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This article was published 29/11/2014 (2052 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg woman who won the biggest workplace sexual-harassment settlement in Manitoba history says blowback from the case forced her to change her name, confront dozens of threatening emails and relive a traumatic assault.
Still, the three-year process that culminated in a rare Manitoba Human Rights Commission hearing was "absolutely" worth it, she said.
"I would encourage other women to come forward, because it's only by waves and waves of women speaking up about this that things are going to change," said Emily Garland, 28. "But, this was a hard and draining experience, and if you don't have that in you, then you should focus on you."
Garland, a university graduate, said the debate over sexual violence and harassment has "hit the breaking point" in recent weeks in cases even more extreme than hers -- the arrest of CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi on sexual-assault charges, the rape accusations levelled against comedian Bill Cosby and the allegations made against two federal Liberals by two female NDP MPs.
'I would encourage other women to come forward, because it's only by waves and waves of women speaking up about this that things are going to change' ‐ Emily Garland, 28
Last year, an adjudicator ruled Garland was the victim of relentless and aggressive sexual harassment by a regular customer at the store where she worked -- GameKnight, on South Osborne, which specializes in board, card and role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.
According to the decision, the customer repeatedly made lewd and graphic remarks, rubbed up against Garland and threatened to rape her.
"What do you say to that? The first three times it happened I was just shocked silent," said Garland. "If he could get me alone in the store without witnesses he would say something obscene to me or touch me," she said.
Last year, after a three-day hearing, the human rights adjudicator ruled Garland's boss, store owner Scott Tackaberry, failed to protect her from the customer, despite her repeated complaints. Garland was awarded $7,750, a record amount that took into account "the young age of the complainant in this case, the shocking and ongoing lewdness of the conduct and comments that she had to endure and the special vulnerability of a young worker whose employer failed to protect her against the abhorrent inappropriateness of a middle-aged customer."
But the fallout from the case was severe, with echoes of the recent "gamergate" controversy that saw feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian suffer an avalanche of sexual and physical threats for condemning the depiction of women in video games and science fiction.
After getting fired in 2010 and while her complaint was before the human rights commission, Garland received dozens of anonymous but extremely violent rape and death threats via email, mostly from the gaming community, she believes.
While working as a grader at the University of Manitoba, similar threats were slipped under the door of her office, she said. Complaints to police went nowhere and she changed her name to shield herself from the power of Google.
"Not all nerds are like this. Most people manage a healthy divide between fantasy and reality," said Garland, who still becomes agitated and angry when retelling her story. "But you can't live under the constant, and I mean constant, and immediate threat of physical and sexual violence for five years and not have it affect you."
Though the commission and its staff were "wonderful," the eventual hearing was traumatic. She said it was "comically scary" to face the customer who harassed her and the boss who failed to act.
Tackaberry acted as his own lawyer during the hearing and questioned Garland about her sexual history, including a rape she suffered as a teenager and is open about discussing. Tackaberry also argued Garland was quick to discuss her personal history and sex life with customers and staff.
The adjudicator, Winnipeg lawyer Robert Dawson, dismissed most of that evidence as irrelevant.
"He was interested in dredging up the most violent, unpleasant moments of my life and forcing me to relive them in front of an audience," said Garland. "I spoke about my life and then that was used against me. He had a three-day-long bully pulpit of what a terrible person I am."
Tackaberry maintained the reverse is true -- that Garland is a compulsive liar with a history of false claims who manufactured the human rights complaint to paint herself as the hero and him the villain. He said the three-year process was very hard on him and his family and utterly unfair.
In his testimony and in an interview, Tackaberry disputed much of Garland's version of events, saying she was rarely alone in the store with the customer and she complained only once about the harassment. She was ultimately fired for insubordination.
Tackaberry said the human rights commission's process was stacked against him, in part because Garland had a lawyer provided to help make her case, and he did not. He called the process "a kangaroo court."
To view the decision on this case: http://www.manitobahumanrights.ca/publications/legal/garland.pdf
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Updated on Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 12:39 PM CST: Adds link to decision on the case.