Open Letters to the Canadian HEMA Community


Response to the Recent Attacks on Academie Duello

August 2020

To our students, friends, and colleagues,

The greater HEMA community has recently been fractured by a set of coordinated attacks against Academie Duello and our Director, Devon Boorman. These attacks were initiated by a small group of coordinated individuals at a competing school who have been working together for over two years to develop a culture of divisiveness against our school and our instructors. As a community, we have been troubled by the behaviour of these individuals. After more than two years of ongoing harassment and defamation from this group and a recent threat of escalation, our administration recently made a stand against this hostile behavior in an open letter to the community. Our open letter, which invited collaboration and respectful dialogue rather than hostility, was countered by the public attack of a few weeks ago.

We are providing a timeline and responding to the individual allegations in this message in order to help our members and supporters make sense of this difficult and fraught situation. The attack on Academie Duello has hurt more than just our staff and instructors — it has caused pain and confusion to the whole community. We are deeply saddened by this. We hope that interested third-parties, colleagues, and concerned community members will read carefully and ask questions if necessary before making their own informed conclusions.

Background

The staff and instructors of Academie Duello care deeply about our school being a welcoming space for anyone who is enthusiastic about learning, teaching, or sharing swordplay in the way we offer it. Over its 16-year history, Academie Duello has built an international reputation for being welcoming, empowering, and compassionate to all who train with us. In our earnest work to ensure that our actions reflect these values, we responded professionally and in good faith when members of the above-mentioned group, then Academie Duello instructors, first brought concerns to us in late 2017.

This initial set of concerns and Academie Duello’s efforts to respond in a way that was ethical, fair, and complied with British Columbia employment and privacy laws, is the focal point for much of the current conflict.

Because this current series of accusations reaches back into events from the past, we are providing a timeline to help clarify things:

Late 2017

  • In 2017 we created a new Bullying and Harassment Policy to make a more formal channel for concerns to be raised by students or staff.
  • Our first Bullying and Harassment policy Supervisor became a close associate of the core group of people who have instigated the current series of attacks.
  • This Supervisor, acting beyond the scope of their position or experience, chose to conduct an investigation that specifically targeted a particular instructor at the school.

Early 2018

  • In early 2018, the Supervisor demanded the termination of the instructor in question. At this time, the Supervisor:
    • refused to provide evidence of misconduct,
    • had not spoken to the targeted instructor as part of their investigation.
  • The course of action the Supervisor insisted on would have been not only an unethical application of Academie Duello’s policy but a violation of BC employment standards and the Human Rights Code of Canada.
  • In an attempt to honour the concerns that had been raised, we hired a third-party law firm that specializes in employment investigations, Roper Greyell.

February to June 2018

  • All information collected by the Supervisor was passed to the appointed investigator at Roper Greyell. The original Supervisor left Academie Duello and a new internal Supervisor, a staff member not involved directly in any complaints, was appointed to liaise with Roper Greyell. Devon Boorman was not at any point Academie Duello’s liaison to Roper Greyell.
  • To determine whether broader issues existed, Roper Greyell was directed to investigate beyond the initial concerns and to look into any cultural problems that might exist at the school beyond violations of policy or Canadian law. This was above and beyond what was required legally, but was done in the interest of uncovering any systemic or cultural issues that might have led to the feelings expressed by the instigating group.
  • The third-party investigation by Roper Greyell took place from February to June 2018 and cost the school more than $45,000.
  • During the investigation that was created specifically to address their concerns, the instigating group:
    • began spreading rumours within Academie Duello and the local community;
    • refused to respect confidentiality, in violation of BC law;
    • changed the nature of their claims; and
    • stated they would refuse to accept the outcome of the professional third-party investigation.
  • Before the conclusion of the investigation this instigating group left Academie Duello. Some have since become teachers at Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly, a club headed by two former Academie Duello instructors who left the Academie before 2012 and have not been involved in its management since.

2018 to Present

  • The four-month investigation concluded there was no misconduct or wrongdoing.
  • From the expanded investigation we received important feedback about how to improve our culture and create a more welcoming atmosphere at Academie Duello.
  • These recommendations were communicated to staff and students and implemented throughout the remainder of 2018. These resulted in the following updated Student Code of Conduct, Instructor Code of Conduct, and revised Respectful Workplace Policy. The instigating group chose not to engage in this process.
  • Despite the results of the third-party investigation, rumour spreading and harassment towards Duello and its leadership has continued since 2018. These aggressions have in particular aimed to boycott Academie Duello’s events and to attempt to bar Academie Duello instructors from participation in events hosted by other organizations.

