By Roger Annis, New Cold War.org, March 23, 2016
International concert pianist superstar Valentina Lisitsa will make something of a triumphant return to Toronto on Sunday, April 10 when she performs at a concert hosted by the Royal Conservatory of Music. The 3 pm concert will take place at the Conservatory’s magnificent Koerner Hall.
The concert will take place one year after two concert performances featuring Lisitsa with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra were outrageously cancelled by TSO President Jeff Melanson.
Melanson came under intense pressure to ban Lisitsa’s performances by the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The extreme-right group was upset with Lisitsa’s outspoken opposition to the civil war in eastern Ukraine being prosecuted by the governing regime in Kyiv. The regime came to power in a violent coup against Ukraine’s elected president in February 2014.
The April 10 concert is hosted by the Royal Conservatory of Music, one of Canada’s oldest and most venerated cultural institutions. Lisitsa will perform pieces by three Russian composers–Alexander Scriabin, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov.
Coincidentally, Lisitsa’s return to Toronto finds TSO President Jeff Melanson mired in a bitter divorce with Eleanor McCain, a talented and successful singer and a member of one of Canada’s wealthiest families. McCain has filed for an annulment of her nine-month marriage to Melanson in the spring of 2014, saying that he married her for her money and influence and to escape sexual harassment allegations from his time as director of the Banff Centre, a prominent arts institution in Canada located west of Calgary in the Rocky Mountains.
Melanson informed McCain via email in January 2015 that he wanted out of the marriage. Below are two lengthy articles from earlier this month in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail reporting on the marital dispute. The Star reports, “In her application for annulment, Eleanor McCain describes Jeff Melanson as a remorseless manipulator who fired employees unjustly, boozed during business hours and provided jobs for his romantic partners.”
The story of the political firestorm surrounding the banning of Valentina Lisitsa’s concerts with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in April 2015 is compiled on the New Cold War.org website. Do a search on the website under ‘Valentina Lisitsa’ for all the details, including Lisitsa’s continued, forceful opposition to the war that has been visited upon the people of eastern Ukraine by their own, nominal government in Kyiv.
McCain and Melanson: An arts-world marriage unravels
The high-profile arts administrator Jeff Melanson got married and took a job with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra because he was facing harassment allegations and administrative problems at the Banff Centre, his estranged wife alleges in a court document.
The 34-page court application filed by Eleanor McCain is packed with allegations of behind-the-scenes abuses and misconduct at three major arts organizations where Mr. Melanson has worked in the past decade – the National Ballet School, the Banff Centre and the TSO.
The filing describes Mr. Melanson as a leader who sparked sexual harassment complaints, put female partners on the payroll, drank on the job, fired people unjustly and sought an escape route from the Banff Centre, leaving it in the lurch with his abrupt resignation. “The real reasons for Jeff’s departure from [Banff] were his harassment of female employees and his inability to deliver on his grandiose plans,” the document alleges.
The claims have not been tested in court. When contacted, Mr. Melanson, who has seen the document, responded: “This is grossly inaccurate; what she said is grossly inaccurate, incredibly undignified, and it saddens me. I will be responding in due course, but that will be through the courts and not through the press.”
Mr. Melanson declined to comment on the specific allegations, saying it would be inappropriate to do so through the media.
Mr. Melanson’s rise through the Canadian arts administration ranks took him from dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music Community School, a position he held until 2006, to the National Ballet School, where he was executive director and co-CEO.
From the ballet school, with a current annual budget of $18-million, Mr. Melanson became president of the Banff Centre – a renowned arts and conference centre with an annual budget of about $62-million in 2014-15 (including about $20-million in government grants).
Mr. Melanson began at Banff in 2012 and was widely expected to remain there for a decade to carry out an ambitious billion-dollar plan that included new facilities and media platforms. But he shocked the board – and the arts world – with the announcement of his departure in 2014. He said he was leaving for personal reasons – to return to Toronto to be with his three children from his first marriage, and his fiancée, Ms. McCain. He landed another plum job: president and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Ms. McCain, 46, is a professional singer and daughter of the late billionaire Wallace McCain. She and Mr. Melanson made headlines after they married in the spring of 2014.
Ms. McCain says Mr. Melanson, 42, abruptly ended their nine-month-old marriage by sending her an e-mail in January, 2015.
Her court document, which was filed March 2, alleges that Mr. Melanson told a friend “that Jeff would be ‘set for life’ with his divorce settlement from Eleanor.”
However, instead of a divorce, Ms. McCain has applied for an annulment, arguing that she was “tricked” into marrying him.
An annulment would void the marriage, as if it never happened, said Andrew Feldstein, a Toronto-area family-law practitioner who is not involved in the case.
