• Western paid three external firms for services in relation to the Amit Chakma pay controversy

  • Navigator, one of Canada''s leading crisis management firms, received 2/3 of the total money spent

  • Two London law firms consulted on employment law and compensation matters

  • Western''s bill for external public relations and legal advice in relation to President Amit Chakma''s pay controversy came to nearly $100,000.

After intense public backlash to the news Chakma received double his annual salary in 2014 when the Sunshine List was revealed, three firms were used by Western to provide public relations and legal advice.

The firms include: Navigator, a public relations firm; Hicks Morley, a law firm; and Filion, Wakely, Thorup and Angeletti, also a law firm. The University disclosed the use of the firms and their cost to The Gazette on Wednesday after multiple requests since the controversy began.

Leading Canadian PR firm used by University

In total, the University spent $96,182. Navigator Ltd. received $65,026, two-thirds of the total spent. Navigator is based out of Toronto and bills itself as "Canada’s leading high-stakes public strategy and communications firm" for "when you can''t afford to lose."

Chirag Shah, chair of the board of governors, explained in a phone interview on Thursday — that was listened in on by Western's director of media relations — that the University began using Navigator on April 1, the same day Chakma refunded $440,000 to the University and the board announced an external review of the president''s compensation. Shah said Navigator was chosen by the University''s legal counsel.

When asked if Navigator were the ones controlling the public relations effort after April 1, Shah said, "that''s probably mischaracterizing it. They were good advisors overall to the administration and the board with respect to certain matters."

Shah said Navigator provided an external viewpoint on what was happening on social media and electronic media so the University could understand the nature of discourse on campus and decide appropriate next steps.

A more detailed version of President Chakma''s schedule provided to The Gazette shows he met with representatives from Navigator at 11 a.m. on April 8. That was two days prior to the Senate meeting where he made his first public appearance since the controversy began. At the meeting, which was moved to a larger venue to accommodate hundreds of spectators, Chakma apologized for receiving double his salary and promised to embark on a 100-day plan to engage the Western community.

Two law firms consulted on employment law

Two law firms were also consulted in response to the controversy about Chakma''s compensation. Hicks Morley, a law firm with offices in London devoted to "representing employers on human resources law and advocacy issues" received $24,584.

In addition, Filion, Wakely, Thorup and Angeletti, who are "experts in labour and employment law" with offices in London, received $6,572 for their services. Both firms are used on an ongoing basis by the University, particularly Hicks Morley, who have been used on compensation arrangements "for quite some time," according to Shah. Calls to all three firms were not immediately returned.

Chair defends use of external PR firm as "fiscally responsible"

While Western has a full-time media relations team and several personnel working in the president''s office, Shah said Navigator was necessary in this instance to gather information about the scope of the crisis facing the University and the possible damage to its brand.

“I think that this was very much in the best interest of the University to deal with this problem as quickly as possible and addressing the issues that were raised on campus," said Shah. "In absence of addressing that rapidly, I would hate to see the damage to both our brand and our reputation … so I think it was a very necessary activity."

Shah explained that they use consultants on a regular basis because they don''t have the means to have full-time expertise on everything that the institution faces. "I think that’s very fiscally responsible given the nature of activity and interest in some of these issues that the University face," Shah said. "I think it was in the University’s best interest to ensure we are dealing with these as quickly as possible and moving forward as an institution.”

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