Toronto cop 'objectified sexually over and over again,' tribunal told
Author: Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun
Publishing date: Nov 16, 2016 • November 16, 2016
Const. Heather McWilliam wanted to be a cop just like the dad she adored. “It was in my blood,” she said.
The former RCMP officer just never suspected that joining Toronto Police in 2005 would mean working with some male Neanderthals who still think they can treat women like it’s 1959.
Often fighting back tears, McWilliam took the stand at Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal to describe a “poisoned” work atmosphere of unrelenting sexual harassment at 23 Division where she was expected to just suck it up like a good team player. “It’s a thin blue line. It’s the brotherhood.”
So she tried to ignore it. For years, she tried, because complaining would be professional suicide. And she was right. Her career in ruins, McWilliam, 33, has been on medical leave for PTSD since filing her human rights complaint in 2014.
“I was humiliated, I was degraded, I had no voice,” she told vice-chair Jo-Anne Pickel. “I was being objectified sexually over and over again.”
None of her allegations have been proven.
The abuse began with having to listen to crude comments about other females: Her colleagues would talk about women’s breasts and who made their “want to f--- list.” Then they became more personal: Officers telling her what they’d like to do to her derriere as they followed behind her, questions about what colour underwear she was wearing, and if she wanted to be in a threesome.
Photos taken from her private Facebook page were circulated by her superiors, including one of her and other women officers in bikinis while on vacation. A supervisor had a photo of her face multiplied as wallpaper on his police computer. Others had screenshots of porn stars.
“Is this really the world I’m working in?” McWilliam recalled asking herself. But she didn’t complain. “I was scared. I was intimidated. I walked away.” It wasn’t just “boys being boys” or innocent “locker room banter.” Not when it came day after day, several times each shift, McWilliam said. She was a highly praised officer recommended for supervisory roles who was being reduced to a sexual object no matter how well she did. “I had no hope.”
In 2012, the harassment accelerated under Staff-Sgt. Chris Nolan, she told the hearing. There were his “creepy, flirtatious” remarks: He told her he’d like to see her in high-heeled boots and she overheard him joking with her partner that he’d love to get her phone number. When she expressed her frustration at not getting the transfer offered to her in homicide — what she’d hoped would be her way out — she said he called her into an office and warned that he had the power to derail her career.
“I felt cornered in every single way — physically, mentally and emotionally.”
The final breaking point came following two incidents where she accused Nolan of humiliating her in front of her fellow officers. During a discussion about the lack of available police cars, her staff sergeant allegedly smirked and said, “Well, Heather used to ride a horse, what are complaining about?”
When a junior officer said, “I’d like her to ride my horse,” Nolan laughed along with the rest.
But no one was laughing when, at another shift meeting shortly after, he went even further and told McWilliam he was going to spank her later in private.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she says, choking up. “I was in front of all of my peers who had a great deal of respect for me as a female police officer and he took that away.” In 2013, Nolan pleaded guilty at a police tribunal to making comments about spanking McWilliam and wanting to see her in her boots and was docked 20 days’ pay.
McWilliam felt she had nowhere to turn. She told the hearing that she couldn’t complain about sexual harassment to her unit commander because she’d once witnessed Supt. Ron Taverner allegedly fondling a female community worker on the dance floor following a conference — a new, explosive allegation that angry police services board lawyer Amandi Esonwanne called outrageous and had stricken from the record.
But her allegations have just begun. The hearing continues Friday but isn’t expected to conclude until well into next year.