Retired staff sergeant apologizes for spanking comment

Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

Publishing date: Jul 19, 2017

To the laughter of the rest of her otherwise all-male platoon, then-Staff Sgt. Chris Nolan told Const. Heather McWilliam that he’d have to spank her in private.

Five long years later - after she bolted from parade in shock and humiliation, lodging her complaint, a professional standards investigation, his guilty plea at a police tribunal and her launching this human rights case - Nolan finally apologized.

“I would have liked to say that night, I would have liked to apologize if I made her feel unwelcome in the platoon,” said Nolan, now retired. “I am apologizing for the comments that I made that made her feel in this way.”

It probably comes too little, too late for a Toronto cop who says the male police culture at 23 Division demeaned and embarrassed her with continual sexual harassment from all levels. Still, it was something to see - an admission, if not a truly fulsome one - by her former supervisor who conceded before the human rights tribunal that some of his comments were “offensive, degrading and sexual in nature.”

Though to the end, Nolan kept squirming and insisting that he never meant to demean her.

“It certainly wasn’t in my mind,” he said at one point to questioning by McWilliam’s lawyer Kate Hughes.

But does he now agree they were offensive, she asked yet again.

“Since they were to Heather, I guess I have to agree,” Nolan reluctantly replied.


McWilliam has told the hearing Nolan was just one of several superiors who humiliated her with sexual innuendo. McWilliam has been on medical leave for PTSD since filing her human rights complaint in 2014 against the Toronto Police Services Board and Sgt. Angelo Costa - who she’s alleged tried to force his tongue into her mouth and made repeated lewd remarks.

None of the allegations has been proven at the tribunal. She’s seeking $200,000 in damages and human rights training for the service.

At the hearing that began last fall, the former RCMP officer has testified that she tried to ignore the abuse but it reached a head when Nolan humiliated her with the spanking comment in front of her fellow officers in early December 2012. That came on the heels of another embarrassing episode the previous night, she said, when during a discussion about the lack of available police cars, her staff sergeant said, “Well, Heather used to ride a horse, what are you complaining about?” To which, a junior officer allegedly quipped, “I’d like her to ride my horse.” She claimed Nolan laughed along with the rest.

Nolan maintained that he never heard that comment and would have dealt with it if he had. While he admitted telling McWilliam’s male colleagues that she used to ride a horse as a Mountie - in fact, she didn’t - he said it had no sexual connotation. He did remark once that he’d prefer to see her in her high brown RCMP boots, but denied there was any pattern of sexual innuendo.

Nor had he ever made comments about getting her phone number, he said.

After Nolan told her he’d spank her in private, the upset McWilliam left the pre-shift meeting in tears. He denied chasing her down in the station to talk to her or trying to block her from leaving. He also denied ever threatening to ruin her career.

But both of their careers were now set on a downward trajectory.

Nolan was transferred out of 23 Divison within days of her complaint and charged under the police act. Warned that he faced demotion, he agreed to plead guilty in 2013 to making the boots and spanking comments to McWilliam. The tribunal criticized him for “exceedingly poor judgment” and docked him 20 days pay for discreditable conduct. “It closed the door on any future promotion I might aspire to,” Nolan told vice-chair Jo-Anne Pickel. And McWilliam? She would suffer for daring to lodge a complaint against one of their own.


The hearing resumes in September.