CFI Canada Members have a lot to be worried about
Secular organizations in this country have the tendency to implode. Although it’s not clear exactly why this happens, it my have something to do with the fact that people tend not to agree on the best strategy to garner new members. Should we be in everyone’s face? Should we employ a more gentle approach that doesn’t alienate certain groups? While we may not argue over dogma like our religious counterparts, our common disbelief is usually not enough to create a powerful consensus among members. More than likely our differing opinions often polarizes people in two basic camps: Accommodation, and Confrontation.
As the former National Director of the Center for Inquiry Canada, Justin Trottier clearly fell into the Confrontationalist camp. From his early days as a student activist at the University of Toronto, Justin was instrumental in breathing life into CFI. In it’s early days, his personality and vision allowed the organization to grow. His management style, unfortunately, tended to make him few friends. Still, one of the main reason why the organization has been so successful as of late is because of his relentless activism and his ability to “get the job done”. The whole reason CFI even exists in Canada is largely his doing. Say what you will about him: Justin has drive, and the growth of the organization would have been impossible without his passion.
A few months ago, Justin took a leave of absence to run as the Green Party candidate, and it was understood that during his time away, the Board was to find someone who could manage the day to day operation in a way Justin could not. This would have allowed him to concentrate more on activism and on gaining visibility in the media while the organization would have a friendly face managing volunteers (the man does have serpentine qualities, I’ll admit). What occurred instead was a witch-hunt against Justin; it was clear that recent additions to the Board disliked Justin intensely and wanted to try and implement a new strategy or the organization. It took little effort to further alienate Justin from disenfranchised Members, and without any due process, he was effectively terminated from his position before returning from his leave of absence. The repercussions of this witch-hunt can still be felt; even as I write this, various members continue to email one another with poisonous accusations against Justin of corrupting or poisoning members, the childishness of which cannot be overstated.
While Justin has remained silent to avoid sparking panic among the members, there are a number of high profile individuals within the organization – including Board members who wish to remain silent – that have expressed their concerns over the way Justin was fired. Since he was on leave when he was terminated, it’s not even clear if what the Board did was actually legal or not. In any case, something fishy was going on, and an email sent by Board Chair Carol Parlow did little to ease concerns:
Since CFI Canada became a registered charity, it has been managed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The Board’s priority is to guide CFI to a position of national significance, but we must also ensure that the legal requirements of our charitable status are carefully respected…The Board of CFI Canada recognizes Justin Trottier’s tremendous contribution to the establishment of CFI Canada. We also look forward to the exciting times ahead as CFI Canada grows into the prominent and respected organization it will become.
The email is simply a whitewash for members who express surprise or discontentment in the sudden change of leadership, or anyone for that matter who questions their new “direction”. In the interim of Justin departure, the organization had managed to spend over $20,000 attempting to revamp their mission statement. It was a move the Board felt would help attract important and new members with deep pockets. Their current strategy aims to give CFI a more professional and corporate images, but their gambit has so far failed to pay off. Justin’s departure means that a number of significant contributors have vanished a well, and CFI’s big American brother – suffering economically from the recession- is threatening to pull their funding as well. Their new Director, Derek Pert, is admittedly not an activist; he’s a friendly enough guy with good management skills, but this isn’t JCPenny. If they cannot find new members with deep pockets, then with the added pressure of lost funding, its hard to imagine how they could survive.
Not one of these concerns have been expressed to members. Instead, we get a white-wash from the Board Chair and this false narrative that Justin left on his own accord. We were also given the impression that the decision was unanimous, when there were a number of absences and one member who abstained from vote (presumably a diplomatic way to express doubt over the new direction). In any case, to claim that there is no conflict currently brewing within the ranks is a lie. The Board shows deep fragmentation, and it’s my opinion that due to this issue, it cannot function effectively in its current form.
I don’t want to suggest that Justin should be re-instated, or even that CFI’s new strategy is wrong. It’s simply my opinion that the Board is fractured; not only over the decision to let Justin go, but also whether or not the new focus of the organization is the right one. That members have been given absolutely no information on these recent developments is a sign of impropriety, and it’ time for them to knock on the board’s door and demand some answers. The process needs to be more open, so that the people who actually pay the bills can decide for themselves if they like this new direction.