HomeSportsQ&A: Rachel Doerrie on filing a human rights complaint against the Canucks

Q&A: Rachel Doerrie on filing a human rights complaint against the Canucks

In late November, former Vancouver Canucks employee Rachel Doerrie filed an official complaint against the team with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal following the termination of her employment in September.

In the complaint, Doerrie alleges she was the subject of discrimination based on physical and mental disability as well as her gender. Listed as respondents are Vancouver Canucks Limited Partnership and assistant GM Emilie Castonguay, to whom Doerrie directly reported during her employment.

Doerrie was hired as an analyst by Canucks president Jim Rutherford in January 2022, four days before Castonguay was brought in as assistant GM as part of the organization’s front-office overhaul. Doerrie was promoted to the role of analyst/assistant to the video coach on Aug. 1 and worked in that role until her dismissal on Sept. 27.

In her complaint, Doerrie details a series of events and interactions involving Castonguay that she believes led to the termination of her employment by general manager Patrik Allvin.

According to her lawyer, Vancouver-based attorney Peter Gall, the Canucks were sent a copy of the complaint at the time it was filed to the BCHRT, on Nov. 22. The organization was given a deadline of Feb. 2 by the BCHRT to file a written response.

After Doerrie shared the complaint publicly on her Twitter account on Nov. 27, both the team and Castonguay issued statements categorically denying her version of events. When reached via email for additional comments about specific allegations in the interview below and to confirm details of the Tribunal proceedings, the Canucks referred Sportsnet back to the previously issued statements.

Castonguay released the following in response to the complaint:

“I take a lot of pride in my work with the Vancouver Canucks, being a good leader, a person of high moral character, and always respecting and putting my co-workers first. These allegations by Ms. Doerrie are absolutely not true and her allegations of what I said to her are false and inaccurate. At no time was Ms. Doerrie treated differently due to gender, a mental disability, or a physical condition. As this is a legal matter, I will not make any further comments and will respect the process.”

The Canucks’ statement reads as follows:

“We strongly disagree with the allegations brought forth by Ms. Doerrie. Our organization provided Ms. Doerrie with all the necessary resources, support and opportunities to succeed in her role. We acted in good faith and abided by our contractual obligations, both during and after Ms. Doerrie’s employment with the organization. As this is a legal matter, we will respond accordingly at the proper time.”

Doerrie spoke with Sportsnet in December about the process of filing the complaint, why she went public with it in November, her experience during and after her time with the Canucks organization, and what comes next as the legal process plays out.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SPORTSNET: Why did you decide to file this human rights complaint?

DOERRIE: I wasn’t really familiar with British Columbia law or British Columbia Human Rights Code. I went through the entirety of what happened [with my attorney], and both him and his associate were kind of like, ‘Do you realize that this is a gross violation of your human rights?’ And so, the thought never really crossed my mind [before that]. And for me, I went into this thing like, listen, I’m 26 years old, I’m still going to work for the rest of my life. So, this is not about money for me. This is about the fact that what happened was absolutely wrong. And the way it was handled, from a legal perspective and, apparently, from a human rights perspective, was also wrong. And so my attorneys decided that because I wasn’t really seeking money in this, I was seeking public accountability. Because in that complaint, I took responsibility for what I did. But the Canucks have kind of just said, ‘No, we didn’t do anything wrong.’ And so for me, I look at it and I say, listen, a relationship, whether it’s a personal relationship or a work relationship, it takes two to have one, takes two to break one. And I understood that my small part in sending a text message was apparently me breaking it. At the same time, that’s not grounds to say some of the things that were said to me.

[Editor’s note: Within her complaint, Doerrie describes an interaction over text with Vancouver-based reporter Patrick Johnston, with whom she is friends. She says Johnston shared quotes from Bruce Boudreau in which the Canucks head coach praised Doerrie’s work. She responded positively to them — the text message she mentions above. After sharing Johnston’s subsequent article on her Instagram account, Doerrie alleges she was called into Castonguay’s office for a private meeting. In that meeting, Doerrie says Castonguay expressed concern about her ”speaking to the media” and told her “I don’t know if you have what it takes to do the job, mentally.” Doerrie denies sharing any confidential information about the team at any time.]

