Message to the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers (ISYVC) Community from EBM
February 15, 2020 (Statement 5)
The EBM has been advised in writing of allegations of misconduct by Prahlada. In keeping with our policies and our commitment to providing a safe environment, we have expanded Marianne Plamondon’s mandate and asked her to investigate these allegations. In the interim, Prahlada is recusing
himself from any discussions related to Ms. Plamondon’s investigation.
Message to the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers (ISYVC) Community from EBM
February 8, 2020 (Statment 4)
As we recently announced, the EBM has engaged Ms. Marianne Plamondon as an independent third party investigator to investigate allegations made by three women about Swami Vishnudevananda. A number of issues and concerns have been raised with us since her appointment, and we thought that it would be helpful to provide you with additional information about her background, her mandate and her approach.
Engaging Ms. Plamondon
Engaging Ms. Plamondon is in keeping with best practices in situations of this nature. It is standard practice for the leadership of an organization to engage an outside expert to investigate when it has a real or perceived conflict of interest and to do so without prior consultation with the complainants. It is also standard practice that the organization is paying for the investigator’s fees which has no impact on the independence of the investigation and gives no right to the organization to intervene in her findings.
Ms. Plamondon is professionally accredited and will be conducting her investigation in accordance with the best practices and the two codes of ethics to which she is subject as a lawyer and a member (and former president) of the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés (CHRP). Ms. Plamondon has demonstrated through her experience with both public and private sector organizations that she has the capacity to conduct impartial and comprehensive investigations involving psychological and sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct allegations. We encourage the complainants as well as the witnesses involved to ask her to provide them with background on her relevant experience and approach at their first meeting with her.
Prior to this mandate Ms. Plamondon has had no affiliation with ISYVC.
Ms. Plamondon is a lawyer who has training in the conducting of investigations and has in the past looked into many cases of alleged sexual abuse. She is not a trauma specialist, but has the freedom to seek this type of expertise if required.
Ms. Plamondon’s Mandate and Approach
Ms. Plamondon’s mandate is to investigate the allegations and make findings of fact. In addition, the EBM broadened her mandate to include a review of our existing policies and practices and make recommendations for improvements. Ms. Plamondon will also make recommendations with respect to preventive measures and training the ISYVC could implement. While meeting with Ms. Plamondon, the complainants shall feel free to share their views and to make suggestions on possible recommendations to be made to the EBM. In light of the facts gathered during the investigation, Ms. Plamondon’s mandate will also include advising the EBM with respect to possible ways to bring closure and potentially reconciliation with the complainants. This approach is in line with our determination to provide a safe and healthy environment in all our establishments.
We expect that the investigation will likely involve multiple steps, which may be adjusted in accordance with what she uncovers. We will let her conduct the investigation in accordance with the best practices, but we understand that usually, the first step is to review all relevant materials and interview the complainants. She has already reached out to them, and our hope is that she will meet with them as soon as possible. We then expect that she will want to interview others with knowledge of the situation including third-party witnesses. Before finalizing her work, she may choose to interview the complainants again in order to obtain precisions on certain facts. Ms. Plamondon will have the independence to meet with anyone she believes would help in her findings, and we will not interfere in any way during her investigation.
We should also point out that the complainants can choose to be accompanied by one other person when meeting with Ms. Plamondon as long as that witness agrees to keep the information related to the investigation confidential.
Once the interviews are completed, Ms. Plamondon will determine her findings, which will be shared with the EBM and the three complainants involved. We should be clear that each of the women will only be briefed on their individual cases in order to comply with rules governing privacy and confidentiality. Our hope is that we will be in a position to implement Ms. Plamondon’s recommendations on steps we should be taking to improve our harassment policies and procedures, preventive measures and training. This is vital as we are committed to providing our community with a safe and supportive environment. Furthermore, the EBM anticipates sharing its response to the investigation and its action plan with the ISYVC community.
No Legal Recourse
The EBM wants to ensure that the three complainants do not fear legal action which would discourage their participation in the investigation. With this mind, be assured that the ISYVC undertakes not to institute legal actions against the complainants based on their participation in the investigation process.
Access to Confidential Account
As provided in the Statement by the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres dated December 13, 2019, an email account was created for anyone to share allegations in a confidential manner. Ms. Plamondon was recently given access to the content of this account. As such, she will follow-up with the individuals that may have information relevant to her mandate. Information that was submitted to that email account and that is not within the scope of Ms. Plamondon’s mandate will be transferred by Ms. Plamondon to ISYVC’s outside counsel currently in charge of the enforcement of the policies, Ms. Lanny Alexandre.
ISYVC Approach to Sexual Harassment
Providing a safe and secure environment is a critical part of our value system. We recently updated our policies and posted them in prominent locations on our various web sites. We also now include a special session in our teacher training program on sexual harassment, and we will be distributing a brochure at all of our facilities. But we want to ensure that we are best in class. That is why providing us with advice and counsel on our harassment policy and procedures, the handling of complaints and preventative measures represents such a crucial part of Ms. Plamondon’s mandate.