“So if the marriage never happened, then the other spouse would not be entitled to a division of that family’s property, they would not have any rights to possession of the matrimonial home,” Mr. Feldstein said.
Furthermore, he said, since the couple separated after less than three years together, the respondent would not be entitled to spousal support.
Ms. McCain’s annulment request argues that Mr. Melanson misrepresented himself, concealing that he was a philanderer, and married her to boost his career.
“Eleanor learned post break-up that Jeff stated during his marriage to her that fundraising at his new position as president of the TSO would be easy because of his connection to the McCain family,” her court request says.
“Eleanor also learned post break-up that Jeff had bragged at [the Banff Centre] that he was connected to powerful families in Canada, including the McCains. Throughout, Jeff misrepresented himself to Eleanor, and sought dishonestly to advance himself through her.”
The filing alleges that Mr. Melanson repeatedly got his personal and professional lives tangled up.
After Mr. Melanson became president of the Banff Centre in January, 2012, he created a position for a woman whom he was pursuing, the court document says.
Mr. Melanson “started freezing [the woman] out” and her career at the Banff Centre was “destroyed,” according to the document. She eventually filed a sexual harassment complaint, then later threatened to sue after she was terminated, and ultimately reached a settlement agreement, the court filing says.
When reached on Sunday, the woman sent a statement to The Globe and Mail: “All matters related to my employment with the Banff Centre, and with my leaving employment with the Banff Centre, have been resolved. All claims I had against the Banff Centre and Jeff Melanson have been resolved to my satisfaction, including acceptance of a financial settlement, the terms of which I will not disclose. I wish the Banff Centre every success in the future.”
In an interview on Sunday, Banff Centre president Janice Price acknowledged the settlement but would not reveal details, citing a non-disclosure agreement.
The court application says Mr. Melanson also had an intimate relationship with another employee who alleged harassment and with whom a settlement agreement was reached. It also alleges that he harassed a third woman at the centre.
Ms. Price, who has seen the document, says she and her team were not aware of the subsequent two cases. “There is only to anyone’s knowledge the one instance of any legal settlement related to Jeff and his behaviour,” she said. She also said there were no formal complaints of harassment made to the Banff Centre on any of the matters alleged in the filing.
“Obviously it’s extremely concerning and troubling to hear about these allegations that happened before my time and it’s not the way we manage our business here,” she said, adding that there has been renewed emphasis at the centre on anti-harassment policies and procedures.
“Probably as there would be in this circumstance in any organization, there’s a heightened awareness, but we’re really making sure that the incoming staff sign that they’ve received the policies, sign that they understand the policy and clearly know where they go and to whom they should report any issues that they have,” Ms. Price said.
Around the same time as the legal case was proceeding with the first woman at the Banff Centre, the court request alleges, Mr. Melanson started “relentlessly” courting Ms. McCain, falsely claiming that he was close to her father. Shortly thereafter, in January, 2014, he began discussions with the TSO. He stepped down from the Banff Centre in April, 2014.
“Jeff had to get out of Banff,” the document says. “Eleanor now believes that Jeff pursued her and pushed to marry her so quickly because he thought that marrying her and being associated with her family would help redeem him from his scandalous behaviour in Banff and would give him an excuse for not being able to fulfill his grandiose plans at [the Banff Centre]. But being associated with the McCain family, Jeff planned to restore his reputation in the Canadian arts.”
Furthermore, the court file alleges that Mr. Melanson frequented the Ashley Madison cheating website, using an IP address belonging to the Banff Centre. Mr. Melanson’s user name was Sarastro2012, an allusion to the Mozart opera The Magic Flute, the court petition says, noting that “Jeff admired the role of Sarastro and would sing it in Eleanor’s company.”
Ms. Price, reiterating that this is alleged to have occurred before she arrived at Banff, said “that was absolutely news to me. … We’ll have to I guess look at everything in [the filing] and decide what if any further action needs to be taken.”
At the TSO, the document says, he hired the woman he is dating.
“Jeff and [that woman], on behalf of the TSO, have travelled extensively to classical music festivals, including trips to Switzerland and Italy,” the court filing says, adding that she was later terminated when the board learned she had been brought to the TSO by Mr. Melanson, “which was totally inappropriate.”
The document alleges that, while he was co-chief executive officer of the National Ballet School, from 2006 to 2011, he falsely blamed its administrative director, Robert Sirman, for financial problems. Reached Sunday, Mr. Sirman declined to comment, saying he had not read the document.
