Heather McWilliam on HER Story Podcast
February 26, 2021
Heather McWilliam shares with us her lengthy battle in the legal system to hold her fellow officers accountable. After surviving extensive sexual harassment, Heather knew she needed to stand up for herself, and for other women experiencing similar circumstances. She is candid and honest when sharing with us how her life has been affected throughout the process, her ways of coping with PTSD, changes implemented since her verdict was read, and so much more.
H Ashley: Hello, HERStorians I'm your host, Heather Ashley, and welcome to another episode of Women of Her Story, a podcast dedicated to celebrating women who have made or are making their Mark on our society. Today. I have with me, Heather McWilliams, to talk about the police women's movement of integrity and her human rights case. Thank you so much for joining us today,Heather,
H McWilliam: thank you so much for having me, Heather.
H Ashley: Of course, I do have to tell you this. When you popped up into the Zoom waiting room, I kept clicking my own name. I'm not kidding. I was like, Why can't I admit her into the room? And I was like, oh, I'm clicking on myself. My gosh. I was like, wow, this is a day I'm doing well. Are you having a good day so far?
H McWilliam: Yes, I'm having a good day. It's nice and sunny out today.
H Ashley: I love a good sunny day. It's sunny over here as well. Well, let's hop right in. How long have you been on the police force?
H McWilliam: So I joined Policing in 2004. I was about 21, 22 years old. So about 16 years now.
H Ashley: So it's been a minute. I don't think I actually clarified to the listeners that you're in Canada.
H McWilliam: That's right. I'm in Canada. I'm actually in Alberta right now. So we're in the West Coast, and it's absolutely beautiful out here today. So it's away from the busyness of the city where I can be down as well in Toronto.
H Ashley: So this is a question that I actually didn't think to send to you, but it's just come to me. I know that getting into the police force is vastly different in Canada than in the States. What's the process to become part of the police force in Canada?
H McWilliam: So I joined, I think again, I was 22 years old, and at that time, you could apply to any police service you wanted as long as you were 18 years of age or older. But at that time, I had taken a College course, and it's police foundations, where you take two years of College to see if you're interested in policing. And so I applied to the RCMP, which is the Royal Canadian Police. It's our national police course in Canada. And from there I was hired and went to training in Saskatchewan, which is another province in Canada where I completed 22 weeks of training at their training center there. So you're away from home for about six months in full training, and, yeah, it's pretty good there.
H Ashley: It's a process.
H McWilliam: Yes.
H Ashley: Wow. Yeah. It's a vastly different situation with taking the police foundations courses and stuff. I like that. That's something that you have to do to take and be like, am I actually interested in this?
H McWilliam: Other people take University courses and they can have degrees in psychology or Criminology. So it just depends on maybe what you want to work on once you get into policing. But again, they take anyone after the age of 18 years of age. But there's also other training centers centers within Canada that's for provincial policing or municipal policing, as I was in with Toronto afterwards. And that's also a different College as well. So nationally, there's the RCMP one, and then as well as there's municipal ones and provincial ones throughout Canada.
H Ashley: Wow. You learn something everyday. That's so interesting. Well, to get to a less happy but also still happy moment, you recently won your human rights case against the largest police force in Canada. What was that process like the people involved the length of the case and what the case was about?
H McWilliam: After nine years, I've been in working for a Toronto place, and I loved my career. I absolutely loved it, and I was also successful at it. But I was seeing and I was experiencing sexual harassment and within the organization itself, and not just by officers, but by supervisors as well. So with experiencing it and seeing other women being affected by it as well, I decided to enter into a human rights hearing, file a complaint or an application against my police service. They hadn't taken it seriously my original complaints and followed up with all of the allegations with creating a better environment within the culture and placing so it kind of forced me into the next level of what I need to do for accountability for women within the police culture.
H Ashley: Wow. That feels like it was probably felt like a lot of pressure, not just you trying to get your story out in that situation, but showing that it's like a systematic issue. It's deeper than just individual. It's not just individual incidences. It's truly a recurring problem. How long did that case last for? How long were you stuck in this loop of awful?
