Dana Larsen: Toronto cops barrage fellow officers with porn and abuse

by Dana Larsen on July 5th, 2020 at 9:54 AM


This is the second in a series of articles looking at the culture of sexual harassment and intimidation within Canadian police forces.

As debate rages about violence and racism in policing, let's not forget the epidemic of intense sexual harassment, which is commonplace among Canadian police from coast to coast.

Last time, I wrote about how many female Calgary police officers have claimed sexual harassment from other officers, which included allegations of  being sent masses of unsolicited dick pics and being ordered by superior officers to loudly fake orgasms in public places in front of children.

Now let's turn our attention to Toronto, where a number of female officers have alleged harassment, such as receiving hundreds of sexual images via text from other officers. Const. Heather McWilliam claimed fellow officers would often ask her about the colour of her underwear and begin phone calls by asking her what she was wearing.

Female officers were openly called dykes, cunts, and sluts at work. Some officers used hardcore porn images as screensavers.

When McWilliam's superior officer said to her in front of other officers that he was going to spank her, she considered complaining. Her unit commander at the time, Ron Taverner, convinced her not to say anything, told her she needed "tougher skin", and pointed to a poster in his office that read: “Loose lips sink ships.”

Taverner, who was briefly head of the Ontario Provincial Police last year and is described as "a close friend" of Ontario premier Doug Ford, coincidentally fell and got a "moderate concussion" just seven days before he was scheduled to testify in McWilliam's sexual-harassment case.

As a result, he got out of being questioned and the hearings concluded without his testimony.

An Ontario Human Rights Tribunal adjudicator recently ordered the Toronto Police Services Board to pay McWilliam $85,000 to compensate for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

Many other Toronto police officers report the same thing as McWilliam, including Const. Effy Zarabi who claims she has received a steady barrage of unwanted sexually explicit and racist messages and sexual advances after she joined the force in 2008.

According to W5, Zarabi and two other female officers threatened to sue the Toronto Police Service at one point for enabling a “toxic, racist and sexist culture”. But the other two officers settled and signed nondisclosure agreements. After 12 years, Zarabi is still an officer with the TPS.

"You have to, you know, keep reminding yourself of why you’re fighting the fight," she told W5. "Even though it’s hard, you try. You have to.”


Protecting harassers

When officers complain, they get punished. In 2018 Toronto police Sgt. Jessica McInnis reported receiving a "steady barrage of sexist, sexual, harassing and obscene" messages and photos, including some on a WhatsApp group chat for officers in their division.

Both her and the harassing officer, Det. Mark Morris, received the same penalty, docking of eight hours pay, for "participating" in the chat.

"She was a recipient, she was penalized and I can't for the life of me know why," McInnis's lawyer, Barry Swadron, told CBC News. "She didn't initiate anything."

Many officers say that complaining about sexual harassment on the job would mean retaliation from superiors and "career suicide".

But in some cases the harassment and abuse is followed by actual suicide, as we will see in our next column looking at the tragic death of Const. Nicole Chan in Vancouver. 

Dana Larsen is an author, advocate, and activist for cannabis and drug policy reform. Follow him on Twitter @danalarsen.