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  • Nov 25, 2020

Legal Saga Ends for Former Remai Modern Director

A portrait of GREGORY BURKE. Courtesy Gregory Burke.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has abandoned its appeal in a gender-based discrimination case against the former CEO of the Remai Modern museum, Gregory Burke. The announcement concludes the five-year-long ordeal that led Burke to withdraw from his December 2018 appointment as the incoming director of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki after revelations about the case went public.

Separate to SHRC’s decision to drop its appeal against Burke, Remai Modern reached an undisclosed financial settlement through mediation with the complainant, an ex-employee of the Mendel Art Gallery, as Remai Modern was formerly known. The museum did not admit any wrongdoing and will mandate anti-harassment training for its managers, employees, and board. 

Burke wrote in a statement seen by ArtAsiaPacific: “I did not settle with the complainant and would not have if I had been party to the proceedings. I also note that membership of the current Board of Remai Modern does not include anyone from the 2015 board, against whom the complaint was lodged.”

The initial filing, dated October 6, 2015, alleged that Burke had bullied and undermined the complainant on the basis of her gender during her employment between March 2013 and October 2014. The SHRC did not begin work on the case until 2017.

In late 2019 Burke successfully petitioned to be removed from the complaint against him and the museum. Justice Brenda Hildebrandt of the Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan stayed the complaint in a ruling on December 31, 2019, writing: “No statements containing sexual content nor any overt acts of gender or sex-based discrimination [were] alleged in the complaint.” The judge also criticized the SHRC’s process as “inordinate” and “sluggish,” noting that the SHRC had taken one year to interview 11 witnesses and then changed the focus of its investigation in August 2019 to explore a possible pattern of discrimination by Burke. Justice Hildebrandt found that “Mr. Burke has suffered significant prejudice as a result of the unreasonable delay in the SHRC Proceedings.” The SHRC appealed the decision immediately, before announcing 11 months later that it would drop the case.

Burke wrote in his statement: “Any suggestion that I would undertake discrimination on the basis of gender is preposterous. I have a strong record for championing human rights and equality in the arts.” He cited an open letter published in the Globe and Mail in March by six female ex-colleagues that read: “Gregory has long supported Indigenous, female and LGBTQ artists and has worked diligently to ensure an equal voice for these communities. He has also fastidiously supported equality in the workplace.” 

HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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