When you retained legal representation, did you think about a civil suit?

I considered it but then I decided, like I said, I’m young, and this is not about money. So, if I civilly go after them, am I really going to get what I want, which is the public accountability and for the organization to admit — and potentially the NHL to admit — that their league is still not welcoming to people who aren’t CIS white men? And so the civil suit was something that I just kind of decided was not really the avenue that I want to go down.

When did you decide to pursue this and start the process of filing this complaint?

When I flew back out [from Toronto to Vancouver] at the end of October, I met with [attorney Peter Gall], and that’s kind of when we decided, OK, like, listen, we have a human rights complaint in terms of, that’s kind of an avenue we can go down, but let’s see if we can just get them to take that public accountability, reach a settlement of some sort. We couldn’t agree on the public accountability; we couldn’t agree on any settlement. And so for me … I kind of made the decision that if I was going to take quote “hush money” all I’m doing is upholding toxic hockey culture by not speaking out about it, and that’s not helpful.

So, to answer your question, it was about a month of, like, hemming and hawing on ‘What do we want to do?’ And then we gave the Canucks, like, I want to say about a week’s notice that, like, OK, we’re moving forward with this.

So, there was discussion of a financial settlement with the Canucks?

There was talk of a financial settlement [beyond severance], but that had to be in conjunction with public accountability. I wasn’t willing to take money without them publicly admitting what they had done. Because to me, at least at that point, there is something in the public to say, ‘OK, we did this and this is kind of what happened.’ Because at that point, at least the hockey culture side of it is public. And once that was kind of off the table, I just said, ‘OK, enough.’

[Editor’s note: A complaint passes through the BC Human Rights Tribunal in a series of stages. Once the complaint has been received, tribunal staff conduct an initial screening process to make sure it has been filed within allowable time limits and contains an allegation of a human rights violation. From there, the respondent side is notified and asked to file a written response. Cases typically then proceed to a confidential mediation process, but Doerrie’s complaint indicates that she does not want mediation. If mediation fails or is declined by either party, the tribunal decides whether the case should be dismissed or proceed to a public hearing. According to estimates Sportsnet received from Laura Track, director of the BC Human Rights Clinic, and confirmed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, a case without mediation can take about three years to reach a hearing, provided it isn’t resolved in some other way first.]

From what I’ve learned about human rights complaints and how the tribunal works, this can be a really long process.

I knew going in, eyes wide open, how long this could potentially take. And if anything, that helps the Canucks because the air around this is obviously going to go away. But to me, I think it’s important to have our day in court with the tribunal. And I’m hoping that this kind of just, I don’t have to focus on it until that day comes. And so for me, this was kind of just another step. Now that it’s out there, it’s almost this sense of relief and it’s like, ‘OK, now I just have to wait for whatever the day is.’ But now people aren’t accosting me in public about this and they’re not emailing or DMing my family, or they’re not pointing at me in restaurants. It was very uncomfortable. And that was part of this, is I felt like the speculation [about reasons for her dismissal from the Canucks] got really, really out of control. To me, I almost don’t mind waiting because now I don’t have to sit there for two years and people aren’t wondering if I slept with a player or I stole something or, like, all of this other heinous crap, right? And so for me, just to get it out there was important.

There’s been a lot on Twitter that I frankly think is well over the line.

I got accosted at Leafs games [by people who wanted to know why Doerrie was no longer with the Canucks]. I just went as a citizen and people came up to me and it was really, really uncomfortable. The first couple weeks I was home, I didn’t want to go out for dinner because the three or four times that I did with my family, people would ask or people would be staring at me to the point where, like, my mother would have to say something.

You’ve kind of answered this next question already, but why go public with the complaint in the way that you did? Is that also something you consulted your lawyer on?

