Several multi-storey buildings with grey siding and rust-colour roofs sit on a hillside overlooking a body of water and highlands in the distance. In the foreground are wild rose bushes and trees.
The Gampo Abbey Monastery in Cape Breton. Credit: Gampo Abbey Monastery/Facebook

A former resident of the Gampo Abbey Monastery in Cape Breton has filed a civil lawsuit against the monastery and the Shambhala Canada Society, the organization that operates the monastery, alleging they are “vicariously liable” for privacy violations.

The lawsuit was filed by Valent Legal on behalf of the plaintiff, who planned to stay at the monastery and be ordained as a monk. From a press release:

The lawsuit alleges that, during his stay at the Monastery, the Plaintiff discovered a camera installed on the wall of the showers used by all the residents. When confronted by the Plaintiff, the Head Monk, Jack Hillie, confessed that the camera belonged to him.

The Plaintiff immediately reported Hillie to the police. He states in his civil lawsuit that the police later confirmed that the camera contained video footage filmed unknowingly of other residents in the Monastery showers, and that there was further video footage of a similar nature stored at the Monastery. Police charged Hillie with criminal voyeurism in 2022. The Plaintiff alleges that Hillie remained on Monastery grounds up until his arrest. The arraignment is set to take place in July of 2023.

The release said the monastery and the Shambhala Society are “vicariously liable for the privacy violations of their employee, and that they were negligent in failing to protect the residents’ privacy.”

In an interview with the Examiner on Thursday, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Basia Sowinsky, said she doesn’t have a specific number of residents who may have also been on the videos. 

It’s my understanding, based on what my client told me, that as part of the criminal investigation process, he was told by police that there was a considerable amount of video footage on the USB of the camera. He was additionally told by police…that there was footage found at the monastery, too. Based on those facts, I can only presume that it goes back a little ways with respect to how long that camera’s been filming for and how much footage it picked up on of the various residents. There are a number of residents that stayed there over the years, and I know the head monk, Jack Hillie, he was employed there for not a short period of time, although I’m not exactly sure how long.

Sowinsky said her firm hasn’t heard from any other residents of the monastery to date.

In an email, Cpl. Chris Marshall with the Nova Scotia RCMP said “any of the people that our officers could positively identify in the videos were advised and spoken to.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Hillie will be arraigned at Port Hawkesbury provincial court on July 4.

Statement from Gampo Abbey

The Examiner contacted Shambhala Canada Society and the Gampo Abbey Monastery for comment, but hasn’t heard back. However, the Gampo Abbey addresses an “invasion of privacy” in this statement on its website:

We have recently informed the Shambhala community about an incident that occurred at Gampo Abbey. This is an ongoing investigation and we are limited in the amount of details we can share at this time.  The person who has been charged has left the Abbey. The following is the email that was sent to the Shambhala global sangha on April 20, 2022.

The statement also includes a letter that was sent to members of the Shambhala community:

We wanted to inform the community that there has been an incident involving alleged invasion of privacy at Gampo Abbey – a monastic retreat center located in Cape Breton, Canada – that has resulted in criminal charges of voyeurism. Gampo Abbey and the Shambhala organization are committed to fully cooperating with the police during this investigation. We are also committed to protecting the privacy of anyone who may have been affected by this incident. Shambhala Global Services prioritizes the wellbeing and privacy of all community members and is committed to ensuring that all people throughout our community adhere to our recently updated Code of Conduct policies.

No organization or community can ensure that these types of incidents will never occur. However, it is our responsibility as Shambhala leadership to create a culture where harmful behaviors are addressed swiftly and appropriately, community members are protected, and those that are impacted by harm are cared for. When incidents do occur, we are committed to responding in a way that is survivor-centered. We want to remind the community that individuals who witness or are subjected to what may be a criminal act are instructed to immediately notify the police or other appropriate authorities directly, and, subsequently, inform the Shambhala Office of Care and Conduct.

The letter is signed by the Shambhala board and the Gampo Abbey leadership.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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