[Because of its lack of relevance to the lawsuit itself, most will have no need to read this particular essay. Some of the many documents providing evidence for its claims nevertheless were requested by the lawsuit defendants.]
To date I have shared details of my conflict with Louise Malenfant ("LM", hereafter) with only a few centrally involved individuals. But since counsel for my lawsuit against the National Post has asked that the whole story be written up, I am here recording its basic elements. [Written in the fall of 2001, expanded in early 2005]
How it all started
It began in the summer of 2000. More and more individuals had gotten in contact with MERGE with horror stories about official mistreatment that seemingly involved gender bias: by Child Welfare, police, the courts, and other institutions of the government. I keenly felt the need to investigate and coherently write up these accounts, for presentation to whoever might help undo the individual and systemic injustices involved. But the great majority of the victimized individuals, besides lacking the impartiality needed to assure full and accurate factual presentation, are not able to do the write-ups adequately themselves. I have discovered this through years of frustrating attempts to get such persons to do so; most of them are too distracted or pressed for time even to try. Nor could I begin to find the time to do it adequately myself, with all of the other duties and projects I have committed myself to.
While struggling over this problem, I was informed that LM,
though living in
When asked, LM jumped at the idea of coming here for three months. She was working at a near-minimum-wage job, so even the modest amount I felt I could pay would double her income--and she could earn a living doing the kind of work she wanted rather than from what she called her current "schlock job". I also told her that if things went well, I would apply for funding from government or foundation sources, in the hope of keeping her employed here for a year or even indefinitely. Though clearly strong-willed, she was at that point pleasant to deal with.
To make the arrangements for LM to move here, I put in considerable time, doing such things as running around to find an apartment and soliciting donation of all the things needed to furnish it. Then when she arrived, I spent quite a bit more time ferrying her around (she does not drive) to meetings and on errands to get her settled in. As we spent this time together, that old thing about familiarity breeding contempt began to reveal itself in her behavior toward me. And it was on one of these jaunts that I got my first taste of what was to come.
Problematic personal characteristics
I was driving LM out to the home of EC, a grandmother highly active in the local movement. At one point in the trip, LM asked to stop for coffee. I assured her that EC would have coffee waiting, such hospitality being standard practice with her. A short time later, having spotted a convenience store ahead, LM asked me to stop so she could use the restroom. I did so, and when we entered the store she headed straight for the coffee machine. Thinking not quite fast enough to realize the restroom request was just a ploy, I reminded her that EC would want to serve her coffee. In a low growl that chilled me, LM snapped "Don't give me orders!" It was not said in the standard annoyed tone of a person who thinks you have persisted once too often; it was a hard, cold, cruel tone of voice. I fell silent, asking myself for the first of many times, "What have I gotten into?"
Other conversations with LM were pleasant enough. But I soon began seeing patterns which I should lay out at this point. She is generally blunt, with which I have no problem because I am that way myself--in lesser degree, I would insist. More surprisingly, given her long career of helping people in certain kinds of trouble, she is remarkably insensitive to the feelings and desires of those around her. The real problem, however, lies deeper. First, LM is highly controlling. (Though herself hypersensitive to being controlled, as in the incident above.) As I see it, she will generously help you as long as she can tell you what to do. Those who accept being dominated by her, or else work with her from a safe distance, can get along fine. But those up close who finally resist the domination get very different treatment. For, second, LM is highly vindictive. And in her vindictiveness, she is not constrained by honesty: to justify her malice she doesn't hesitate to twist facts to an extreme degree.
Behind these characteristics, it would seem, lies some sort
of ego problem which is beyond the ordinary range. First, she seems desperately
in need of attention and praise, to the degree that she demands it from others
and brags of her accomplishments continually. She has some valuable
achievements, but makes absurdly inflated claims about them. For example, she
said she had a letter of recommendation from a former premier of
LM's controlling behavior
One manifestation of her controlling behavior occurred soon
after LM arrived in
At the vigil, LM simply ignored his wishes, giving the people there copies of her ditties and leading them to sing along. When the time came for remarks about the occasion, she didn't wait for the person who had been assigned by ECMAS to make them; with no authorization whatever, she simply started addressing the group. Seeing this, the one who had been given that job moved up beside her to say the things he had planned. LM took no hint from this, but remained standing there as if she were at least partially in charge. Then at one point, the assigned person made some statements about the suicide which LM claimed were too graphic for the few children present. (Not all in attendance agreed with her judgement on this, perhaps almost none.) She roughly called him down for it, shouldering him aside and taking over the meeting once again.
