Last month allegations about sexist and racist workplace behaviour were levelled at former Cloverdale Rodeo GM Mike MacSorley.
Now three South Asians have come forward to say the allegations of racism—made in an anonymous complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal—are hard to believe.
When Yogesh Bansal first heard about the allegations he felt hurt.
“I didn’t know how to respond,” Bansal told the Cloverdale Reporter. “I wanted to shout out ‘that’s not who he is!’ And I didn’t know how to do that. But it’s absolutely not true and I want to tell people.”
Bansal, the controller for the Cloverdale Rodeo, said MacSorley hired him in 2013 and he worked alongside the former GM for seven-plus years. He said MacSorley may have had an abrasive nature, but he was not racist.
Bansal disagrees with the allegations of racism in the Human Rights complaint (filed “on behalf of workers and volunteers” by lawyer Rachel Roy) and feels MacSorley didn’t have “blatantly racist views of South Asian people,” as the complaint contends.
“In my eight years, I have not once felt I was racially discriminated [against] at all. I don’t think he’s a racist.”
Bansal said he doesn’t want an apology and cringes at the thought of being given one by the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Association. (Bansal was indirectly named in the complaint, even though, he insists, he is not a part of the anonymous complaint.)
Bansal clarified he doesn’t know how others feel about MacSorley, but he said he never once felt that MacSorley thought less of him, or that MacSorley discriminated against him because of his race. Bansal said he’s also had several other South Asian friends and acquaintances that also know MacSorley ask Bansal if Bansal wanted them to speak out against the allegations.
Bansal added MacSorley had close contacts and great relationships with many South Asian contractors and suppliers too.
He said he doesn’t think the Association failed to respond to issues of race-based harassment regarding himself, because he didn’t witness any.
“If I ever felt, for one day, I would’ve left this job, if there was any racism happening from Mike MacSorley.”
He said it isn’t true that “MacSorley was permitted to poison the work environment for employees and volunteers with his blatant racism,” as the complaint contends.
“I’m a CPA. I have worked at different organizations from time to time. The eight years I’ve worked here, I would characterize, have been the best.”
Bansal also disagrees with a part of the complaint that indirectly names Bansal. The complaint alleges, “MacSorley frequently made racist remarks targeting South Asian people. Often these remarks targeted the Association’s accountant who is also the only racialized employee who shared office space with Mr. MacSorley.”
“They were not racist remarks,” said Bansal. “We had disagreements at times, but he has been a wonderful person to work with. And it hurts to see what is happening around here, especially with racism, because I don’t feel he’s racist.”
Bansal said he never felt “targeted.” He said he never heard the term “carpet rider,” before. “I didn’t know what that meant. I never heard him say that.”
He also said he was never subjected to and didn’t witness any “racist tirades” about MacSorley’s thoughts on “a connection between race and crime.” Bansal said he never heard MacSorley say “if we want to cut down on crime, we have to get rid of the South Asians; they’re all killing each other anyway.”
Bansal said he also doesn’t agree with the allegation MacSorley “refused to interview or hire anyone he believed to have an Indo-Canadian name.”
“When it says [as alleged in complaint] he would not hire anybody with a South Asian name, it’s very hard to believe. I find it impossible to believe.”
He said both he and MacSorley hired many supervisors for Rodeo weekend that were South Asian.
“There were tonnes of volunteers and he had good relationships with them.” Bansal said he didn’t sit in on meetings, but was well aware of and saw how MacSorley treated volunteers and spoke about them.
“My wife worked here for Rodeo weekend for four years in a row,” explained Bansal. “If I ever felt it was not a good workplace, I would not hire her to work as a supervisor. That says something. And (MacSorley) knew my wife. He knew my kids by first names. He knew what they liked. And my kids knew him.” Bansal noted not one boss in any of his previous workplaces knew his kids’ names, nor did his kids know any of his previous bosses.
“He would go out of his way to get to know people. Not just me. Other people in the office too. He would know their families. He would go out of the way to understand where people are coming from. It hurts to even think about how he would be feeling right now.”
In an email to the Reporter, Rodeo contractor Baljit Sabharwal, CEO of Copytek Print Centres, said he never witnessed any racism from MacSorley. Copytek has had the print contract for the Rodeo for several years.
Sabharwal said he was confused when he first heard about the allegations of racism because he had such a good relationship with MacSorley. Sabharwal also said he doesn’t believe the allegation, “MacSorley refused to interview or hire anyone he believed to have an Indo-Canadian name.”
“I can’t believe that this could be true,” said Sabharwal. “The accountant we dealt with at the Cloverdale Rodeo had an Indian name.”
Sabharwal said he was only speaking about his dealings with MacSorley and added he didn’t feel any tension from MacSorley regarding race.
“In all my dealings with the Cloverdale Rodeo, I have never experienced or witnessed any type of racism, nor any racialized words from any of the administrative team,” said Sabharwal. “Our personal and professional relationship has been kind, courteous, and respectful and no one has ever made me feel that I am South Asian or Indo Canadian or racially different. It’s one of the reasons why the Rodeo has been a valued client.”
Sabharwal wrote that he is a very active community member, including being a former director with the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, a past president of the Indo Canadian Business Association, and a former judge for the Surrey Board of Trade Business Excellence Awards. And Sabharwal was also part of the team that helped create the Clovies gala event several years ago.
“I would meet Mike a few times a year at different business networking events,” Sabharwal said. “When I became a director of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, he would take the time to come over and meet with me and converse. Our relationship was mutually respectful and professional.”
Jas Chhina said he was shocked to hear about the allegations of racism against MacSorley.
“It’s preposterous,” Chhina said, “and also ridiculous. I’ve known these guys since 2009 and I can say without hesitation, they are not racists. I know (MacSorley) personally. He may come across as difficult, but he’s not racist.”
Chhina owns Cloverdale’s Holiday Inn and would see MacSorley and Rodeo board members at least twice a month at the restaurant there and more when Rodeo weekend was on.
“We had a very diverse staff at the hotel,” said Chhina. “Obviously the guys respected me as an owner, but they respected every other person and treated my staff with the utmost courtesy.”
Chhina—who is now building a banquet hall in South Surrey at King George and 32nd Avenue—said he’s angry the court of public opinion has passed judgment on the Rodeo and MacSorley.
“This is the first time, without any proof of allegations that I have seen, that the people have made a decision. That’s what flabbergasts me. I’m not a criminal until proven guilty.”
Chhina said he’d feel differently if MacSorley and Rodeo board members respected Chhina as a business owner, but then treated other South Asians poorly.
“All the people that I know that are associated with (the Rodeo) and are South Asian have the same reaction,” explained Chhina. “I know these guys from way back. They see beyond the colour of the skin.”
He added that while he’s seen MacSorley at both his best and worst, he’s never witnessed any racism. He noted his relationship with MacSorley and other board members has been strictly business.
“I’m not their buddy. I’m giving them no concessions,” Chhina said. “Even if there was the slightest thing, I’d say so now because now’s my time, right? But not at all.”
MacSorley could not be reached for comment by publication time.