Toronto Police Service accused of systemic sexism by female officer

By Ginella Massa, Toronto City News

Posted Nov 3, 2016, 6:51PM EDT.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is hearing the case of a Toronto police officer who says sexual harassment she endured between 2008 and 2014 is indicative of a systemic issue within the force. Now, she’s hoping to have other women’s stories heard.

“To the female officers out there that are suffering in these conditions at work within the Toronto Police Service and who have not come forward, and they are fearful… we’re still going to fight for you even though you’re unable to,” said Heather McWilliam.

McWilliam claims she dealt with numerous incidents while working at 23 Division, including colleagues passing around photos of her and other female officers in bikinis, as well as having a supervisor say he would spank her. Her lawyer, Kate Hughes, says since the hearing began Wednesday, her office has fielded numerous calls from female officers claiming they too had dealt with similar issues on the force.

“This environment is an environment that is poison for women police officers,” says Hughes, who is now arguing to have two of those women included in McWilliam’s hearing. “They have safety concerns of their own and they tell me they’re terrified to give evidence. Some have indicated that although they are terrified, they are willing to do so with Heather.”

Toronto Police Service lawyer Amandi Esonwanne argued that the human rights complaint stems from one woman’s experience at one police division, telling the vice-chair, “This case does not call for a systemic or public interest remedy.” He said the force has already investigated McWilliam’s complaints internally and that adding two more witnesses does not prove that there is a systemic issue.

CityNews reached out to the Toronto Police Service as well as the police union for comment — both said it would be inappropriate to speak on the matter while it was before the tribunal. The hearing is ongoing and the vice-chair could ultimately make recommendations to the Toronto Police Service and force it to compensate McWilliam.