Later on, LM did something similar. Now, by a longstanding agreement with MERGE, ECMAS is the only local organization dealing directly with parenting equality in separation and divorce, and in ECMAS only the president or someone designated by him is supposed to speak on behalf of the group. Even if LM had not heard this rule, surely any ordinary person would know that a newcomer has no right to appoint herself spokesperson for a group. Yet she gave an interview to a newspaper columnist about local efforts on those issues, instead of referring him to the president of ECMAS. She did this despite having as yet only the scantiest knowledge of the movement here. (The resulting article contained glaring errors--though she blamed them on fabrication by the reporter.) The regular activists of ECMAS and MERGE wanted the benefits of LM's abilities; but by this point some of them were on watch, as certainly was I, for future efforts by her to dominate the group.
LM's high insensitivity
One illustration of LM's insensitivity to others occurred on her first day in Edmonton. After driving her from the airport to settle into her new apartment, I took her to the closest neighborhood restaurant, which happened to be a family-run Vietnamese place, for supper. In the course of events she found it humorous to read off her idea of the pronunciation of dishes' names in a sing-song voice, one loud enough to be easily heard by the proprietors.
Far worse was a later occasion when she interviewed a certain person with some horrific past experiences who had been finding solace coming occasionally to MERGE events. A quiet-spoken individual who has plainly suffered greatly, he was one of many we knew with a story of having been falsely accused of molesting his small child; he had since spent years trying desperately to find where his ex-wife had gone with her, hoping to re-establish a father-child relationship. (His story was so highly complex and the trail so cold that I didn't send him for LM to investigate it; rather, his brother learned of her activities and contacted her.) He had been under care for a long period for mental breakdown, and at that point--at that point only--had confessed to having done it.
Now, this is not at all uncommon in the emotional turmoil suffered by persons falsely accused of incest--it is most certainly not strong evidence of guilt. But it was seemingly enough for LM. On the basis of that, in the one short meeting she had with him she flatly accused him of being a pedophile. Terribly upset over this, the man's mother called me about it soon afterward, crying on the telephone. I in turn phoned LM, confronting her with the fact that she had no possible way of knowing whether he was guilty or not. She fumbled for excuses for having said that to him. But her inhumane conclusion-jumping had caused some very damaged people some serious further suffering. [Note added in 2006, in light of a vicious remark by LM in 2001 that may have been alluding to him: he never came to any ECMAS meetings. I met him only about three times; I spoke mostly with his brother regarding his situation.]
A minor conflict turned major
To explain the minor conflict that led to a blow-up between us, here is some background. Convinced that she has consummate skill in dealing with the media, she told me that activists who have difficulty with a news outlet must be incompetent or worse. (Though she applies this claim, like others she dogmatically expresses, rather selectively. When once I noted that her ally Donna Laframboise was fired by the Toronto Star not because of such incompetence but because of being "politically incorrect", she ignored the point.) LM does evidently treat media people with more respect than she does others. At least, she tells an anecdote about how she learned her lesson about being critical of individuals with that special kind of power. Having observed her Mack-Truck dealings with people many times, I emphatically deny that she has any special skill in human relations, in any context. But this is not my concern here; I don't claim to be expert in diplomacy myself. The real problem is certain other tendencies to be further revealed.
The occasion of this conflict was a MERGE plan for a public demonstration outside the offices of the Edmonton Journal. Now, many times over the years, the local movement has gotten various local media outlets both to temper their "political correctness" on our issues, and to give sympathetic publicity to our efforts. The one major exception over time has been the Edmonton Journal, which we claim has been heavily dominated by a highly sexist brand of feminism. (Though after Conrad Black rose to power in the Southam newspaper chain, they softened their earlier bias to a degree, for a while.) In the summer of 2000, The Journal took the occasion of reporting a MERGE victory in the human rights commission to publish a highly prejudicial article about me. Two of its columnists then attacked MERGE and me over that win. Their malicious falsehoods caused us extreme distress, yet we were allowed no reply in print. So we finally laid plans to defend ourselves in the only way left to us, through public protest.
