Heather McWilliam on 52 Weeks of Hope Podcast
October 13, 2021
After putting up with years of sexual abuse in the workplace, Heather McWilliam finally spoke up on behalf of herself and fellow female police officers. Over six years later, she's won a landmark human rights case in Toronto and is a change agent. Now founder of a nonprofit, writing her book, and creating positive change in policing, she tells you how to be a change agent in your life and be the hero of your own story by taking that action only you know is right for your journey. Unleash your superpowers simply by using your authentic voice like Heather. Braveness is beautiful when you follow your own internal compass. Speak your truth and follow your path as Heather inspires hope in you.
Lauren: Welcome to 52 Weeks of Hope. This is where you get to hear how to feel happy, balanced, and worthwhile, how to make that lonely ache vanish and feel empowered, confident, and secure. I'm Lauren Abrams, and I get to help you feel that magic again. Since going through my own dark night of the soul by chatting with incredible leaders, healers and change agents who give you their messages of hope after overcoming challenges of their own. And today we're talking to a super change agent herself, police officer and human rights advocate Heather McWilliam. After putting up with intolerable sexual abuse in the workplace, Heather finally spoke up on behalf of herself and other female officers over six grueling years later, she's won a landmark human rights case in Toronto and is an agent for Change. Now, founder of a nonprofit, writing her book and creating positive change in policing. She's here to tell you that by being authentic, you too can be the hero of your own story by taking that action only you know is right for your journey. And she's going to help you learn that path right now. Welcome to 52 Weeks of hope, Heather McWilliam!
Heather: Thank you, Lauren. Nice to be here.
Lauren: Yeah. It's so great to finally meet you. You've had quite a run these past few years. Congratulations on your victory. Heather: Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here and glad that I'm on the other side now, so to speak.
Lauren: Yes. I know that these kinds of cases take quite the emotional toll on the victim, and it took such a long time. And they say our biggest growth comes from our darkest times. You're the founder of Brave Inspires Brave. Do you want to explain what that is and how that came about? Heather: Yeah. So along my journey, I found that the braver that I became and standing in my truth and continuing to speak my truth, that other people around me, people that I knew or didn't know also found their brave and were able to overcome obstacles that possibly in the past, they weren't able to. So it hit me one day that my brain will inspire others as well as their brave will inspire me. So it was that ripple effect. And from there, I just wanted to share my story and continue seeing other people overcome their fears. And so if I could do that, then I felt like I was giving back.
Lauren: That's really amazing. And you mean beyond just policing, you mean other people started just being vulnerable around you? Heather: Yeah. 100% like it was as soon as you started owning what you were going through and showing that you weren't afraid to share it and you were in that vulnerable state and that you were still standing in your power while you were being vulnerable. It was definitely something that you could see that I had such they said, almost so great when I was doing it. But I just feel like, we're all human. We're all going through things. And why do we have to be ashamed? Why is there a stigma that comes with what we're going through?
Lauren: Yeah. That's really beautiful. Did you always want to be a police officer? Heather: Yeah. So I was wanting to be a police officer, and there was like, this part of me that really enjoyed psychology and human behavior. So it kind of all went hand in hand. And I figured my father was a police officer, and I thought that policing really was able to grasp all of the things that I wanted to explore with regards to investigations and serving and protecting people. So it really had all aspects that I was interested in.
Lauren: I think it's important to say you're still a police officer now, correct? Heather: I am still a police officer after all this time. It's hard to imagine. But I was injured, like, on duty.
And so I still was able to keep the status of being a police officer and be covered by the injury that occurred within my workplace.
Lauren: That's amazing. So let's just talk a little bit about what you did overcome. I know you were experienced severe sexual harassment in the workplace, just talked briefly about that and why you reported it and just the atmosphere there. Heather: Yeah. So when I joined policing and I started with the RCMP in British Columbia in Canada, and so I wasn't there too long. But I switched over to Toronto police, and so that was a municipal
police service. And right away I noticed, for myself, a big culture difference as to what I experienced in the RCMP, to what Toronto was like. And it was really just normalize the behavior and the sexual comments about women. And so you could see it. I could see it all the way up the chain, different ranks and
positions and the power imbalance and how it was being used. And the more I went through my career, the more I could see the larger picture of the effects of it on myself, others around me, the community, all the dynamics that were happening because of it. And you could see the deterioration of others and how it was affecting their life, not just at work, but outside of work and their own personal well being.
I was feeling effective at that, too.
