Sensitivity training proposed for email prankster

Michael Hurst, the Industry Canada employee at the centre of an e-mail controversy in Yellowknife, may get to keep his government job for the price of 75 hours’ community service.

Hurst, a general manager with Industry Canada, is reported to have sent out 31 allegedly racist, sexist e-mails from his office. The e-mail messages are said to have depicted images of four naked women, one of whom was an older Aboriginal woman exposing her breasts. The attached message in the e-mail was “pick Miss Northwest Territories.”

Two women’s groups, the Status of Women Council of the NWT (SWC) and the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, contacted Industry Minister Maxime Bernier requesting that Hurst be fired.

Sharon Thomas, executive director of SWC, says she has been assured Hurst will face disciplinary action, but added she was prepared to support a more positive road to reconciliation.

According to Thomas, a senior executive at Industry Canada in Edmonton has proposed Hurst perform 75 hours of community service with three women’s groups in the Northwest Territories.

“Industry Canada has decided they’re going to take some disciplinary action and what they’re going to propose is that Michael work 75 hours of volunteer time with the three women’s groups,” says Thomas.

“It was proposed to me that he do a project on discrimination and my immediate thought was that this might be a good project for Michael, since he would be investigating what discrimination is all about. That sounded like a pretty okay plan, I would welcome that.”

Thomas added she would want to see Hurst’s volunteer work geared towards sensitivity training. “To have a man lead that [type of project] would be really good; it would be more effective.”

She added: “Of course, when we [first] saw the e-mail it was just shocking. But when you see the bigger picture of who they are as a person, we don’t want to make a scapegoat out of [Hurst] because it’s not an isolated incident. It’s a fairly common thing with the federal government, with everybody.

“I don’t want him to lose a job,” says Thomas. “It’s a small place here – we need healing, we don’t need more hurt.”

While the incident is under investigation, Industry Canada is not permitted to discuss specific details under the Privacy Act, according to spokesperson Andrew Hannan.

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