As revealed by the first incident above, LM has no objections to public protests in general. To the contrary, she joined the local movement's federal-election demonstrations at Anne McLellan's office later that fall with gusto, this time shouting words against the Minister that were even more extreme and embarrassing than her songs at the prior occasion. But her response to this planned demonstration was very different. With no knowledge of our history of dealings with the media, she told me mine must have been incompetent when I first mentioned the picketing plan on the phone to her in Winnipeg. I tried to explain the reasons, but she was totally resistant. So I urged that we avoid conflicts over tactics through her doing her own activist work here, separately from that of MERGE, and she agreed.
Yet later on in Edmonton, LM continued to make contemptuous remarks over the plans regarding The Journal. Any lack of fair treatment of gender and divorce issues on its part, she repeated, could only have been caused by my own failings. At the MERGE picnic right after she came, I gave her copies of the two columnists' articles, telling her how painful that attack on us had been. But later on in a telephone conversation she brought it up again. I tried to explain that neither of those columnists had ever had any real contact with us, hence their motivation was purely ideological, not the result of my behavior toward them. But she wouldn't hear it. Frustrated at her refusal even to consider this as a possibility, I finally blurted out that those journalists are "goddam fucking bigots!" I was later very sure those were my exact words, because I immediately regretted resorting to hyperbole and angry invective. (I was not highly angry when I uttered this short burst, just highly frustrated. And for whatever it may mean to the reader, in my vocabulary 'goddam'--in contrast to 'God damn'--conveys only mild anger.) I had raised my voice to stress this assertion, and LM raised hers louder than mine in reply: "Your media relations suck!" (There was no anger in her own voice, just the same jeering tone she had been using.) I then said the conversation had gone too far, and hung up the phone.
In my mind, this all by itself would not have been a major incident. The real conflict would emerge only afterward, when she responded to the email I sent next. Up to that point, simply asking her in individual instances not to ride roughshod over others, or not to judge people without having the evidence (such as telling a beaten man that he's a pedophile), or not to display contempt for the views of others, had not gotten through to her. So I wrote her spelling out my general concerns--and raising the question of whether a work relationship between us could last after all.
She wrote back in a rage. But far more distressing than her extreme anger were her accusations: in that and ensuing emails, she made grossly false claims about what I had said. False statements not just about the phone conversation, but even about my email message itself, which we could both readily inspect. Notably, she turned my statement that our experiment of working together might fail into an announced intention to drive her out of the province. This was my first personal taste of her huge capacity for distortion, and it would not be the last. Many have remarked that it is hard to believe a person known for fighting false accusations would engage in them herself. I reply that it is ironic but very familiar. To the contrary, much is known about such traits in human nature as hypocrisy and projection.
The main focus of her angry accusations is especially revealing. At first she expressed outrage that I would employ profanity in her presence. (She accused me of using a particular word which I did not and never do use, but that is a minor detail.) Now, for some people this would not be trivial; some are indeed seriously offended by language so profane. What is astounding in this case is that both she and I knew perfectly well that her offense was feigned--that she in fact had no objections to swearing. (Many can testify that often LM herself, in the words of an elderly activist here, "swears like a sailor"--we even have pungent examples from her emails.) I then pointed out that she and I had jokingly used, and discussed our attitudes to, the 'f'-word not long before. First she just ignored the point; when she finally responded, she abruptly changed her story: instead of objecting to two swear-words directed at someone else, she started saying I had screamed at her for several minutes on the phone. Pressured into facing an outrageous bad-faith accusation, she jumped to an outrageous false one, without skipping a beat. I was astonished--and very fearful.
This willingness to lie so baldly and opportunistically displayed to me for the first time LM's capacity for extreme vindictiveness. I have known too many victims of serious false accusations not to have been frightened. Over the next couple of weeks, we continued to exchange unpleasant e-mails, and I also learned how irrational her arguments can become when she is angered. (When not angry, she has good reasoning skills--though even then, she has strong tendencies toward wishful thinking and conclusion-jumping.) I feel I can solve disputes, even serious ones, with anyone who will debate the issues between us with intellectual honesty. The standards of logic and evidence are objective, and should eventually bring us to common ground. My very career had been one of debating disputed issues. But I lost hope of being able to solve disputes by reasoning with her--and lost hope of being able to trust her.
