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.