The filing also alleges that Mr. Melanson fired the school’s fundraiser, Shawn Saulnier, then took credit for his achievements. Further, the document alleges, Mr. Melanson falsely told Mr. Saulnier that the board had cancelled his contract and there was nothing Mr. Melanson could do.
It adds that Mr. Melanson travelled to New York at the school’s expense, “for no apparent business purposes,” drank too much during work functions and was distracted from his job when he took a position as an arts adviser to then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“Jeff had a cold and callous way of dealing with people at [the Banff Centre] as well,” the document said, detailing how he abruptly fired employees, including Henk Guittart, a music director who was sacked after he moved to Banff from the Netherlands, and Leslie Vanderzwet, an employee who was let go and denied benefits even though she now suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
When reached by The Globe, Ms. McCain declined to comment, as the matter is now before the courts.
Also in The Globe and Mail:
Why the TSO set a terrible precedent by barring pianist Valentina Lisitsa, by Margus Gee (Globe and Mail editor), Globe and Mail, April 8, 2015
‘Jeff Melanson of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has set a terrible precedent for arts organizations around the country by barring pianist Valentina Lisitsa from the stage…’
McCain heiress says TSO boss Jeff Melanson married her to redeem his reputation
In her application for annulment, Eleanor McCain describes Jeff Melanson as a remorseless manipulator who fired employees unjustly, boozed during business hours and provided jobs for his romantic partners.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra president Jeff Melanson is being portrayed by estranged wife Eleanor McCain as a ruthless leader who “tricked” her into marriage because he wanted her money and an escape route from sexual harassment accusations at the Banff Centre.
McCain, 46, is the daughter of Wallace McCain, the late billionaire co-founder of McCain Foods Limited. In her 34-page application for annulment, the singer describes Melanson, once considered Canada’s cultural “turnaround king,” as a remorseless manipulator who “ruled with an iron hand,” fired employees unjustly, boozed during business hours and at business functions, launched then abandoned “grandiose” projects, and provided jobs for his romantic partners.
None of the claims have been proven in court. McCain declined to comment through her lawyer, while in a statement on Twitter Melanson called the allegations “inaccurate and undignified” and “untrue and hurtful.”
McCain has applied for an annulment, not a divorce, so that she may “treat the marriage … as if it never existed,” the document says.
That’s a crucial distinction, especially given the financial stakes for McCain: an annulment could affect any financial settlement or division of property at stake in the divorce.
Melanson said on Twitter that “the claims against me are inaccurate and undignified. I am saddened that Ms. McCain has chosen to say such things and in this way, but even more disappointed as these statements are untrue and hurtful to myself and my loved ones. My lawyers will reply through the appropriate channels.”
“It makes complete sense why they’re doing it because there’s so much money at stake,” said Toronto family law specialist Steven Benmor, who isn’t involved in the case. “If they can get the annulment, it saves the McCain family a lot of money.”
Benmor calls the strategy a “reach,” because annulments are typically granted due to lack of capacity — for instance, when one of the wedded was too young or mentally unfit — or because one person entered the union under duress or based on fraudulent grounds.
“They’ll try to argue fraud,” he predicted. And arguing fraud on the grounds of misrepresenting character or personality could be difficult.
“That’s a tough test, to me,” said Daniel Simard, an associate lawyer at Shulman Law Firm who is not involved in the case, either. Jeff Melanson and Eleanor McCain in a Facebook photo. In a statement on Twitter Melanson called McCain’s allegations “inaccurate and undignified” and “untrue and hurtful.”
McCain’s claim does attempt to detail Melanson’s alleged history of dishonesty and manipulation.
According to her application, his “aggressive courtship” began with a coffee date on Dec. 16, 2013. Following that, her claim says, he showered her with texts declaring his “undying love,” and brought up marriage three weeks into dating.
During one of their first phone conversations, McCain’s claim contends, Melanson endeared himself to her by mentioning that he had enjoyed a close relationship with her father, Wallace, and that he had always spoke fondly of her. It was only later, McCain’s document alleges, that she learned Melanson was not close to her father and “was actually terrified of meeting or dealing with” him.
Her court document also states: “Eleanor learned post breakup that Jeff stated during his marriage to her that fundraising at his new position as president of the TSO would be easy because of his connection to the McCain family.”
The couple married privately on April 26, 2014, followed by a public ceremony on Nov. 22.
Two months later, on Jan. 27, 2015, Melanson “abruptly” ended the marriage via email and, McCain’s filing reads, hasn’t spoken to her or her adolescent daughter since.
According to McCain’s application, it wasn’t the first time Melanson “manipulated and used people by pretending they were his ‘best friend’ or the ‘love of his life,’ ” then “discarded them with no remorse.”