Lauren: How so? Heather: So, It was breaking me inside really is what it was doing. And so as much as I tried to focus on my job and serving others, the wear and tear that it was taking on my confidence on my self
-esteem was just escalating. There was more and more supervisors that were sexually
harassing me. One supervisor had sexually assaulted me, so I just felt so degraded and really just like a sex object is what it started to become is that you were only being seen for how you could help them and what they wanted with regards to their sexual needs. So to speak, and I really tried to just focus on my job and doing what I needed to do. But eventually, after I put in a complaint when it got too much, I
did my best to really manage this behavior. But when it became too much, I put in a complaint at one of the supervisors that was sexually harassing me and then eventually preventing me from furthering my career. So after that point, my career was basically over, and then my body started getting the effects of it, like physically, my body started getting a lot of aches, and I could just see that this was headed in a very wrong direction. Now that it was having those effects on my body.
Lauren: I thought it was really interesting, when I was doing a lot of research on you, that it was the older officers more than anything else. I mean, nobody was sticking up for you, I guess. Heather: Yeah. A lot of the police officers were afraid to stand up to them. I mean, they had said to me that they were not comfortable standing up to them, and they were afraid of their career if they
stood up to them. So it's not that the junior officers weren't doing it as well, but the officers that weren't were afraid how it would affect their career and that eventually would affect their livelihood and their families.
Lauren: So eventually ended up happening. Heather: Yeah. I ended up taking a leave of absence, and when I tried to leave, I thought that it would take a few months off work. I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety. But at that time, the police service didn't like that I had left the workplace. I don't know what their exact thoughts were, but they were trying to get me to come back to work, and by then I needed time to heal and since I wasn't abiding by their rules, they were then coming to my home and intimidating, so to speak, with regards to taking away my pay and benefits if I didn't come back to work and so on and so forth. So they really started putting pressure on me to do what they wanted me to do, to protect themselves.
Lauren: And you end up getting a lawyer? Heather: I did. I found a lawyer. It took a while because actually, our Association (Police Association) didn't want anything to do with this, and they've done that for years, right. They've just turned a blind eye and said that this wasn't our area and stayed out of it, so to speak. And sometimes actually helping the employer. In my case, they were helping the employer intimidate me as well. But I found a human rights lawyer luckily, and I think she really saw what it was that was happening, and she wanted to make that change with me. I called many lawyers, and a lot of people have either conflicts of
interest or they again, I think we're hesitant to want to go against the police, knowing how this would affect their lives as well. Right. Moving forward in their own.
Lauren: Yeah. So it took a lot of years. And here you are. You're on the other side, and you get the mental health help. You've done the work, so to speak. I mean, your topics are faith in humanity. You are your own hero. My story is not my identity. You've done a lot of work. So somebody listening to you having gone through that, they're like, I don't know, but you're on the other side. What would you tell somebody like, I don't know if I want to go through that? Heather: Well, I don't recommend it. But if you do find yourself there, I mean, I was in that darkness. I was in that mud. I did not see light. I was being terrorized for six years, intimidated by the police, facing police abuse like every day of my life. I was a police officer afraid of the police, fleeing the police. So I really eventually said, I can see everyone being affected by this. And if I wasn't, eventually just said, if I wasn't getting better, if I couldn't find some sort of healing, then someone was going to get really sick because illness and that kind of negative mind could really affect your body. Right? And so I just decided one day to start finding things every day that I was going to be grateful for. And if that was only those days where I said I was grateful for the Sky, I was grateful for being able to wake up every day and still be alive. And I was breathing and all the little things that we miss every day. I started doing that. And eventually you ended up with a long list of things that you could be grateful for. And just focusing on all the positives and switching your mind from the negative. And so that's exactly what I did is that every time there was a negative thought that appeared or a negative fear, I had to train my mind to fake it till I make it. Right?
Lauren: Yeah. Totally. I love the gratitude list. I'm big on a daily gratitude list and on what we focus on growth. I have an article on my website about it. It's so true. I mean, we always have a choice. And so you have the faith in humanity being the change you want to see in the world. How did that come about? And what is that? Heather: For me, I've always had a big heart for humanity my whole entire life. I just have so much love for us and everything that we go through and how resilient we are. And so that's kind of where it comes from is that even as a young person, as a teenager, I saw my friends go through so much, and I always wanted just to pour back into people, right. I never wanted to see people in pain or in suffering. And so the more that we can just give each other love instead of hate and all those things that can come into us when we're in trauma or in suffering or in pain. is that just really being able to understand where we're all at in life because we're not a lot the same points in our life. We're not all going through the same things. Right?
Lauren: My goodness! Right? Heather: Yeah. So if I today can pour into someone else, then I'm happy to do that. And on the days that I'm not doing, well, someone else will pour into me. Right? So it's again that ripple effect that we all can give one another.