Spring 2020

  • In an initial meeting intended to explore the formation of a proposed Canadian HEMA Federation, Valkyrie leadership attempted to block the admission of Academie Duello and Devon Boorman in the group.
  • They additionally blocked the suggestion that women leaders from three different schools within the Canadian HEMA community be invited to join the group, despite the fact that their representative was the only woman at the initial meeting.
  • Following this meeting, Valkyrie’s leadership released a video that misrepresented the nature of the situation and Devon Boorman’s words and actions in the group. Further, they attempted to dictate who should be allowed to represent Academie Duello in the not-yet-formed Canadian HEMA Federation, and threatened an escalation of hostility towards Academie Duello.

Summer 2020

  • Academie Duello published the open letter to the community speaking out against harassment and bullying behaviour.
  • Within weeks, Valkyrie members released a series of allegations against Academie Duello and Devon Boorman through social media.

In order to respond thoroughly to these attacks we have listed the allegations below, with our response.

Allegation: Academie Duello leadership has purposefully ignored concerns by women regarding sexual harassment.

These claims are patently false.

  • All concerns that have been brought to us have been professionally addressed and investigated at all points in our history.
  • The investigation in 2018 did not stem from a complaint of sexual harassment.
  • During the investigation of 2018, we invited the investigator to explore broader cultural issues that could include sexual harassment or misconduct. None were found. Sexual harassment as a topic was raised only in rumour and vague accusations once the investigation was underway and at no point were these allegations brought to the investigator or to Academie Duello management.

Allegation: The current accusers did not participate in the 2018 investigation because they could not be assured of privacy or confidentiality.

The investigation, performed by a professional investigator at the Roper Greyell law firm, was completely private and confidential.

  • The Academie Duello liaison was not the Director, nor anyone involved in accusations;
  • The interviews were not conducted by Academie Duello’s staff, nor with any Academie Duello staff present;
  • The interviews were conducted by the third-party investigator under the guidelines of BC law;
  • The interviews remain confidential to this day: no one at Academie Duello can see the individual interviews, nor do we have any idea what any party said about us.

Allegation: Academie Duello has attempted to “bury the results” of the investigator’s findings.

Following the conclusion of the investigation, Academie Duello shared the recommendations of the investigator with its community and began the process of implementing that guidance.

The employment laws and privacy laws of British Columbia prohibit the school and its staff from communicating about specific allegations or investigations without the express permission of all parties involved, which makes it illegal and unethical to release any specific information about the findings.

This has created confusion for some who would prefer greater transparency than what is legally allowed. This expectation has allowed misinformation to spread, as some attempt to fill in the gaps of what they know with rumours. The persistence of these rumours has compelled us to work with the investigator again, at our expense, to release a new summary report of findings beyond what they initially advised us to release. We hope this will provide an adequate view into the conscientious fashion with which we approach all such concerns.

You can read that report here.


Allegation: Academie Duello has actively suppressed women’s voices.

Academie Duello has actively sought to create opportunities for women in instruction and leadership. Our student and instructor base of active long-term members includes more than 40% women, which is far greater than what is typically found in HEMA or martial arts in general.

In the initial meeting of the group working to form a Canadian HEMA Federation, Devon Boorman recognized that women were under-represented in the group. He proposed three different women, who are leaders at different not yet represented schools, be invited to join. These proposals were blocked by the representative from Valkyrie.

After this meeting, Devon Boorman arranged with a woman who is a leader at Academie Duello, and who also runs her own school, to take his place in the HEMA Federation group. Her inclusion was met with hostility from the Valkyrie representative.

Throughout this campaign, the accusers themselves have silenced numerous women’s voices. They have harassed women who attempted to respond on Duello’s behalf and erased women with different perspectives than theirs from their accounts of recent and past events.


Allegation: Academie Duello’s Director is has acted inappropriately towards women.

There are specific accusations against Devon Boorman that have been addressed by him directly here.

