Scouts Honour? No-comment-beyond-what’s-in-the-statement

Like Gil Grissom, who played a forensic expert on TV, Your Working Girl has three crimes[1] that really get her goat.  And abuse of children is one of those crimes.  So when Your Working Girl tuned into the fifth estate last night to watch Scouts Honour and one of the first shots was an insistent Diana Swain chasing Scouts Canada CEO, Janet Yale, through a parking lot in the rain, she knew it couldn’t be good.  “For heaven’s sakes Janet!” my inside voice cried. “Turn around and speak to the woman.  Invite her up to your office for a proper interview. She’s talking about decades of abuse in the Scouting movement.  You are the CEO of Scouts Canada.  This is national TV.  Surely you understand now is not the time to turn your back.”
Your Working Girl’s outside voice speaks a little louder.  Why is it, she asks you, her Gentle Readers, that when charities are asked for explanations, they refuse to talk to the media?  Does being on the charitable side of righteousness mean that the need to be transparent does not apply?  Do charitable institutions somehow operate under different standards than government or business interests where the demand for transparency and accountability has people marching in the street.
By-and-large (and I say by-and-large because there are one or two exceptions[2]), when a charity is questioned about their actions or activities, the use of statements seems to be the only tool in the media relations tool box.  There is no Q & A for the charitable sector.  We don’t take questions.  And boo-hoo if anyone queries our motives.   We’re a charity for goodness sake.  Have you no pity?
Shame says Your Working Girl.  Shame.  Perhaps it’s BS fatigue, not donor fatigue, we’re looking at in the charitable sector she thinks (admittedly rather uncharitably).    
Scouts Canada is not the only charity that fits the no-comment-beyond-what’s-in-the-statement school of thought.  When cancer researchers set up an information booth at a Relay for Life event in Ancaster, Ontario this summer in an effort to let people know the percentage of the funding the Canadian Cancer Society designates to research had been declining and the story received national attention, the Society chose to issue an email statement as opposed to respond in person. 
And when the fundraising profession faced unprecedented federal legislation to impose a salary cap last year, a subject Your Working Girl has written about extensively, the Association of Fundraising Professionals did . . .  three guesses . . . issue a statement.[3] 
But Scouts Canada has an even more sacred responsibility. This is not about them.  It’s about the boys and young men who were violated under their watch.  And the pain expressed by those now angry, disillusioned and disturbed men who railed against those who looked the other way as they were repeatedly raped when they were children. If grown-up’s preying on vulnerable children is an anathema, what level of transgression is the grown-up who turns a blind eye  guilty of.  Is it the same? Worse?  Is it no crime at all?
This story is not going away.

CBC News reported this morning that “Scouts Canada has signed out-of-court confidentiality agreements with more than a dozen child sex-abuse victims in recent years, shielding the incidents from further media attention. In many of the agreements, a confidentiality clause prevents victims from revealing the amount paid or even the fact that there was a settlement. At least one bars a former boy scout from publicly divulging that the abuse took place.”

As John Cleese said in Fawlty Towers:  Just don’t talk about the war.

Diana Swain did eventually catch up with Janet Yale, CEO of Scouts Canada, just as she prepared to enter Scouts headquarters.  Janet turned around, spoke to Diana and referred her to what had been issued in the Scouts statement. 
It’s tough being a CEO.  It’s hard work.  And these are the kind of days that make it hard.  The days when you have to choose to do what’s right and what’s easy.   The facts are there.  Children were abused under Scouts leadership.  Scouts settled in more than a dozen cases making confidentiality a part of the settlement.  There is no question of this.  But for all that is good and holy about Scouts (and there is much to praise) the strategy going forward has to be based what is best for those children who were betrayed, not what’s best for the Scouts brand.   Answer the questions that are being asked of you – in person.  Put the children first.  And that’s not just a message for Scouts.  The message is for all charities serving the vulnerable and marginalized:  it’s not all about you. 

[1] Violence against women, abuse of children, drug dealing
[2] One exception is the redoubtable Rebecca Davies of MSF/DWB who called Matt Galoway, CBC radio Toronto morning show on his use of the term “chuggers” (charity muggers), to describe MSF face-to-face workers.  She was, and MSF often is, great at being upfront.  Rebecca is also speaking at AFP this year and should not be missed.
[3](Your Working Girl has been invited by AFP to speak at the AFP Congress on 2:00 on November 28th.   on “How We’ve Shot Ourselves in the Foot”.  She’d love to see you there to chat more about this).

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  1. Good stuff, Gail, and good for you for having the courage to say it. We all have to recognize that things have changed, everything is being scrutinized, and the public expects accountability.

  2. Another great and timely blog on our sector. I did see the same Five Estate episode and was equally unimpressed with Janet Yale’s blank response to Diana Swain’s question, “do the cops know?” I know Diana from Winnipeg and she has always tried to show both sides of an issue. How could Janet not take this gifted opportunity to respond?Unfortunately, I know far too many former Scouts who did not take the Scout’s hush money. This may be the tipping point for them to speak out and let’s hope the self-imposed shame does not silence them once again.

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