Lauren: Yeah. Definitely. So your brave is beautiful. You talk about following your own internal Compass. Heather: Yeah. So for brave is beautiful. It was at that time in my life where I felt really ashamed of my mental health. I was isolating from the world. I did that for many years and..
Lauren: so sad.. So many people are doing so sad. I got really sad when you said that. Heather: It was sad when I look back, like I was done with the world. I was absolutely done with the world. I wanted nothing to do with anyone except for those who were closest to me. And I had to start saying the mantra to myself, that Brave is beautiful because I felt so ashamed that I couldn't get up and do my hair. I didn't want to put on makeup. I didn't want to put on clothes that I enjoyed. I didn't want to do all the things that made me who I was. And so I started with, well, you're being really brave right now. So that is what is beautiful. Right? And so being authentic went along with that Brave is beautiful is that as long as I was who I needed to be, then that was truly all I needed.
Lauren: Yeah. Showing up where we're really at instead of some, like social media BS. I mean, I like my kids explanation of what social media really is. They told me that Instagram is like the picture perfect and TikTok. I'm not on TikTok, but I'm going to go look at it. They said TikTok is what really is going on, which I don't know that that's true. I have no idea. But that was their explanation to me. That was probably a year or two ago. I have no idea if that's true. If I go on social media, suddenly it's a rabbit hole and suddenly 20 minutes is gone. I'm like what? So I tried not to go down that rabbit hole. Heather: I don't even know about trip talk. I'm not on it. But I know that when I was going through all those years of pain, the silver lining was because I was being hacked so much by the police and I was being terrorized and they were changing my passwords and they weren't basically taking away my voice to be able to connect with people. Right? But it actually helped me because I didn't get to see all the things that maybe could have made me unfocused where I needed to focus on. Right? So actually, I feel like it helped me not being able to be on social media, right? I really had to go inward and really listen all the time to what was happening. I wasn't distracted by everyone else's life. I had to really focus on what was happening with me.
Lauren: Yeah. That's fabulous. So what did you do? What kind of work did you do? I mean, gradually what you focus on, I love the brave is beautiful. That's fabulous. Heather: Yeah. I wrote a lot. I've always enjoyed writing, and I also as a police officer. So I went back to writing a lot. I learned how to meditate and really be able to understand what meditation was, because when I started, I had no clue. And it's a matter of just having patience with yourself and realizing it's not going to happen overnight. And so it was that perseverance of I don't have anything else better to do right now. So I might as well just self care to the Max and see what happens, right? Because I don't have children. So I had that time to be able to spend to be able to do that for myself. And I know not everyone has that time, but every time that you do have free time, if you can give back to yourself, I found that to be the best thing when we're in that state, right? ..is to give back to ourselves..
Lauren: even if you have kids, meditation is key. I find that to be the gratitude are the number one things for me personally, I love those. And do people see you and go, oh, you're the Toronto police officer fights for right and everything. Or you're like, my story is not who I am. I'm an evolving person. And what do you say to people? Heather: Yeah. I think I guess everyone has their expectation of what someone is like or what would they be like after they've gone through such experience? But I'm really just like everyone else. I evolve day to day just like you said. And I have good days and I have bad days. Still, it's never going to be perfect, right? When you have gone to those steps, but you know how to manage them now, right. And so some days you're fighting the war again and you're pushing on and you're advocating is what I'm still doing. Another days. , I try and live in everyday life where I really enjoy the atmosphere of a small town and just enjoying life as it is. So I'd really like to meet people, I guess you could say where they are and where I am and that's what's important to me.
Lauren: What's the most common question you're asked when people meet you? Heather: How did they do it? How did I survive? Like, how did you survive? And sometimes I'm like, I really don't know, by the Grace of the universe, I survived. Really. There was obviously some force that was guiding me through this. It took me out of policing and totally completely changed my path in life. I felt like I just turned in a 360 completely. And so I do feel that this is my path. This is my purpose. And how I survived was so many things every day. It's just pouring back into myself, to heal myself. Like I did a lot of acupuncture in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine. I became a Reiki practitioner. So a lot of energy healing, a lot of energy clearing aligning your chakras and healing what's inside of you. And so I learned all about those things. And so it was just growing your mind and knowing there's so much out there that we can do to help ourselves was became the next thing for me. It became what life was all about.
Lauren: Did you start attracting all new people into your life after that? You must have here you were a working police officer with that kind of energy, and you're aligning your chakras after that. And that must have attracted a different tribe. Heather: You got it. Once I came out from my cave and was like, okay, I'm ready to venture into the new world and see what it's like now that I've completely transformed from where I was. And once I did that, the doors just started opening to all those people in that energy field. And so I do feel like I have a whole new life. I do feel like that other part of me was another life. But it was a really quick transformation as much it was a long time. I still feel it was a big shift.