At first LM kept angrily demanding that I admit doing what she had accused me of doing. I refused to admit any such thing. And only as she started to realize that I would not capitulate to that demand did she gradually begin to communicate without rancor again. My hopes then rose. I am by nature a cautious person, however, and I insisted then that all our communications when others were not present be through email or recorded phone conversations--recorded to protect us both. She complained only a bit before agreeing. (To anyone with a need to know, the emails documenting what has just been said and what is said below are still available, as are certain witnesses.) So the work between us continued. But I walked on eggs from then on, limiting discussion with her to bare essentials to lessen chances that topics of disagreement would arise. And I dropped my plans to apply for funding to hire her long-term.
From that point until our final break-up, only one more personal conflict occurred, but it was enough to reveal LM's continuing vengefulness. She jumped into an email dispute between current and former leaders of ECMAS, in order to make backhanded remarks about me to a whole list of persons. I was not involved in the dispute or in the plans it was about, but a certain ally of hers injected my name into it by phoning the current president. I wrote her in private objecting to that sort of behavior; she angrily replied that she had every right to broadcast such remarks.
The fatal problem
Soon after she arrived at the beginning of September, I took LM to meetings of the two special MERGE committees --the Police Issues Committee and the Child Welfare Issues Committee. These groups had been set up in order to help individuals who reported to us that police or social workers had blindly believed false accusations about them, or else had failed to investigate their own concerns about wrongdoing by others. But as noted before, we had always had difficulties getting these people's evidence gathered and their stories carefully written up. At last, I told the attendees at the two meetings, we have someone to help you do this, so we can soon take your stories to the powers that be seeking solutions. I was also in contact with various people facing such problems who had not joined the committees, and began to direct them to LM to work on their stories as well.
From all that was said in this regard, I submit, it would have been clear to anyone that MERGE had ongoing plans for helping these people individually with government agencies (though not in court, which requires legal expertise), and also for trying to change "the system" through presenting their experiences collectively to those agencies or to the public. Indeed, the very point of having MERGE committees to deal with those cases was to collectively discuss and make decisions about what actions to take.
However, as soon as LM got a good work-up on the first contact I sent her (RR, on whose case I had myself spent some time over the summer before she arrived), she announced that she was going to the police to complain about his ex-wife, based on his documents. Without caring whether MERGE already had plans with which hers might be in conflict, she was going to take him over. Perhaps in originally discussing the work she would do here, I focused too much on her research and writing and too little on the "political" efforts to which the results of that research and writing would be applied. In any case, I strongly protested this behavior, making it very plain that I would never have agreed for her to simply use those results for her own purposes rather than for those of MERGE.
The ideal situation would have been for LM to be a member of the MERGE committees, helping us to make these kinds of decisions. But after our blow-up, I did not invite her to the single other committee meeting (of the police group) held that fall. I certainly felt that individuals must make their own decisions about what to do, and with whom, regarding their own cases. I was only insisting that she not make plans for the people I sent her, or try to influence their decisions, without MERGE knowing that they also knew all relevant MERGE plans and prospects. She objected even to this at first, then finally agreed, and dropped her plan to go to the police about RR.
At least, LM said she agreed. It wasn't long before one of her e-mails informed me that she had gone ahead and taken RR's case to the police, in an attempt to get them to charge his ex-wife with perjury. "Trust me, please", she said, "I have not been wrong on this kind of thing." I wrote back demanding to know why she had violated our now-clear understanding. (RR himself told me she had pressured him into agreeing to do it; I have no direct knowledge on that point, of course.) She wrote the police asking them to hold off, then told me it was just to comply with my wishes. As always, I didn't want to risk any conflict with her that could possibly be avoided, so I let it go at that. But I had been told something she was not admitting by RR's lawyer: insisting that the claims to police were based on a spurious conclusion LM had jumped to, she herself had contacted LM demanding that she retract the complaint.
