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Cloverdale Rodeo allegations a huge disappointment

Jody Vance spent many a starry-eyed summer day the Cloverdale Rodeo. It’s heartbreaking to learn many others had a very different experience.
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Oh Cloverdale Rodeo, I thought I knew you.

As a horse-obsessed preteen, my calendar year revolved around the trek out to the valley to quench my barn thirst. I would X off days on the calendar to countdown my pilgrimage to horse heaven.

The Cloverdale Rodeo was so much more than cowboys with their bucking broncos and calf roping. For me the dream was to speed around barrels or stop on a dime in the key-hole, in full awe of the bond between horse and rider.

The big payoff was getting lost wandering the paddocks, behind the scenes where the teams of proud participants, staff, and volunteers showed the machine of work behind the glitz of the ring.

I’d watch them caring for the animals, happy to explain their role in agriculture to a wide-eyed kid. It was the best of learning times.

Today, those memories seem a little sad after a Human Rights Tribunal filing against Cloverdale Rodeo last week.

The allegations are horrifying. I urge you to read it and write to elected officials to take meaningful action to ensure that any and all who allowed this to go unchecked are held to account.

Literally dozens of complainants recount allegations of physical and verbal abuse, harassment, and outrageous racism.

Was I wearing blinders to this when I worshipped horsemanship for most of my young life? How long has this been going on at a publicly-funded association that many like me have loved to the core?

It hurts so much, on many levels. This event is meant to represent a place and space where men and women thrive on equal footing, where people of all walks and ethnicities come together to learn about agriculture, and what that sector means to our province.

The words of the numerous whistleblowers leave very little to the imagination, and there is clear corroboration. The timeline of inaction, at so many levels, is a huge issue for me in my Middle.

Have we learned nothing from #MeToo? Whistleblowers and bystander accounts are still required to see a safe workplace? Really? How frustrating to learn.

Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke stepped up to go on the record with me, while others have feared repercussions. Councillor Locke had seen my tweet about this and offered yet another shocking piece of the puzzle.

According to Locke, Surrey City Council received a whistleblower’s letter on January 7th. He had written the letter because he “simply couldn’t take it anymore.”

He’d witnessed too much alleged abuse and racism working at the rodeo that, even through employment was difficult to secure during a pandemic, he had quit.

January 7th was six months ago.

I asked where the heroes are, the answer is those brave enough to put their accounts into the Human Rights Complaint. Clearly those with any level of power failed in protecting the workers and volunteers in the complaint.

Frustrated that no action was being taken, Locke felt speaking on the record would be vital in ensuring that this story doesn’t just blow over.

I’m not naming names here – you can find names in the public document – what my Middle is looking for is the creation of a better system to protect victims of workplace harassment, or worse.

Swift action, trusting the victims, meaningful consequences. All of the things that #MeToo promised that seems to have faded away.

The Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association has no harassment policy or training, and no mechanism to raise complaints or concerns is unacceptable.

No association should be allowed to function without a reporting system – especially a taxpayer-funded association.

There should be a clear protocol for whistleblowers that includes job protection. There are alleged victims still working in the Cloverdale Rodeo environment, feeling pressure to stay silent. They deserve to be a priority for our leaders to protect.

Think of those whose first work experience might be tainted by a culture simply unacceptable in 2021. Think of the kids, like the wide-eyed me of years gone by searching for role models. My Middle is a call for change.

We know better now, it’s time to prove that. Saddle up.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.