Lauren: So what are you doing now? Heather: So now we're just starting a nonprofit. So we're going to still champion police women and make all those changes in policing with some other police women. I have brave inspires brave. So I'm still doing speaking, and we're creating workshops for other people, for mental health resources. And I'm writing a book. So I really enjoyed the writing aspect. And I hope that everyone can inspire a few people with my story. And that's really what it's all about. It always is.
Lauren: Do you have a message of hope you want to give? Heather: There's so many messages of hope. I think the one that still comes to the most is your brave will inspire other people's brave. And when you find that you are the hero of your own journey and you have all that light within you, it arrives when you least expect it when you're in that darkness and you're still trying to find the light, the more that you can envision and manifest what your life could look like to me. That was the hope that I had. I would just think about what my life could be. And what I dreamed of is when I got out of this, what could it possibly feel like? And for me, that's what gave me the hope, right? Was that this can't be the answer to what life was. There has to be more and so manifesting is that life.
Lauren: That's good. I was thinking it's a domino effect. It just starts there, and then it all kind of happens. I don't know. You're an example of that. You're a great example. What do you think is the commonly held belief in your industry that you passionately disagree with? Heather: I think it's just the environment that's been created from my workplace is what you're speaking about. I think that, in policing, being seen as strong is holding your feelings in and being able to manage all of the things that are happening and not opening up and being not a superhero, but just a human being where we have emotions and we can feel them. And that's okay. It's really taking away that stigma about mental health. I think mental health and policing still has a long way to go. I think the bravest people are the ones that are vulnerable because that's where that ripple effect happens. Right? And there is a big problem with suicide and police officers, military. And just to be able to know that they are not less of a person and they are not defined by their uniform and they're not defined by the position that they hold that it's okay to say you're not okay.
Lauren: Yeah, definitely. That we weren't undergrad the number one rate of suicide were single military men, older, single military men because they don't talk about anything that's real. I just read a good book. I just finished it. I think a lot of people are reading it anxious people. It's fiction, but the characters are so well drawn. And there's father, son, police officers. And that's all I say. It's so good. It's funny. It's witty. It ties in well with the subject. Is there a question that I should have asked you? I didn't know enough to ask. And you were going to get off. Lauren didn't ask me this. Heather: I think for me, it's just to the community. Really. I think for me, how people have been affected by police abuse. I think that the community needs a lot of hope in that area and that we do care and that we don't want to see them in pain. Like, I don't want to see the community being affected by the things that I've seen from the police. And so I really want to give help to the community, that there is a lot of officers out there trying to speak their truth to create change, and it's really creating hope. So when you see them out there and they're speaking their truth, it's not necessarily about them. It's about wanting to create hope for everyone, that we're not all out there, there's a lot of good police officers out there that want to create peace in the community and love. And that's the only piece I think that I could offer extras. That means a lot to me and a lot of others as well.
Lauren: Yeah, there's no profession where they're all bad seats. That's always true. That doesn't make the news. The good ones don't make the news in anything Heather: Right? And that's the ripple effect we need. We need sometimes the news to give out those messages of hope, because that actually will create a lot of impact of wellness within us.
Lauren: I quit watching it. I read the paper. I kind of need to, but news just not good energy. It was so good to finally meet you. Thank you for being a guest today on 52 Weeks of Hope. Heather: Thanks so much, Lauren. Take care.
Lauren: You too.
Lauren: I hope you enjoyed this week's episode and take with you, Heather's messages of vulnerability speaking your truth and bravery. Such great messages to take into your week ahead. Join us in our Facebook group, where we talk about gratitude and healing, and it's a safe space for achieving your clarity. We're also having a monthly meet up in the Facebook group 52 Weeks of Hope with one of the guests leading each month and a healing modality. If you want to be in the know, g et on the email list at the website at 52weeksofHope. com and that way you always know what's happening each month and from week to week. Be sure to tune in next week for another amazing episode when I share what's been gleaned from interviewing amazing healers, change agents and leaders for the past 52 weeks, I now know the meaning of life, and I'm sharing it with you next week. That is an episode not to be missed, and I do know how ballsy that sounds to say I now know the meaning of life, but I do so be sure to listen next week. It's an episode definitely not to be missed. Thank you so much for listening. If you're enjoying the podcast, please help two of your friends. I have a link where you can just follow and review right there on the website. Just click. It's very easy now. I'm Lauren Abrams. Thanks again for listening.