Cree woman fired after filing sexual harassment complaint

Organization says Sunshyne Charles didn’t respond to letters.

This is the logo for New North - SANC (Saskatchewan Association of Northern Communities) Services Inc. Photo: APTN


A Cree woman has been fired four months after reporting her boss sexually harassed her.

“I don’t know why they did this,” said Sunshyne Charles about the termination letter New North of Saskatchewan left at her home.

“It was found by my daughter on the floor of my front porch on Dec. 23,” she said.

Charles did what victims are advised to do and reported what happened on Aug. 15: She shared a series of 140 texts then-CEO Matt Heley sent her in one day – many of them sexually inappropriate – with New North and its governing board.

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Heley denied sexually harassing Charles, who was his administrative assistant, but not sending the texts. He resigned shortly after the incident.

However, he said in an interview he was leaving for a new role in his native Australia and not because of the allegation.

New North is a non-profit agency that advocates for 35 small communities in northern Saskatchewan. The bulk of its funding comes from the Saskatchewan government.

Charles said the texts Heley sent that Sunday frightened her. She also said New North failed to support her.

Sunshyne Charles has alleged she was sexually harassed in her Saskatchewan workplace. Photo: APTN file

In the termination letter, interim CEO Susan McKenzie said Charles failed to respond to three of her earlier letters, come to work on a company-set date, and return a company-issued laptop and cellphone.

These were grounds for termination with cause, McKenzie added in the letter obtained by APTN News.

“You remain in possession of equipment and information belonging to New North. It is to be returned immediately. Failure to do so may result in legal proceedings being commenced.”

The letter also warned Charles would be “reported to the appropriate authority” if she accessed company accounts and software after her last day of work in August.

McKenzie declined to comment for this story, stating: “We do not and will not comment on individual personnel matters.”

Governing board

The chair of New North’s governing board, Georgina Jolibois, long-time mayor of La Loche, did not respond to messages seeking comment from APTN.

Charles, who had been working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, said the firing surprised her because New North knew she was in a six-week mental health treatment plan.

Her psychologist sent a letter to New North, shared with APTN, that said Charles was being treated for a “traumatic event, which has been impacting her ability to work.”

Charles said she was using an undisclosed amount of funding the board had given her for treatment after being told she had “exhausted all my sick leave and vacation pay.”

That six-week period expired on Dec. 23, so that’s when McKenzie ordered Charles back to work.

New North

However, Charles told New North in an earlier letter she was still not comfortable returning to work for board members who didn’t believe her allegation against Heley. She said Jolibois, a Dene woman, was one of those three members.

Charles, who is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, also asked for input updating the organization’s new sexual harassment policy.

She said she is considering filing a complaint about the lack of support and subsequent termination with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission or Occupational Health and Safety.

Both agencies are involved in a five-year campaign called Enough Already Saskatchewan to raise awareness of and end sexual harassment in Saskatchewan workplaces, an initiative funded by the federal government.

Online Journalist / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.