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Francophone newspaper tried to 'buy my silence,' says former assistant director

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-12-06 Patrick Butler

Newfoundland and Labrador's francophone newspaper, Le Gaboteur, is in turmoil after the sudden firing of its assistant director, Etienne Vuillaume.

The paper's former No. 2, Vuillaume had been slated to take over the publication after the retirement of its current executive director, Jacinthe Tremblay, in just a few weeks.

But last Friday, Vuillaume was fired after just two months on the job.

In an interview in French with CBC/Radio-Canada, Vuillaume said his firing was related to friction between him and Tremblay, but added that "this sort of friction happens in any organization when we are between adults and we have a board of directors with proper governance."

He said he quickly learned Le Gaboteur has "an intolerance toward discussion … toward discussing the problems at the paper."

$5,000 indemnity offered, refused

A letter obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada shows Le Gaboteur's board of directors offered Vuillaume a $5,000 indemnity — equal to a month's salary — to "help in [his] transition to another job." But that offer came with one key condition: Vuillaume would have to keep the details of his firing confidential.

Le Gaboteur's board declined an opportunity to comment on the compensation. But the letter, signed by board president Nathalie Brunet, indicates the newspaper was under no obligation to provide Vuillaume an indemnity, given his stint with the paper lasted less than three consecutive months. Vuillaume disagreed and said he is due money given his contract with the newspaper.

Vuillaume, however, said he saw the offer as an attempt to "buy my silence."

"The newspaper absolutely does not want me to talk about what's wrong with the newspaper and what's wrong with its governance. That's clear to me," he said.

"I could not accept to stay silent, especially given the dysfunction that I saw," he added, without giving examples of that dysfunction other than the fact the paper lacks a formal set of journalistic standards and practices.

"They're internal problems that are serious.… I'd rather keep them to myself," he said. "But this issue isn't over."

'It didn't work out'

Brunet said Le Gaboteur hired Vuillaume last October "with great hopes he would become our next executive director after Jacinthe's retirement."

"We worked with him and it didn't work out. We ended up deciding, regretfully, that we preferred not to work with him anymore."

Brunet added, "The discussions and the process that led to the final decision are private between us [the board] and Etienne."

Tremblay confirmed that despite Vuillaume's firing, she will still step down as executive director, at the end of the month — making sure the Dec. 16 issue — the last before Christmas — makes it to print.

a person sitting at a table in front of a laptop: Etienne Vuillaume was assistant director of Le Gaboteur, Newfoundland and Labrador's lone francophone newspaper, until he was suddenly fired last week. © Provided by cbc.ca Etienne Vuillaume was assistant director of Le Gaboteur, Newfoundland and Labrador's lone francophone newspaper, until he was suddenly fired last week.

Clock ticking on hiring new executive director

Le Gaboteur's board does not expect to fill the void left by Vuillaume's — and soon Tremblay's — departure before sometime in January. A job listing has not yet been posted.

Other than Vuillaume and Tremblay, only one other full-time journalist works for the newspaper.

The first edition of the biweekly paper for 2020 is slated to appear in early January.

"We hope to find someone who will hold us over for the next few weeks," said Brunet.

Le Gaboteur, the province's only francophone newspaper, recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. In August it received the Association de la presse francophone's prize for general excellence in journalistic writing.

"Transitions are always hard. We'll eventually see a transformation [of the paper]," said Brunet. "We'll continue having wonderful adventures; they'll just be a little different."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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