H McWilliam: That's exactly a very good way to put it. I was stuck. I was literally stuck because once I had started it and quickly realized that this was a far deeper problem and issue than I had imagined. When I stepped away from it, it went on for six years. And when I first put in the application, there started to be a lot of incidents of trying to prevent me from moving forward with it. And so I was facing retaliation, intimidation, further harassment at my home and at my home and social media as well. And so I wasn't able to go to the police for help as I tried to go to the police for help for my safety. They just were refusing to protect me, even though they should have been protecting me. The police Association as well was not helping or supporting me. So once I realized that this was definitely a culture that was not wanting to protect women or not wanting to advance the movement of change, it became an even more live issue and passion for me to continue what I was doing. Every time you get knocked down in a fight and you get back up, right? That's kind of the way that I kept continuing to get through that being stuck in it for seven years. It was like looking for that light.
H Ashley: And I'm sure it's tough, too, though, because just like in a physical fight, every time you get knocked down and you do get back up, you're getting back up a little slower each time, and you still have it in you to get up every time. It's hard. It's so hard. And especially when the people that you think are the people that you know are supposed to be on your side and protecting you and protecting what you are doing, aren't there.. They're the ones you're up against. It's just awful, because I know that you had it. There were a handful of, like, really higher ranking people that were part of this lawsuit, correct?
H McWilliam: Yeah. There was from a top down kind of thing that were involved with the sexual harassment and the reprisals of me standing up for myself. There was Superintendent and staff sergeants and sergeants. And then inspectors, and they were being promoted for standing in solidarity with each other, for standing against me. And so that mountain just kept getting bigger and bigger when someone knocks you down to the point where it just gets so dark. I was already suffering at that point with post traumatic stress, complex post traumatic stress and depression, anxiety that will want to regain back who you are and that spirit within you. It really showed up. And I knew that that mountain just kept getting bigger. But I needed to do it for the change that was needed for all of the past and present and future women that have been going through this, that they had spoken to me and trusted to speak to me about their experiences. But we're too afraid to speak out. So not only did I notice it, but other women had come to me with their concerns. And as a police officer, even though I was a victim of it, the police officer wanting to serve and protect others, it was always in me. And that's kind of what I was still doing was holding those accountable, even though they were in positions of power.
H Ashley: Yeah, that's something that always stresses me out in a weird way. This is going to sound so strange, so like, bear with me. But just the idea that within the police force, the men that were just partnering up together against you, even though you were the one being clearly harassed, I want to be like, if that were your daughter or your wife or your friend, wouldn't you want to get the person who was doing this to them? So why are you now not believing or not caring that this woman that you work with or this person is being attacked in more ways than one? And you're just going to be like, no, I'm on the guy who's breaking the law side, even though I am the law. So how does that work? And that stresses me out.. I'm getting sweaty about it right now.
H McWilliam: I laugh about it because it's so true. And it's a lot better than soaking in the stress of it. It's better than soaking in the pain that I've been in in that fear that I've been in, to be able to come out on the other side and have this conversation with you. But I survived all of that sweatiness, all of that fear, all of those sleepless nights. It's pretty amazing. But that's exactly why I did it is to create that rebalancing of accountability and policing, that movement that we all joined this job to protect people because we were hired because we were people that knew what it was to have integrity and ethics and morals. And somewhere along the line, it's been lost. It's been lost by all of the further harm that we've responded to. And somehow our mind has been able to say, I did this many things this year to protect humanity. I can't do one more. And if I do this one more, how is it going to affect me? I'm not going to be able to continue policing if all of the other people that don't want me to point fingers at them are not going to want to work with me. So they kind of do this balancing act in their head to figure out which is better, which is worse. And what do they want to get involved with, right?
H Ashley: Yeah. It's like a picking and choosing of this situation where it's like, well, I can do this thing that is going to make waves and potentially jeopardize my position of power, or I can take this way. And it's just going to be a lot easier. And I didn't do anything bad. So it doesn't matter if I don't say anything. It's like you're complicit.
H McWilliam: That's exactly it. And it's definitely a part of the problem. And since day one, that's what I wanted to say was that conversation of what we are doing and what we aren't doing and how it all does matter in the bigger picture. I was just one person who decided one day to not go back to work because I didn't want to be sexually harassed anymore. And that one drop in that water created a ripple effect where every single time they tried to suppress me, I said no, and I continued to say no for seven years, I said, no, this wasn't good enough. And no, you will not continue to treat women this way. And eventually other women started arriving to support me. Other police women, they started coming out with their own stories. And as much as it pains me to see and to hear all these other women coming forward with their stories and not just my service, police service, but other services, Ontario in Canada and even in the United States, it's what's going to cause it's going to be what causes the change. And again, it's difficult to see. But it's necessary for that movement to occur to awaken people to what is going on. It's for decades, women have been saying in policing, this has been happening, but nothing's been done.
