#MeToo eludes Toronto Police in sex harassment claims

Sam Pazzano, Courts Bureau, Toronto Sun

Publishing date: November 18, 2018

Tarana Burke is the brash black woman who founded the #MeToo movement a decade before Hollywood starlet Alyssa Milano seized the movement’s spotlight by targeting movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The #MeToo movement has toppled Hollywood giants such as Weinstein and catapulted comedic legend Bill Cosby into prison. The movement has motivated women from every walk of life to report sexual violence and harassment and make perpetrators accountable.

“Women are going to be believed now — the social wave is with you,” said employment lawyer Howard Levitt. “Now you’re almost a heroine if you come forward. At one time, it might be ruinous if you made these allegations, but not any more.”

Women are also realizing that civil courts, rather than criminal courts, are a superior venue for women to advance their allegations, said Levitt.

“The accused cannot run and hide in civil litigation — they have to face discoveries (giving sworn testimony before trial) and then a trial where they’ll be examined and cross-examined,” explained Levitt.

There’s evidence that the #MeToo has played out differently in the Toronto Police Service. Anyone accused of sexual misconduct won’t be punished — without due process — and their legal bills will be picked up by the city.

In the past year, Sgt. Jessica McInnis and Const. “Effy” Firouzeh Zarabi-Majd have filed Ontario Human Rights complaints, alleging sexual harassment and assault and rampant sexism through the police culture.

These women have footed the tab for bringing these allegations forward and are no longer working on the service while their alleged perpetrators remain on the payroll.

McInnis alleges she was sexually harassed by Det. Mark Morris — who admitted at an in-division police hearing to sending her explicit images, including “Anaconda” penis photos. He  was docked eight hours pay last January.She received the same penalty for “receiving the inappropriate content” as her alleged abuser. McInnis “accepted responsibility for her actions” — which was receiving the images and not reporting them earlier.

Another officer, Det. Const. Chris Hoeller — who allegedly tried to coerce Zarabi-Majd into a threesome by threatening to spread false rumours that she engaged in group sex — works in the human trafficking section of the Sex Crimes Unit at TPS.

“It is astounding that not only the City of Toronto is not assisting these female employees, it is defending the alleged perpetrators,” said lawyer Barry Swadron, whose firm Swadron Associates, represents both McInnis and Zarabi at the human rights tribunal.

“This drives a truck through the #MeToo  movement. The law should be changed so that these victims shouldn’t have to bear these costly proceedings to enforce their rights.”

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said the “allegations are untested” and  everyone is entitled  to “due process, a fair hearing of these allegations.”

TPS spokesman Meghan Gray said the service cannot respond to the allegations at this time because they’re before the human rights tribunal.