The “duty of loyalty” put to the test in court

The crisis of governance within the largest school service center in Quebec is being taken to court. The former president of the board of directors of the Center de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM), Mélisandre Shanks, challenges in Superior Court a reprimand she received last January for having allegedly violated the “duty of loyalty” of managers school.

In a parallel process, Mélisandre Shanks is also claiming damages of $ 190,000 from the CSSDM, the Ministry of Education and five other people or organizations. This mother of four, who has volunteered for years in school authorities, says that her reputation was tarnished in a “totally unjustified” way during her short term as president of the brand new CSSDM council, between October 2020 and April 2021 .

“I was treated like a criminal, all for having volunteered time. People need to know: this is what you are exposing yourself to by getting involved in the governance of a service center, ”the lawyer told the To have to this week.

Mélisandre Shanks became the first chair of the board of directors of the new Montreal School Service Center in October 2020. This structure, created by the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, replaced the elected school commissioners.

This new governance model has amplified the “unhealthy climate” that was brewing between the parents’ committee and the administrative machine of the CSSDM, found The duty last spring. In the months following the entry into force of the reform, eight of the fifteen members of the Board, including the five parents (including Shanks), have resigned. The general manager has retired, a deputy manager has resigned and another deputy manager is acting at the top of the hierarchy.

Given the magnitude of the crisis, Minister Roberge placed the CSSDM under supervision for six months, last June.

“Serious irregularities”

Mélisandre Shanks filed in Superior Court an “appeal for judicial review” seeking to quash a report that concluded that she had violated the code of ethics for the directors of the CSSDM. This approach aims in particular to clarify “the scope of the duties of loyalty, collegiality, respect, confidentiality, discretion and independence of directors”, which have been the subject of debate since the entry into force of the new governance. school, last year.

Mme Shanks maintains that the investigation by the code of ethics enforcement officer, Mr.e Madeleine Lemieux, was “marked by several serious irregularities which make her decision unjustifiable, opaque and unintelligible”. Me Lemieux declined the interview request of the To have to.

M’s reporte Lemieux criticized Mélisandre Shanks for having taken part in an informal meeting on Zoom, the day before the first board meeting, with 6 of the 14 other board members, as well as with the president of the parents’ committee and a volunteer counselor from the parents’ committee. The blame also focused on a discussion on the Messenger application that brought together the participants, before and during the first board meeting.

« Mme Shanks violated section 2.1 of the code by forming a parallel discussion group at the board meeting, inviting non-board members to it and allowing them to play a critical role in board deliberations, indicates the report. Collegiality and solidarity among council members are attacked head-on when creating factions or coalitions within the council […] that we exclude some of the members of the council. “

“It is obvious that all these events are part of a conflict of powers between the general management of the CSSDM and the parents’ committee, a conflict which has been transposed to the board of directors of the CSSDM”, specifies Mr.e The best.

Mélisandre Shanks does not deny that differences of opinion could exist between certain members of the board or with members of the management, but she maintains that this clash of ideas is quite normal between people engaged in good faith in the administration. from the service center.

She recalls that the code of ethics protects the freedom of expression of administrators, who must “be able to express themselves freely and frankly” in order to serve the interests of the service center. In this context, informal meetings between board members are commonplace, argues Shanks.

Defamation suit

In the wake of the blame against Mélisandre Shanks, the Ministry of Education commissioned the firm Brio Conseils, from Montreal, to analyze labor relations. The firm’s final report “contains several false, inaccurate and defamatory assertions”, argues Mélisandre Shanks in her motion to institute proceedings seeking damages of $ 190,000.

According to the document filed in Superior Court by Shanks, Brio refers to a report from the Internal Audit Office of the CSSDM concluding to “a series of serious breaches of ethical and professional standards (in particular conflicts of interest, breach of confidentiality, lack of loyalty, breach of trust)” , as well as “reported facts [qui] also amount to collusion ”.

The report of the firm Brio was the subject of reports in Press, The Journal of Montreal and TVA Nouvelles. Minister Roberge’s office referred to “serious breaches on the part of the parent administrators of the board of directors of the Center de services scolaire de Montréal”.

Mélisandre Shanks is claiming damages from the firm Brio Conseils, the CSSDM, the Ministry of Education, Press, to Journal of Montreal, to TVA Nouvelles and to Julien Le Maux, former member of the CSSDM board, who publicly declared that he was the “whistleblower” who led to the ethics investigation into the behavior of Shanks and other directors.

In a court document dated September 9, 2021 and in messages to To have to, all parties deny having anything to be ashamed of in this matter.

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