Toronto police board asks for report on sexual harassment policies following sergeant’s human rights complaint

By Wendy Gillis, Crime Reporter, Toronto Star

Thu., Jan. 18, 2018

In the wake of a female Toronto sergeant’s allegations that she worked in a “poisoned, sexist” environment, the Toronto police board has asked for a detailed report on the force’s sexual harassment policies — and asked the chief to determine if changes need to be made.

“I think we can all agree that the community context around workplace sexual harassment is zero tolerance,” said police board member Shelley Carroll, who moved a motion at Thursday’s board meeting for an update on Toronto police sexual discrimination and harassment policies.

Carroll’s motion came after a Toronto Star story detailing a veteran female police officer’s complaint to Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sgt. Jessica McInnis, 43, who has served nearly 20 years with the Toronto police, filed a complaint last month alleging that she was subjected to demeaning and discriminatory treatment, including a “steady barrage” of unsolicited sexually explicit text messages from her former police partner, Det. Mark Morris.

McInnis alleges that when she complained to a senior manager about her colleague’s behaviour she was told to “suck it up.”

None of the allegations have been tested at the tribunal.

David Butt, Morris’ lawyer, has said that McInnis’ allegations are “either false or deliberately misleading” and will be “vigorously contested,” adding that Morris will respond in detail in the appropriate legal forum, “and at that time he will have plenty to say.”

Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in an email last month that McInnis’ claim would be carefully reviewed once it was received, and the service would consider its response. Until then, Toronto police would not be commenting, she said.

Noting that complaints such as McInnis’ can take a “very, very long time” to work their way through the tribunal system, Carroll said there was action the board could take immediately to ensure officers are adhering to Toronto police sexual harassment policies.

“To my mind, that news media story came at this very volatile tipping point time (during) #metoo. This is very much top of mind for everyone in the community,” Carroll said, in reference to McInnis’ case, though noting she could not specifically comment on it.

Carroll’s motion, passed unanimously by the board Thursday, asks Chief Mark Saunders to provide a report on current, ongoing efforts to make sure service members are adhering to workplace sexual harassment policy. It also asks whether those policies should be reviewed.

Saunders said he was happy to provide a report and said he understood the spirit in which the issue was being brought up, but wanted to make sure there was “no connotation that there is no ongoing training when it comes to that subject matter.”

There is continuous training, he said, “right from the employment level right through to supervision all ranks, all levels.”

Saunders was asked to prepare the report for April meeting of the police board.

McInnis’ 15-page complaint includes more than 100 text messages or group chats through messaging app WhatsApp that the sergeant alleges were sent to her over more than two years beginning in 2015. The messages include sexual comments about McInnis and Morris and images or videos of partially or fully naked women and men, according to the complaint.

The sergeant’s complaint also alleges there is a broader problem within her former police detachment — 14 division, in downtown Toronto — and alleges there is a “general culture of sexism.”

That includes an environment that the claim alleges discourages women targeted by sexist behaviour from coming forward.

“Often when a woman would report a sexual assault, male officers would make comments about how she was simply after the money. If a woman had been drinking to excess prior to the incident, they would suggest that she deserved it,” McInnis alleges in her claim.

The claim also alleges that other female officers have faced harassment and discrimination but were not supported.

McInnis’ is not the only Toronto police officer to file a human rights claim alleging discrimination. Const. Heather McWilliam alleges she was sexually harassed by supervising officers and that the Toronto Police Service is a “poisoned environment” for all female police officers.

Among her allegations are that she heard sexist or sexual comments during every shift throughout her seven years with the service. He case is currently being heard at the human rights tribunal.