We view this investigation as a critical step forward and an important part of the healing process. We appreciate that it has to be conducted in a transparent and fair manner, and we are confident that Ms. Plamondon will fulfill her mandate in this manner. We urge all members of the ISYVC community to be supportive of this initiative and to participate if they have information to contribute.
Statement by the Board of Directors of The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres on the appointment of A Third Party Investigator
January 21, 2020 (Statement 3)
Prior to the holidays we – the executive board members (EBM) of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers (ISYVC)– indicated that we would be engaging an independent third party to investigate the allegations made by Julie Salter and two other complainants about Swami Vishnudevananda who died in 1993. We appreciate that the recruitment of the investigator has taken longer than anticipated, but we believe that it was critical to find an experienced and well-regarded individual to carry out this important assignment.
In keeping with our commitment to transparency towards the Sivananda community and the world at large, we have through our attorneys engaged Marianne Plamondon, a lawyer and recognized expert in the field of sexual harassment. A frequent commentator in the Canadian media, she is the ex-president of the Quebec branch of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CHRA), and in this capacity often trained members on how to deal with psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace. She also served as an expert advisor in 2018 in the review of the provisions in the Quebec Labour Standards Act related to sexual and psychological harassment.
Over the coming weeks Ms. Plamondon will be reaching out to those who have come forward and others to gather evidence about what happened.
In an earlier statement we indicated that we had created a confidential account to allow individuals to come forward with what we understand to be sensitive and at times difficult information to disclose. Until now, no one has looked at what has been submitted. Ms. Plamondon will be reviewing the information that has been provided, determine how best to address the issues that have been raised and close the account.
Since the investigation is now ongoing and in light of concerns about privacy and confidentiality, it is inappropriate for the ISYVC to comment further on this matter at this time. We will of course be offering Ms. Plamondon our full cooperation, and we will be sharing her findings with the women who have come forward.
We should also point out that in the mid 2000’s the EBM began the process of creating an anti harassment policy which it began rolling out internationally several years later. The policies were updated last year and can be found on our websites. While we believe that our policies reflect best practices, we are constantly looking to improve them and ensure that they are well understood within our organization. An added benefit of this investigation is that external experts will be assessing our approach and identifying avenues for improvement so that we continue to offer a safe and secure environment to all members of the Sivananda community.
We appreciate that these allegations have shaken the faith of many, but we are confident that we will emerge a humbler and stronger community. This investigation represents a critical step forward on our journey, and we urge everyone with information to share to be in contact with Ms. Plamondon
Statement by the Board of Directors of The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres
December 16, 2019 (Statement 2)
We the executive board members of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers want honesty and transparency towards the Sivananda community and the world at large.
Julie Salter asked to meet the board members in 2007. Some of the members of the board met with her together with a facilitator, and Julie expressed similar allegations she recently posted on facebook. The board at that time stood in disbelief and did not carry out an investigation by an independent party to verify the validity of those allegations. This was a mistake on the part of the board that we now clearly see and deeply regret. We owe Julie an apology for not having taken the matter to the level it should have been taken. We are determined to do this today – have an independent investigation by a third party to verify the allegations of Julie and others. We are in the process of looking for the right person, which will take a few days, as it is of great importance that this person has the highest credentials.
We express our heartfelt compassion for the pain expressed by Julie and others and sincerely pray that this can be healed for all involved. We see the trauma that this situation has created for many in the Sivananda community who have been shaken in their faith. The board members themselves, who have and intend to continue to dedicate their lives sharing the teachings they have received, are deeply affected by the distress expressed by some of their staff, members and students. We feel it is a time of great purification for all involved. We very sincerely hope that faith can be re-established going forward and that we will come out humbler, stronger and better instruments to carry on the work.
We at The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre have recently become aware of a posting on Facebook which contained very serious claims made by Julie Salter, a former member of our organization, who served as Swami Vishnudevananda’s personal assistant from 1982 to 1993. We also have seen that others have come forward with their own of allegations. We are deeply troubled and saddened by these allegations.
We can feel the pain, confusion and distress. As long-time disciples of the late Swami Vishnudevananda, it is a very big challenge for us to reconcile these descriptions with our personal experience of living with him for many years. But whatever our personal feelings may be, we need to act and address this situation as best we can.
We are committed to the safety and security of all members of the Sivananda community and for some time have had clear policies and procedures in place, which we will continue to strictly apply. In keeping with our policies and procedures, we want to give all who wish to be heard a safe and confidential space in which to provide what we understand to be sensitive and at times difficult information to disclose. Therefore, we have created a confidential account, which can be accessed at [email protected]. Anyone who comes forward will have their allegations reviewed by outside counsel and a confidential report of the information will then be provided to the organization’s board.
We have entered a time of deep reflection. During this period, we will review the messages received as well as the confidential reports. We will then take actions wherever necessary. We are aware of the deep confusion and anguish generated by this post throughout the Sivananda community and will keep our staff, students and members informed.