Human Rights complaint shows little has changed at Toronto Police Service: DiManno

Toronto News!

Nov 3, 2016.

Far back, through the mist of time, I recall a sexual harassment complaint brought by a former undercover Toronto police officer who accused her colleagues of ceaseless torment on the job.

They’d taken Polaroid photos of the woman urinating behind a car during a stake-out and tacked them up in the drug squad office; broken into her voicemail; tied a pair of soiled panties around her memo book. One often lifted a leg to flatulate in her face.

It was 1991 and there were far fewer female cops on the force. This one, it was learned, had been romantically involved with a senior officer in the unit. And that was apparently the source of bitter resentment, expressed via obscene fun ‘n’ games.

What’s surprising in retrospect is how extensively those pranks were portrayed as, if not entirely harmless, somewhat brought upon herself by the complainant for crossing a professional line – intimacy with a supervising officer in the chain of command. She was depicted as too thin-skinned for the frat-pack culture of undercover policing and promoted beyond her skills because of her relationship. In the end, two officers were charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Act. Only one was found guilty and docked five days pay.

What I’m wondering, after attending the first day of witness evidence at a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing, is how far the Toronto Police Services has actually come in the decades since.

Toronto officer Heather McWilliam, who’s been on leave since early 2014, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, says she was harassed and humiliated for years by her supervising officers and punished for speaking out about the alleged mistreatment. Further, McWilliam has expanded the complaint so that it’s not solely or specifically about her but rather a systemic problem faced by female officers and it needs to be addressed institutionally. Named as respondents in the case is the Toronto Police Services Board and one officer, Sgt. Angelo Costa. It was Costa, McWilliam claims in her application, who spoke mockingly of a complaint she’d originally brought against Staff Sgt. Christopher Nolan, her supervisor at 23 Division. Nolan, McWilliam maintains -- as the hearing heard last month – had allegedly remarked that he wanted to “spank” her and, when shown a photo of McWilliam in her RCMP uniform – she served with the national police force before joining the Toronto Service – said he’d “prefer to see you in your high brown boots.”

None of the allegations by McWilliam have been proven at the tribunal.

At a separate tribunal under the Police Services Act, Nolan admitted to making those comments and in 2013 pleaded guilty to one count of discreditable conduct.

McWilliam, daughter of a cop, has accused Nolan of bragging to her about how good he was at performing oral sex, once whispered in her ear that he wanted to “lick” her, was overheard, by McWilliam, saying he did not want any female officers on his shift, and had referred to a female sergeant as “that c—t’’.

Nolan’s name is on the complainant’s list of witnesses who may be called at this hearing but not (yet) on the respondents’ list submitted by Amandi Esonwanne, representing the Services Board. Although not cited as formal respondents in the application, the document cites the names of more than two dozen other officers who might be called to testify. On Thursday, Esonwanne indicated he might call upwards of 40 witnesses, emphasizing that all the individuals mentioned in the application work at 23 Division and McWilliam had never worked at any other Toronto detachment. The implication here is that the broad cultural sexism which McWilliam’s lawyer, Kate Hughes, described in her opening statement on Oct. 24 should be contained as more narrow in focus, relating to one woman’s allegations. He’s also denying that any inappropriate treatment had ever been condoned by management.

“Really, what she wants is to have that workplace fixed, get rid of the poisoned environment so that she doesn’t have to go to work and sit there and have sexual innuendo and be the butt of jokes, and have to be told not to report complaints or she’s not going to be part of the team and that she should have a tougher skin,” Hughes told reporters outside the tribunal.

“That bigger target is the issue.”

Hughes notes that Costa’s conduct is “squarely the issue,” within the wider complaint of rampant sexual harassment against female officers and should be put on the stand by Esonwanne. Although she plans to call Costa, “I’ll have to have him declared as a hostile witness.”

Apart from Costa, the application alleges, says Hughes, “a workplace that is poisoned with sexual harassment…a large number of incidents that involve a number of other supervisors. That would include circulating pictures of her in a bikini, that would include pictures on the computer as a joke. That would include, in parade, where she’s a captive audience and the only female among a group of male colleagues, a supervisor saying that he would spank her later in private and laughing. Making comments, because she used to be with the RCMP, about her riding a horse, which caused other males to say, ‘We would like Heather to ride my horse’.

“This is all comment which in Canada is unacceptable in a workplace.”

Yesterday the tribunal heard, as its first witness, from Andre Goh, manager of the diversity and inclusion unit with Toronto Police Services. Goh, a civilian employee, estimated that 17 to 19 per cent of sworn officers in the city today are female.

He did not have a clue, however, how many female officers had brought forward sexual harassment complaints through either internally or externally, formally or informally, because that procedure had “devolved’’ from his jurisdiction since around 2008, now the purview of the Professional Standard Branch, labour relations and legal services.

Under questioning by Hughes, Goh agreed that better tracking of complaints would be useful.

Nor is there any police department paperwork that specifically pertains to harassment complaints as designated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, merely a generic form – “like a memo” – that can be filled in, although a software program update now being adopted will include the OHRC attachment.

Hughes also told tribunal chair Jo-Anne Pickel that, since the Star first reported on this case last week, she has been “inundated” with phone calls from other female Toronto police officers who want to come forward and buttress McWilliam’s complaint. Hughes is seeking to call two of the women as similar-fact witnesses.

Those women, said Hughes, claim they’ve been called – or have heard other females called – “c—ts, dykes, bitches, pussies, sluts.”

Pickel has yet to rule on that submission.