The final betrayal of trust
LM's faux cooperativeness did not last long after that. She told me she was going to meet with SB, the local chief executive for Child Welfare. Getting to know such officials was of value to her independent activism, so that in itself was fine--I had introduced her to some key people myself. But MERGE's Child Welfare Committee had already met as a group with SB (as it had earlier with higher-ups in Child Welfare) on two occasions, and I had talked with him by phone at subsequent times. At the second of the meetings with him, one held during that previous summer, members present outlined their personal troubles with the agency. He agreed at that time to future meetings in which MERGE would make concrete written proposals for changes to Child Welfare policies and procedures, and at which the individual stories of mistreatment would be presented in detailed written form. To the former end, he arranged for us to get copies of some internal policy documents; to the latter end, he promised to give the individuals access to the files on their cases in agency records. (A promise his aides later kept to a very limited degree, claiming an extreme level of constraint from privacy considerations.) A key message of the September committee meeting, then, had been that LM's help on the stories meant the group could have that next meeting with SB fairly soon.
None of this meant anything to LM, however. In her meeting with him, instead of just introducing herself and her own work, she took it on herself to discuss individual cases I had sent her from that MERGE committee. Afterward, she sent him a document giving brief accounts of a half dozen of them, complete with full names--and did so under her own rubric, Parents Helping Parents. Indeed, she sent this sensitive personal information, to judge from the ones I asked, without getting advance permission from any of them to do so. And she certainly had no permission from me to make any such use of the information she had received and researched under paid contract from me.
For me, this was the last straw-bale. Confronted over her actions, she responded with multiple absurd distortions, even trying to pretend she had never agreed not to do such things. (She made such claims as that I had been refusing to talk with her in person or on the telephone--just as if I didn't have witnesses of the former and tapes of the latter.) I decided then that her ways simply would not change. The three-month contract period was almost over, and I told her I was willing to pay her for one more month, if she would agree to several conditions (she had not yet finished any of the write-ups to my satisfaction). With another flurry of rage, she broke off the relationship.
LM's next move was very quick. She began contacting the individuals whose stories were outlined in that document, asking them to meet with her to arrange for her to represent them formally to Child Welfare--and evidently telling them falsehoods about the troubles with me. Learning about these actions, I asked the chair of the MERGE Child Welfare committee to call a quick meeting. To those who came, I merely opposed these efforts of hers to grab away MERGE's contacts and its work; I took what I thought was the high road of not discussing the details of my conflicts with her. (Only later did I decide that that was a mistake, from learning the extent to which a few had believed her falsehoods.) Some of them opted to continue with her as well as with MERGE--which is very understandable given the amount of time LM has, which neither I nor anyone else in MERGE has, to help with their individual troubles. But a large majority of those in that committee remained loyal to MERGE--and those who did accept LM's help eventually left her, over their own conflicts with her and disappointments with her actions on their behalf.
No disruption occurred in the police committee, nor was she able to cause disruption in MERGE as a whole. But early on she had become a member of our sister group, ECMAS, and went to some of its meetings. My greatest fear, shared (to repeat) by others among the regular workers in ECMAS, was that she would attempt to get into a position of power in that group. Apart from such actions by her as mentioned earlier, during a period when the existing president of ECMAS was distracted from his duties by personal troubles, she reportedly told some she would run for the position. There was no danger the regulars would elect her president, but she might easily get onto its board of directors. With her domineering and vindictive behavior, I was convinced, she would destroy the organization, and the thousands of hours we had put into building it up would be lost. I was horribly, horribly fearful of that prospect.
Though not wanting to burden ECMAS with many details of my troubles with LM (she herself was far less reticent, recall), I felt that safety required discussion of my fears for ECMAS with some who attended its monthly planning meeting. When LM learned about this, her rage against me was fired anew. The story of what she did after that is told elsewhere. The philosophy of "by any means necessary" foreshadowed in the events recounted above--her willingness to tell whatever distortion seems at the moment to serve her purposes--was employed against me later on in a horrible, extreme way. Though many details of this conflict are available in e-mail documents alluded to earlier, what I have presented in this short essay tells its essence as I see it.
--F. C. (Originally written in the fall of 2001, with further additions and clarifications made in 2005.)