Cop details alleged abuse from fellow officers
Jenny Yuen, Toronto Sun
Publishing date: Nov 18, 2016 • November 19, 2016
A Toronto Police officer recounted how she retreated to a bar with a colleague as a cry for help from sexual harassment she faced from her superiors, only to be forced to French kiss her supervisor.
In her second day of testimony, Const. Heather McWilliam, 33, told the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about a night in October 2012 when she confided in a colleague — with other officers sitting at the table but out of earshot — about the harassment women faced while working in the service.
Sgt. Angelo Costa also showed up and extended his arms for a hug from McWilliam, the tribunal heard.
“I just told myself, ‘It’s just a hug. You’ll be able to handle it.’ Instead of hugging me, he put his lips on mine and he tried to drive his tongue into my mouth,” she said Friday, breaking down in tears. “I tried to push him off me. He continued to push. He walked around the end of the table, laughed, shrugged.
“I walked to the bathroom and washed my mouth off,” she said. “I was disgusted and humiliated. And not one supervisor said anything.”
McWilliam said she went into shock, and began crying hysterically when she got in her car. She called her mom and told her she’d been sexually assaulted.
The former RCMP officer claims she was repeatedly sexually objectified in a “poisoned” work environment of unrelenting sexual harassment at 23 Division that was often passed off as jokes, with the expectation women have “thick skin” and that their “loose lips sink ships,” a reference to keeping quiet.
In 2013, her supervisor Staff-Sgt. Chris Nolan was docked 20 days’ pay after pleading guilty at a police tribunal to making comments about spanking McWilliam and wanting to see her in high-heeled boots.
McWilliam testified Supt. Ron Taverner — another of her supervisors — tried to dissuade her from making a formal complaint against Nolan. She was told to fill out a memo of the allegations and only share it with him, but despite doing so, word had gotten around the division that she had spoken up.
“That’s when the shunning started,” she said. “When I returned to work, everyone was quieter. The atmosphere was changed and they avoided speaking with me. Supervisors who didn’t know me very well would go into a deer-in-the-headlights look.”
McWilliam said prior to the bar incident, Costa had told her he wanted to take her on a picnic and made suggestive comments to her about oral sex — “that even though he was an old, Italian man, he could satisfy me sexually.”
The officer never reported Costa’s actions for fear of ruining her career.
“It was happening everywhere. Everyone was afraid of complaining,” she said. “I had just been threatened by my staff-sergeant who ruined my career ... All of them now knowing my private information and humiliating me. He was showing other officers I was weak. He was telling I was the one going against the other officers.”
None of McWilliam’s allegations have been proven.
In January 2014, when Costa was allegedly making lewd jokes about women in front of Taverner and others, a detective-sergeant noted to him: “Of all these years you’ve made these jokes, they’ve never complained about you,” McWilliam said.
Then, they turned to look at her reaction, she said. McWilliam left to see a psychologist and went on sick leave after that day.
“After I was bullied and intimidated and I looked up the chain to get assistance, I realized I had no hope of safety from this type of abuse,” she testified.
The hearing resumes on Jan. 20.
Quotes from the testimony of Const. Heather McWilliam on Friday at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal:
— “(Sgt. Angelo Costa’s) tongue was out and it was going back and forth and up and down and his head was moving, like it was a vagina. The amount of disrespect this man has for women is disgusting. I put my head down and looked at my notes. I did not want to look at that.”
— In another incident, McWilliam said she was standing over a computer with another female officer when Costa approached them. “(He) whispered in my ear that he wanted to lick me. And then he did the same to the female officer. And we both looked at each other with complete disgust. We didn’t need to say anything to each other. And then he walked away.”
— One time, when McWilliam was having social drinks with her colleagues, after making a complaint about Staff-Sgt. Chris Nolan, “it was asked of me if I would sleep with a married man. They all went around saying they would sleep with someone who was married. It was a way to show I was different than them.”
— McWilliam was diagnosed with a neck injury in 2013. Costa made a comment to her about “Putting my neck to use — that I could perform oral sex on him. It was sexual and disgusting.”
— “As a woman, I want to be treated with respect. With no male officers, there was no respect. The sexual harassment was not only from police constables, but sergeants and staff sergeants as well.”