Police environment 'poison' for women officers, tribunal told
Tuesday, Oct 25, 2016
There was the time she says her staff sergeant said, in front of several male colleagues, that he’d spank her later in private. There was the time she says Facebook photos of her and other female officers in bikinis were shown around 23 Division. There was the time she says a sergeant bragged about how good he was at oral sex and whispered in her ear that he wanted to “lick her.” There was the time she says when the same sergeant kissed her goodbye on the mouth after a work party and she had to keep her lips closed to stop him forcing his tongue in her mouth. Toronto police officer Heather McWilliam is arguing at a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing that she was sexually harassed and humiliated for years by her supervising officers and that she was punished for speaking out.
But she is also going a step further and alleging there is a systemic problem with the way female officers in the Toronto Police Service are treated that needs to be addressed. “(TPS) has policies that are fine on paper but the reality is a situation where female police officers were subjected on an ongoing basis to ongoing harassment and discrimination,” McWilliam’s lawyer Kate Hughes told the tribunal in her opening statement Monday.
“Police culture is a poisoned one for women police officers,” she said, citing research specific to Toronto, reports on sexual misconduct in the army and two class-action sexual harassment lawsuits recently settled by the RCMP. The lawyer representing the Toronto Police Services Board says the tribunal should only focus on the allegations made by McWilliam as an individual and denies that any inappropriate treatment of her was condoned by management.
“What you have here is one person. You don’t have before you a set of facts dealing with a number of women in the Toronto Police Service,” said lawyer Amandi Esonwanne, who is representing the Toronto Police Services Board in his opening statement.
“If the applicant is going to suggest that there are all these women who are labouring under unbearable masculine objectification and harassment in the workplace, they should put them before this tribunal.”
Hughes acknowledged in her opening statement it would be an uphill battle to prove that sexual harassment is a systemic issue for the Toronto police.
“It is a career ender to complain against another officer, and police officers are seen as disloyal particularly if you air police laundry in public as is happening today,” she said. “We expect a collective closing of the ranks. There will be collective amnesia.” None of McWilliam’s allegations have been proven at the tribunal. McWilliam, whose father was a police officer, has always wanted to be a police officer, Hughes told the tribunal.
After a stint with the RCMP, she was hired by the Toronto Police Service in October 2005. In 2014, she filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. She is seeking $54,400 in compensation as well as broader remedies that could include training or policy changes.
Her complaints span 2008 until 2014, when she went on medical leave after she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of persistent sexual harassment in the workplace, Hughes told the tribunal.
The alleged behaviour of her supervising officers “literally disabled her,” Hughes said.
One officer told McWilliam that he watched her on security cameras while she was at the division’s gym, another showed photos of her in a bikini to other officers, Hughes said. Both officers deny this, Esonwanne said.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Nolan, who was McWilliam’s supervisor at 23 Division, made the comment about spanking her, Hughes said. Other officers appeared to be shocked by the comment, Hughes said.
He also commented when shown a photo of McWilliam in her RCMP uniform that he’d “prefer to see you in your high brown boots,” she said.
Nolan admitted to making those comments and in 2013 pleaded guilty to one count of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act. He was sentenced to forfeit 20 days’ pay. McWilliam alleges that there are other female officers who Nolan sexually harassed, but says the Professional Standards investigators did not interview those women.
Esonwanne says Nolan’s two comments should be struck from the application because they have been dealt with.
The most serious of McWilliam’s allegations pertain to Sgt. Angelo Costa, the only officer named as a party along with the Toronto Police Services Board. According to Hughes, McWilliam says Costa was present when Nolan made the spanking comment and mocked the formal complaint she made.
He went on to brag to her about oral sex, mime performing sexual acts and once whispered in her ear that he wanted to “lick” her, Hughes said. He also whispered in the ear of another female officer who had a “look of disgust on her face,” Hughes said. McWilliam also heard him say he did not want any female supervisors on shift and referred to one female sergeant as “that c—t,” Hughes said.
On one occasion, Hughes said, Costa kissed McWilliam and tried to force his tongue into her mouth. Esonwanne said that after the human rights application was filed, Costa was investigated thoroughly by both Professional Standards and the Special Investigation Unit regarding what is an alleged sexual assault.
No charges were laid after either investigation, he said, and Costa denies sexually harassing or discriminating against McWilliam. McWilliam was harassed and denied advancement opportunities for filing a formal complaint about Nolan’s harassment, Hughes said. The board denies this happened, Esonwanne said.
The hearing continues.