Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shelter's boss takes time off following row

Blasts NDP on Facebook page

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The head of Manitoba's largest women's shelter has taken medical leave after engaging in a very public fight with the province and taking a parting shot on social media.

"What the NDP have done is despicable," Osborne House chief executive officer Barbara Judt said on her personal Facebook page. "They carry on like thugs and are proud of it. You know, we have been trying to get the funding shortfalls addressed for years now and, of course, no response. This speaks volumes of how they make our sector a priority. Disgusting."

Judt said she needs time off for her health. "Under the guidance of my doctor, my health is dictating that I take some time off. My mobility problems have increased and working in a facility that is very inaccessible only compounds the problem."

She's been embroiled in a public battle with the provincial government over funding and operations at the shelter that operates with $1.6 million annually from the province.

The rift between Osborne House and the government surfaced Aug. 22 when the shelter exposed deputy premier Eric Robinson's comment on "do-good white people" in criticizing the shelter for a burlesque-show fundraiser.

Now Judt, who requires the use of a wheelchair, expects to be off work until January or February, said a man who identified himself as a staff member and didn't want his name published because he said he was unauthorized to speak for Osborne House.

She'll be replaced by a management committee of two staff members and a board member to oversee day-to-day operations until she's able to return to work. The province had earlier commissioned an external review that criticized the shelter's operations and alleged incomplete records, insufficient counselling and a toxic workplace where staff are "divided into camps."

This week, Judt's Facebook page pointed to a letter from the board of Osborne House blaming the deputy minister of family services and labour for Judt requiring medical leave.

"It appears that your actions have already rendered a victim," the letter addressed to Jeff Parr said. The letter accused the province of constructing a "scheme" to discredit the shelter staff and board.

"This includes the weight given to an illegally composed statistical chart where data was cherry-picked to portray our counselling as being deficient." It said the department added a "fiction" the shelter's service-purchase agreement outlined a minimum of "required" counselling "when there is no such provision in the voluntary system your department designed for us to follow."

The letter posted on social media accused Parr's department of using the media to "undermine our board." It alleged his government department "fed" a media outlet "inaccurate and one-sided information" that was " slated for the Friday dinnertime newscasts." The directors' letter said the deputy minister was directing the CBC in how it handled the story.

"We are not fooled by this tactic and will not be intimidated by their unethical conduct," it said.

The shelter's operations manager, former radio broadcaster and blogger Marty Gold, declined to comment.

None of the shelter's board members contacted Thursday responded to a request for comment.

The provincial government said its concern is safety, not spin.

"Our concern is the safety of the women and children Osborne House serves and the staff who work there," it said in an email late Thursday. "Two independent reviews highlighted safety issues that must be addressed immediately and we are carefully reviewing our next steps to ensure the concerns raised in the reviews are properly addressed and that services are maintained."

-- staff

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2013 A6

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