Shamb­hala of­fi­cials of­fer sex scan­dal de­nial

In the wake of a third re­port de­tail­ing sex­ual abuse in the Shamb­hala com­mu­nity, se­nior lead­ers ques­tion the in­ves­ti­ga­tions by An­drea Winn and Carol Mer­chasin.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHANIE DOMET

Se­nior

Shamb­hala lead­ers are now speak­ing out against Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine and the mul­ti­ple re­ports of sex­ual abuse that have been pub­lished over the past sev­eral months.

The third re­port in that se­ries of grass­roots in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which doc­u­ments sev­eral al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault over a pe­riod of decades, ar­rived on Au­gust 23 in a blaze of named-names and of­fi­cial de­nials.

As re­ported ear­lier in The Coast, the phase three re­port in­cludes star­tling al­le­ga­tions from a woman called “Ann,” who says she was sex­u­ally as­saulted by Osel Mukpo—known as Saky­ong Mipham Rin­poche—while mem­bers of his in­ner cir­cle were present.

While in­ves­ti­ga­tor Carol Mer­chasin did not at­tach any names to al­le­ga­tions she could not cor­rob­o­rate, the re­port’s au­thor, An­drea Winn, did. The third re­port con­tains the names of those who are al­leged to have com­mit­ted as­saults, in­clud­ing the men Ann says were in the room on two oc­ca­sions when she was as­saulted.

The nam­ing of names was quick to shake loose a de­nial from the Kalapa coun­cil— Shamb­hala’s gov­ern­ing body—which stepped down in July but is still in­volved while a tran­si­tion team works to as­sem­ble a new board.

“We want to be clear to you, our com­mu­nity, that based on the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided, Shamb­hala, the Saky­ong and the four board mem­bers named in these al­le­ga­tions cat­e­gor­i­cally deny the sub­stance of the al­le­ga­tions, which are not only un­founded, but are each based on spec­u­la­tive and un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims,” says the state­ment, which is signed by coun­cil mem­bers and is­sued by Hiltzik Strate­gies, the PR firm rep­re­sent­ing Shamb­hala In­ter­na­tional.

No one from the Kalapa coun­cil was avail­able to take ques­tions on the emailed state­ment.

This is the first de­nial from the saky­ong or the Kalapa coun­cil of any of the al­le­ga­tions in the Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine re­ports, and it stands in con­trast to Mukpo’s ear­lier apolo­gies for his ac­tions to in­di­vid­ual sur­vivors and to the com­mu­nity at large.

Mukpo has now en­gaged a crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer, Michael Scott at Pat­ter­son Law in Hal­i­fax. Scott has not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment on be­half of his client.

Mean­while, some Shamb­hala com­mu­nity mem­bers are also speak­ing out against the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A core mem­ber of the saky­ong’s trav­el­ing staff from 2005, who has asked for anonymity, says on Face­book that though his ex­pe­ri­ence with Carol Mer­chasin dur­ing her in­ves­ti­ga­tion was “pro­fes­sional,” she should have asked him about the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

In­stead, Mer­chasin asked about a con­ver­sa­tion he po­ten­tially had with Ann fol­low­ing one of the al­leged as­saults. Ann re­mem­bered hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the man in ques­tion af­ter the as­sault, but she didn’t men­tion him as some­one who could cor­rob­o­rate the as­sault it­self.

The man told Mer­chasin the con­ver­sa­tion never hap­pened. Mer­chasin says she rushed to in­clude the man’s ev­i­dence in the lat­est BPS re­port, and vet­ted the pub­lished com­ments with him be­fore the third re­port was re­leased.

Once the re­port came out, the man says he felt “ob­li­gated to com­mu­ni­cate the truth.”

His Face­book post says that the al­le­ga­tions in the re­port are “demon­stra­bly, to­tally, al­most com­i­cally false.” In an email to The Coast, the man also says he was “dis­ap­pointed” to have only been asked about the con­ver­sa­tion with A nn, and not the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

“I have no in­ter­est in defending the Saky­ong for the sake of defending him; I am in no po­si­tion to dis­pute al­le­ga­tions for which I was not present and I am in­clined to be­lieve re­ports of claimants as a mat­ter of course,” he told The Coast. “But in this par­tic­u­lar case, I have direct knowl­edge that cer­tain spe­cific events did not hap­pen, and it felt like I was in a unique po­si­tion to cor­rect what I know to be in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion.”

Carol Mer­chasin says she’s been clear from the beginning that her in­ves­ti­ga­tions are pre­lim­i­nary.

“In­ves­ti­ga­tions are rarely lin­ear. There is a lot of cir­cling back,” Mer­chasin says. “One of the pur­poses of do­ing this pub­licly was to give ev­ery­one an op­por­tu­nity to then come for­ward and say I know some­thing that I want to share.”

Selina Bath at Wick­wire Holm will pre­sum­ably have more ac­cess to Mukpo’s in­ner cir­cle—ac­cess that was ex­pressly de­nied Mer­chasin her­self—as the Hal­i­fax law firm con­tin­ues its third-party in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the BPS find­ings.

“Selina will have the op­por­tu­nity to speak to the men who were present in the room,” says Mer­chasin. “So she will have the op­por­tu­nity to get more in­for­ma­tion and she will have to make an as­sess­ment.”

Wick­wire Holm is con­duct­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion with Shamb­hala USA as its client. Bath and her in­ves­ti­ga­tors will re­port di­rectly to Alex Halpern, who has been Shamb­hala’s lawyer since 1990 and also rep­re­sents Mukpo’s fa­ther in law.

SUB­MIT­TED

Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine au­thor An­drea Winn.

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