Devon Boorman has not engaged in inappropriate behavior towards women, and in fact has worked extensively to support and advocate for women in the HEMA community. This accusation is a gross mischaracterization that seeks to tie Devon Boorman to the accusers’ larger narrative of misogyny at Duello, which stands in distinct contrast to the experiences of the vast majority of Duello members and patrons.


Doing Our Part

Though we have felt it was necessary to respond directly to the false allegations presented against us, our desire as a school, as a staff, and as instructors is for our energy and the energy of the community to be aimed at improving and expanding how we welcome people to the art of swordplay.

We recognize that sexism is a systemic problem to which no institution is immune. Throughout our history we have attempted to empower, employ, and promote women from within our community. We are proud that those efforts have led to our having a teaching staff and student base composed of more than 40% female-identifying and non-binary individuals when most martial arts schools struggle to retain more than 10%. Of course, there is always more work to do. We continue to educate ourselves and to reduce what barriers we can for people in our community impacted by systemic oppression. At every stage of our growth from a casual club, to a school, to a larger institution we have made our best efforts to hear concerns and act on them responsibly. We can assure you that every concern that was brought to the attention of our staff was investigated and addressed professionally and with outside counsel wherever necessary.

As a business, a school, a social group, and an employer, we do our best to navigate the complicated waters of legal, privacy, and ethical obligations, while fostering a healthy community that supports its members’ personal growth. We cannot promise that all resolutions will meet the needs of all individuals, but we do promise to continue to take all concerns seriously and to learn and grow each step of the way.

If anyone has a concern about an interaction at our school, we encourage them to bring it to an Academie Duello staff member or instructor, or to send it confidentially to our general manager. All such concerns are addressed in accordance with our Respectful Workplace Policy and in accordance with the privacy and confidentiality laws of British Columbia. We continue to consult with third-party experts and external investigators whenever needed. If someone has a concern regarding an illegal act, we recommend that be taken up with the appropriate authority.

Though it is our responsibility to make our environment safe, we cannot guarantee that it will meet everyone’s needs, match everyone’s philosophies, or make everyone feel comfortable. Martial arts and the learning process itself are uncomfortable. We do our best to empower those who are in our community to make the right choices for themselves about how and where they train. We celebrate the existence of diverse options so that all who desire to can enjoy these arts we cherish.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Academie Duello Team

Director's Response to Personal Attacks on His Character

August 2020

Dear students, friends, and colleagues,

Over the past few weeks I have been the subject of a series of coordinated attacks and rumours that are an escalation of a more than 2 year campaign that has sought to damage my career, my school, and me personally. These attacks come from a small, interlinked circle of students and instructors at Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly, a direct competitor of Academie Duello. There are no accusations from other schools or event organizations in which I have been involved.

I can appreciate that many people are confused, concerned or angered by the types of accusations levelled at me. Everyone wants to do their part and do the right thing, and as myself and Academie Duello have prided ourselves, often publicly, on our inclusivity, people want to know – and have the right to know – that their trust isn’t misplaced.

I hope that you can understand how responding to these types of accusations is difficult, especially when the people involved have worked hard to paint me in the worst light and undermine any response I might make as “gaslighting.” I know people wanted a faster response, but it was necessary for me to pause, reflect, and get advice from people I trust so I could respond in a way that most represented my values and didn’t perpetuate more hostility.

In these recent weeks my and the school’s supporters have been treated brutally in the HEMA community when they have stepped up to offer their own firsthand accounts that challenge the narrative of the accusers, or even simply shared Duello’s Open Letter speaking out against bullying and harassment. It has been disheartening to see how people with little to no firsthand knowledge of me or the school have piled on, perpetuated harm, silenced voices, and added to the atmosphere of anger and fear in our community. This has included hostile language, online harassment, banning people from group discussions for offering respectful counter-perspective, and even threats.

For me personally, besides the emotional pain and shock they have caused me, these accusations have done significant damage to my career and the school that I have put so much of my personal time, money, and life energy into developing over the last 16 years. My desire has simply been to share my passion for swordplay and the journey of mastery with anyone who is also inspired by this art. It makes me angry and deeply sad that there has been so much damage done under the righteous guise of causes I care deeply about.

I do not pretend to be a perfect leader or person, even if I have sought to be. Like all of you, I have been doing my work to learn and grow in a world that is increasingly more attuned to the plight of oppressed groups. Our world is changing and evolving fast. There are ways that I would approach things different today than I would have 5 or 10 years ago.

