Reputation is everything, warns agent

by Olivia D'Orazio07 Nov 2014
In an exclusive with REP, one commercial real estate professional is pointing to her own ordeal in reminding fellow agents to protect their brands against the kind of attack hers suffered.

“I think all of us know as [agents] that all we have to trade on is our reputation,” Gillian Burnside, a commercial agent in Ottawa tells REP. “And we have to stay very vigilant to ensure that anything that goes online is positive because it’s extremely difficult to get rid of it.”

Burnside’s caution comes on the heels of an official RCMP apology, part of a settlement she reached with the force after a lease deal she helped broker in 2011 turned sour amid allegations of a conflict of interest.

“You assume that you’re working with the RCMP and you’re going to be protected,” she says. “You can’t foresee someone providing a document to the media. I didn’t expect it to go so sideways and the investigation to be so one-sided.”

Looking back, Burnside says she wouldn’t just accept a letter from the RCMP. She advises agents faced with a similar situation to have a lawyer review any agreements and to find a legal contact within the organization.

The whole messy situation started when she was invited to find a warehouse that was to be used as a front for a covert anti-terrorism operation called Project RAVE.

“I had been dating somebody quite senior in that department for some time, so I had the sense that he has working on something that wasn’t going that great; he was asking vague questions,” she says. “So he sat me down and said, ‘if this is cleared would you be able to take it on’.”

Burnside agreed to work with the RCMP and disclosed her relationship – “I was told I would be working at an arms’ length from my then-partner to avoid any … conflict of interest,” she says. After a couple of months, she found the group a facility and the lease went through without a hitch. As far as she understood, her involvement with the RCMP, and its apparently not-so-clandestine operation, would be over.

“But at that point I got the sense that there were rumblings,” she says. “The crux of where it started to impact me was that the information [that I was dating a member of the RCMP] was provided to the media. And that’s where I became completely exposed.”

Media reports suggested Burnside and her partner did not disclose their relationship and were, therefore, involved in some kind of racketeering scam. Because Burnside’s agreement with the RCMP required her to stay mum on the nature of the operation and the nature of her involvement, she couldn’t even respond to the false accusations of wrong-doing in the media.

“Anything that gets printed gets its life on the Internet,” she says. “I needed to protect my reputation and ensure that people know that nothing unusual happened – just the operation was covert.”

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