated a lawsuit against Dr. Bradwejn. And now three Ontario judges have overturned the school’s decision not to promote Dr. Said on the grounds that the University of Ottawa “did not meet its obligation of procedural fairness,” awarding the plaintiff legal costs of $15,000.While it’s possible there is more to the story, the court ruled that “the essence of Dr. Forbes’ complaint is that Dr. Said asked her to have dinner with him on two or three occasions.”
The modest financial restitution will not nullify the psychological anguish that Dr. Said has undoubtedly suffered for the past two years, nor will it banish the humiliation of being railroaded out of the country. But may we at least hope that this decision will pour a little cold water on the reflexive and enthusiastic mindlessness with which frivolous accusations of sexual harassment – by women – are greeted and relentlessly pursued in politically correct institutions?
And how, you may ask, can we know the difference between a frivolous accusation and one that should be taken seriously? Does it not make sense to be prudent and take all accusations seriously to ensure that no professional woman ever endures the horror of an unwanted advance?
No it doesn’t. In any environment where men and women work together, there will be flirtations, and some of them may cross a line. That is one of the hazards of throwing men and women in their primes together in situations where they work in intimate contact all day every day. But prudence does not require that we set that line at zero-flirtation. Flirtation between the sexes is a norm of human nature. Sometimes it is wanted and encouraged. Sometimes it is not wanted and discouraged. Sometimes it is not especially wanted, but shrugged off or ignored as a minor irritation that does no special harm, especially when a signal that it is unwanted is respected, which seems to have been the case here.
Simply consider: If a woman doctor asked out a male doctor – twice! – to dinner, and he accused her of sexual harassment, can you imagine such a female doctor then being subjected to the Inquisition-style group interrogation that Dr. Said was put through, not to mention the purgatory that ensued? No, you can’t. So there is your litmus test for what is frivolous and what is serious. What is frivolous is what is taken seriously according to the sex of the complainant — i.e. taken seriously if the complainant is a woman, not taken seriously if the complainant is a man. What is serious is what is taken seriously when the deed, not the sex of the complainant, is the only issue under discussion.
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