Part of the problem with the interrelated letters posted on the internet is that they weave together a small number of spurious allegations, rumours, and complaints from across a decade to create the semblance of a persistent, ugly pattern of predatory behaviour. In all of this, the only clear accusation of misconduct toward me in these accounts is of allegedly grabbing a student’s bum during a hug while supposedly intoxicated at a work party in 2013.

I did not do this. This kind of behaviour would be completely out of character for me, and I rarely drink or get drunk–especially not at professional events.

A small number of people have also said that I made them feel uncomfortable with comments or information I shared with them about myself or my relationships. They have made their own decisions about what they felt was my motivation for sharing this information. None of these concerns were raised with me directly at any time prior to these attacks, so I can only unilaterally apologize if anything I have done or said made people uncomfortable, it was not my intent. I have been and continue to be open to respectful dialogue and opportunities to make meaningful repair in relationships where there has been hurt or misunderstanding.

That is the extent of the allegations of impropriety against me.

There are accusations that in my role as the leader of Academie Duello that I suppressed women’s voices and ignored issues raised with me. This is not the case. Any time an issue has been brought to me directly or passed up to me I have treated it with respect and involved outside professional counsel to help with anything of a sensitive nature, or where bias may influence the assessment (my own, or others).

I am bound by my personal ethics and the privacy laws of British Columbia to not disclose the details of any issues that we have addressed without the express consent of all parties involved. For this reason I believe some issues that were addressed in the school have resurfaced in the form of rumours as people seek to fill in the details for themselves. We are working as a team now to determine how to best close the loop on concerns when they are addressed while meeting our obligations for privacy and confidentiality.

Though I am a prominent member, Academie Duello is a team effort. The school is a large organization that sees as many as 3000-5000 customers in a year, served by an administrative staff and team of 30 instructors. Though some might wish I was omniscient and omnipresent I am not. Please read Academie Duello’s response to the accusations against it, as an institution, to learn more about the process that the school has followed before and throughout this extended conflict.

In the last few days an account of an investigation and disciplinary action from 2019 has been posted online without complete details. I am sad that the person who shared their story feels that the harm they experienced was not fully or appropriately addressed. At the time, we fully investigated the allegations in a professional and confidential manner with outside consultation with a professional lawyer and psychologist. Based on that guidance, and with consultation and consent of all parties (including the victim), we built a disciplinary action for the instructor in question that involved him losing his full-time employment and retaining only limited involvement as a teacher with set boundaries for his behaviour, rehabilitation, and repair.

I care about restorative justice, and the role of martial arts for learning and growth. I work always to see the best in people and to find paths forward that bring the greatest good without putting labour on those who have been harmed. I do not feel that I have done this perfectly but I have sought to do my best and to learn each step of the way. I am always open to respectful feedback and am not afraid of doing the hard work to grow or make amends where that is needed, which I intend to do here.

I continue to stand against bullying and harassment as a means to achieve any result. I cannot condone and will not participate in any form of communication that involves defamation, misinformation, rumours, and hostility. I do not believe these behaviours can lead to true healing for anyone involved. If you want to have a respectful conversation about any of these matters with me, please feel free to reach out.

Thank you to everyone who has offered their support through this profoundly challenging time, I have truly appreciated it. Great efforts are needed to help make swordplay accessible to people everywhere and that is where I intend to keep putting my energy. I hope that is something we can all do collaboratively.

Thank you,
Devon Boorman
Director, Academie Duello

July 17th Message from the Director

July 17th, 2020

Hello,

I’d like to address some of the rumours perpetuated in response to the below open letter.

The investigation that we conducted in 2018 was not instigated due to any concerns over sexual misconduct. We did, however, invite the investigators to go beyond their initial scope to help us determine if there were any broader cultural challenges or concerns. In particular the concern that had been raised was misogyny, which was surprising to us as we have always had a very diverse school and leadership (between 40-50% women and many non-binary folks). However, as stated above, we moved forward in good faith.

At no point in the investigation was I a subject of any complaints. The investigation was conducted externally and I was not the internal liaison, to help ensure there would be no bias. The investigators extensively followed the leads that were given in interviews and invited anonymous submission. Academie Duello does not have an accounting of individual interviews or subjects (they are held with the investigator) as they are confidential to protect all participants in the process. At the end of the investigation we received a report with conclusions and advice. I hope that all schools and employers treat concerns raised as seriously as we do and where necessary bring in third parties to help lead a fair and appropriate resolution process.