Among the claims in McCain’s filing: Melanson never disclosed to McCain that he cheated on his previous wife; Melanson frequented Ashley Madison during that marriage under the user name “Sarastro2012,” a reference to Mozart’s The Magic Flute; and Melanson hid mental-health issues and “excessive” drinking habits from McCain.
Melanson’s ex-wife Jennifer Snowdon denied the claims about their marriage in McCain’s document. “There was no infidelity in our marriage,” she told the Star Monday night, calling Melanson “a good person” and a “kind and generous man.”
“He’s a flawed human being. He’s not perfect. But I think this is horrible what’s happening to him, and I think Eleanor is sad and hurt and angry. But he doesn’t deserve being trashed like this in the press,” she said.
“Jeff and I got married very young. We grew apart. We separated amicably. We are doing our best to co-parent our children together the best that we can.”
Berl Schiff, a longtime friend of Melanson’s and former publisher of The Walrus, believes McCain’s claims are untrue.
“He’s a remarkably confident and successful arts administrator,” said Schiff.
Melanson has held a series of senior roles at cultural institutions across Canada. He served as dean of the community school at the Royal Conservatory of Music from 2001 until 2006, when he left for an executive position at the National Ballet School. He joined the Banff Centre with a splash in 2012 for an appointment many figured would last 10 years or more. McCain has applied for an annulment, not a divorce, so that she may “treat the marriage … as if it never existed,” the document says.
Instead, Melanson resigned in April 2014, the same month he married McCain, to take up his post with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. According to McCain’s document, sexual harassment accusations drove Melanson from the Banff Centre.
The filing states that upon becoming president in January 2012 and while still married, he immediately created a position for a woman and pursued her “relentlessly.” Once they “consummated their relationship” during a Banff Centre trip to Australia in October, McCain’s document alleges, he broke off the relationship, and by the following September, she was terminated. When the woman subsequently announced her intention to sue, Melanson “felt that his days (there) were numbered.”
“He was looking for a way out of Banff,” reads McCain’s claim.
McCain’s petition further accuses Melanson of an affair with a married woman and the sexual harassment of a third woman while at the Banff Centre, and alleges that he initiated inappropriate relationships with two women during his stint at the National Ballet School.
“Firstly, we can confirm that no formal complaints were made to The Banff Centre on the issue of sexual harassment,” a statement from the Banff Centre reads. “Secondly, as mentioned in the Globe, there was a settlement that was reached with a former employee that was to the satisfaction of both parties.”
“These allegations are concerning and troubling, as they are not reflective of the values and standards we aspire to set at the Banff Centre,” said Banff Centre president Janice Price. “We take these allegations seriously and should these allegations be found to be true we will investigate further.”
McCain’s filing also takes aim at Melanson’s workplace manner, alleging that he took credit for other people’s accomplishments, shifted blame and maintained a “cold and callous” demeanour.
Her petition further claims that he fired at least 11 employees at the Banff Centre “without remorse or guilt,” including: a woman who was days from a health leave, was subsequently diagnosed with ALS, and can no longer speak or eat; and Dutch conductor Henk Guittart, who was fired by Melanson, McCain’s claim alleges, even though the two men hadn’t interacted much and Guittart had just shifted his family from Europe. “Three years ago I could have used support, but I have moved on,” Guittart told the Star via email, but declined to comment further.
McCain “never would have married (Melanson) had she known these facts,” her application alleges.
“Eleanor now believes that Jeff pursued her and pushed to marry her so quickly because he thought that marrying her and being associated with her family would help redeem him from his scandalous behaviour in Banff,” reads McCain’s document.
With files from May Warren
Rights after a relationship ends
When a marriage ends, the person with the lower net worth is entitled to an equalization payment.
“The person who has more pays half the difference to the one who has less,” says Andrew Feldstein, principal at Feldstein Family Law Group in Toronto. Gifts and inheritances are exceptions, he adds. For a marriage of less than five years, a person may argue “unconscionable” to equalize net family property.
Common law split
If a couple has been living together for three years or more, or “has a relationship of some permanence” and a child together, and the relationship ends, they are not entitled to an equalization payment but file a claim for spousal support, Feldstein says.
But a judge has a lot of discretion: If a man and woman lived together for 20 years, Feldstein says, and his net worth is $10 million and hers is zero, and they raised two children together, “the wife is going to end up with something probably pretty close to an equalization payment,” Feldstein says.
An annulment is rare in Canada and granted under limited grounds. A person whose marriage is annulled is not entitled to the same compensation as someone who is divorced, and it would be very difficult to make the same claims as common law couples who have split. “An annulment, if you’re successful, says the marriage never happened,” says Feldstein. “That voids your rights.”
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