It was his idea. He asked me what was important to me and I said the accountability side of it. And he kind of laid out what the best way to go about this was. And I mean, the reputation side of it as well. There was so much speculation. I had people from, I want to say probably eight or nine NHL teams reach out to me asking [about rumours], like, ‘I’ve heard this, I’ve heard that,’ and it’s just like, what the heck is going on? I said, ‘Peter, this is bad. Like, from a public accountability perspective, from a reputation perspective, from a rumours perspective, like, this is awful. What am I supposed to do?’ We had a different strategy on how it was going to go public, and it was just the process of that was weighing on me a lot. And so I just said, ‘Listen, I have other things going on in my life that require my attention and focus, and I cannot have this lingering because it’s [affecting] my ability to focus on those things.’ And so then we kind of crafted the way that I was going to do that.

You’ve talked quite a bit about wanting public accountability. What does that look like to you?

I want to make something clear: In no way am I looking for anybody to lose their job. I don’t think that’s ever a fair thing to want or [a fair] outcome. To me, public accountability looks like: I said that I sent the text. They need to admit that those things were said to me and that how they handled the entirety of the situation was toxic and unacceptable. That is what needs to come of this. Because I know what this is like. I don’t want this happening to somebody else. I really don’t. It is awful. And I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

[Editor’s note: In December 2017, the New Jersey Devils hired Doerrie as an analyst. She held the position until the club eliminated it in January 2019.]

Your first NHL job was with the Devils. Can I ask about your time with New Jersey and how that experience was?

I’ve worked for two NHL teams. There have been both positives and negatives associated with both of those things. I still have great relationships with people that I worked with in New Jersey and I’m very thankful for a lot of those people.

I met some really, really great people in New Jersey. And ultimately it did lead me to the decision to go back and pursue my master’s. And I’m thankful for that because I got to learn a lot there from people that showed me that this is what I wanted to do.

In your complaint, you indicate that you do not want to take part in a mediation process. Why not?

I felt like we’ve been kind of having, quote unquote “mediation discussions” the last two months [with the Canucks]. We didn’t actually have a mediator there, but I felt like those are the types of conversations that were being had. And not only were we not even in the same ballpark, I felt like we weren’t even on the same planet.

We don’t need to waste a mediator’s time. We don’t need to put more duress on me. So, enough is enough. We have given them the chance to come to the table with anything remotely close, and it wasn’t going anywhere. So I’m going to have my day with the tribunal, and we’re going to go from there, because I’m not going to put myself under extra stress just to appease somebody.

Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

I think the thing I want driven home is that this was never about the money. The Canucks pressured me not to go public a lot. They pressured me. And that speaks to the hockey culture of, like, ‘Please don’t say anything!’ kind of thing. I think that kind of speaks to, they know that they did something because if you don’t want somebody speaking publicly, why not? Right?

Did they ask you to sign something?

The [severance] package that they offered me, I asked, ‘If I sign this, does this preclude me from speaking publicly?’ And they said yes, and I said, ‘I’m not signing.’ And then through correspondence with my lawyer, I mean, I have multiple emails forwarded to me that say, like, ‘Oh, we don’t want this, we don’t want this,’ threatening legal action, even though there was no jurisdiction for that.

The Canucks threatened legal action?

Yeah, because they thought I was going to come out and, like, defame the organization. But all I’ve done is, like, referred people to the complaint and said really positive things about a lot of people there. And honestly, all of that’s genuine. Like, I really do miss a lot of the people there. That’s something that, I think that you’re contributing to hockey culture if you’re trying to silence somebody. And that’s not good.

It’s just been a really difficult time in my life. I feel like my brain has been turned upside down a little bit. And all of those comments online that are just like, ‘Oh, they shouldn’t have hired her because of her condition.’ Like, those are super ableist and really inappropriate. And so I think, yeah, like we are making strides with women and slowly with people of colour and LGBTQ+ people, but the ableism that’s in the hockey world is awful. And just because you don’t have a disability that [can] be seen, it doesn’t mean you’re any less than somebody who does.

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