Rumours being perpetuated that the investigation was somehow investigating me, or that the subject was sexual harassment, are factually untrue in all regards and highlight the damaging and insidious nature of rumour.

If someone spreads such a rumour to you, they are committing libel or slander. If you share that rumour, you are also committing libel or slander.

We learned from the investigation that there were people in our school who were upset and disgruntled about: lack of closure around concerns raised, clarity on policies around personal relationships, and the process for raising concerns itself. Most of these people stayed with us and we worked together to integrate the recommendations of the investigators and to improve our policies and culture. That some chose to leave and not be a part of this process was their decision.

Rumours, spurious internet speculation, and hostility do not help those in need nor do they help organizations or individuals to improve. They only bring more aggression and polarization into our community. If you hear a rumour, do not amplify it; instead follow it back. Ask the questions of the person sharing the rumour:

  • “Do you have a direct basis for this claim?”
  • “If you are not the complainant, can something be done to help the complainant come forward on a channel that can help them?”

If there is no complaint or complainant ensure the rumour ends there. In initial fact-finding around concerns, we have frequently found situations where a concern was being raised “on behalf of someone else.” When the third party was consulted the story turned out to be different; there was no concern or resolution being sought. This is why it is so important that we support and empower anyone with a concern to be directly involved in bringing it forward.

We want to support people who have concerns and we also want to support organizations in receiving and addressing those concerns. Rumour-spreading creates a hostile environment for all. It undermines investigations, and makes it unsafe for people with legitimate concern to feel they can have those concerns addressed confidentially. It also undermines the motivation for organizations to conduct appropriate investigations if, regardless of their conduct, they continue to be damaged through rumours and harassment.

I am in support of feedback, consultation, resolution, and growth. I am not in support of adding more misinformation and aggression into the world.

Devon Boorman
Director, Academie Duello

A Call to Action Against Bullying and Harassment in HEMA

A Call to Action Against Bullying and Harassment in HEMA – July 11, 2020

For the past two years, Academie Duello, its leadership, and its instructors have been the target of harassment, rumour-spreading and hostility. This recently expanded to broader bullying of others in the HEMA community during the efforts of schools across Canada to form a Canadian HEMA federation.

Academie Duello is a welcoming and diverse community of women, men and non-binary individuals. Our community includes folks from many races and cultures and we have instructors from diverse backgrounds. In fact, more women instructors have launched from Academie Duello than any other school in the global HEMA community.

While we were excited and optimistic about the formation of a Canadian HEMA Federation, this process was derailed in its infancy by efforts of the Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly leadership to use the forum as a means to air personal hostilities towards us and to manipulate the group in an effort to control certain key aspects of the Federation. This included seeking to dictate which schools or members of those schools should be allowed to participate based on vague and unfounded accusations. These actions are a part of a larger campaign against Academie Duello initiated by a group of former Duello staff members and their allies.

Two years ago, when this group first levied their accusations, we took them seriously and in good faith. To ensure that the process would be confidential and unbiased, we hired a reputable third party to conduct an investigation. In the thorough, months-long process that followed no wrongdoing was found. Regardless, we chose to engage with our students and instructors to review and strengthen our Code of Conduct, revise workplace policies, and ensure that our staff are trained in a manner that fits our values and those we want upheld in the community.

There is a place for public criticism and complaint. We believe strongly in open communication and constructive resolution. There must be safe avenues for communicating and addressing concerns in an unbiased and fair manner. Academie Duello has been true to this and continues to be so. In spite of this, this same group has continued to defame us and coerce the community at large. This is bullying in the guise of righteousness.

We recognize that any resolution may not be to the satisfaction or in line with the philosophies of all parties. That is why it is good that there are many different schools and organizations where people can practice. We support diversity. We do not condone smearing and harassment by any individual or institution.

In our important work to create a safe environment for all HEMA practitioners, it is vital that we draw a boundary that insists on open discussion and resolution without innuendo, harassment, or intimidation. We call on all members of the Canadian HEMA community to hold each other accountable for a higher standard of communication and behaviour.

Academie Duello Transition Committee