H Ashley: Yeah, it's that and it sucks to have to be one of the first major drops in the bucket. That is the worst, because that means you get the brunt of it. You have to go through a whole lot in order for the women of the future, even just to be able to not have to do that. And it sucks to have to be that person. But like you're saying, you're like, this was awful. And I just had to keep getting up and saying, it's not good enough. It's not good enough for almost a decade. But it's finally to a point where it's like I look at what my getting up every single time did. It accomplished this. It's like now all these women are feeling more comfortable to come forward with their stories because you've set an example of it can be done, and it sucks, but it can be done, and we can do it all together.
H McWilliam: When I first started, I don't think many people thought that I could win my case because it was me against approximately 30 police officers that took the stand against me, and I didn't have a lot of physical evidence. I had some, but it was mostly my integrity, my credibility that won me the case and the lack of their credibility that did not win them the case. And so it really says a lot for someone's integrity through their lifetime. It's really priceless. And once you lose that, it's very difficult to regain that
H Ashley: I think also a big part of I mean, I don't know this to be true just because I.. okay.. Let me figure out how to phrase this. Basically, I feel like something in a court case that would happen is they would try to do everything to destroy your credibility and your integrity within that process. So I feel like the fact alone that if you like, you said against these 30 people who are trying to just be like, no, it's not this. And you're like, listen, you can say what you want to say, but this is not anything, and they're going to know the people in the court room are going to know because you're clearly full of it.
H McWilliam: Yeah, it was 34 days of hearing over. I think it was.. But by the time we got to court, it was four years.. We were in court for three to four days and to watch people that you knew that will be your bosses at one point, your mentors, your colleagues, to stand there and for lack of a better word, lie against you and bring in more things that were not true to discredit you day in and day out. That was an experience in itself. I don't know of anyone else that has ever had to go through what I've gone through in these circumstances of arriving every day in court and, you're know, even being told by.. we have mediations that occur throughout the hearing. And even one of the mediators at the end said to me, you have no chance of winning. And even the intimidation coming from the tribunal itself and me looking them in the eye and saying, I'm still finishing the case.
H Ashley: Yeah. You're like, bring it on, bring it on. I have nothing else to lose right now. Like, you've already destroyed a lot of this.
H McWilliam: Yeah. I mean, they took away my entire life. People were afraid to speak to me. They were afraid to be seen with me in public. They were afraid to even support me. So I had lost everything. And that still wasn't going to stop me. It's just who I am. And even though the intimidation that went on throughout, they were indirectly, indirectly intimidating me. And I have all the evidence for what was going on. And they were targeting me, following me and videotaping me to intimidate me to stop and living that day in and day out. It was like living in the Twilight zone of what policing is supposed to be and how we're supposed to feel safe in society. And they just went to all extremes to not have this case finished.
H Ashley: That just seems like a lot of effort to go through to protect what I'm assuming they were trying to protect the institution from bad publicity. You know what I mean? It feels to me like that's just a whole lot of extra effort that's way More effort, I think. I don't know. But I would assume that's way more effort, way more exhausting than actually just addressing the problem backwards.
H McWilliam: Well, I think basically they knew and they know how much of this has gone on over the decades. And so it's not just me that they're wanting to stop, but they did hold positions of power, and they've been in the organization for decades, and they still have all their friends. So they're protecting all of their colleagues and all of the people before and after them that have been creating this culture. So basically, it's the change that's needed. And I'm glad we're here talking about it, and that's the important part is to empower others to continue that change in policing.
H Ashley: So we've talked about it. But you do keep getting up every time during this lengthy, horrible process. Did you question yourself? Did you question, like, is this right? Or did you know it was right, but you were just exhausted or a little bit of both.
H McWilliam: Yeah. I think it was a little bit of both. I questioned the why me? Why was I being kind of chosen to take this journey? It wasn't something that I had planned on, and I was exhausted, and I didn't know how my body was going to continue getting up. The effects of it not only mentally, but physically. It was eating away at my body. It wasn't much your mental health is being affected. Your body starts taking on those effects. So it was definitely balancing the am I going to survive this? Not just mentally, but physically. I remember one time asking my doctor, I said, you know, how much stress I'm under am I going to make it because I really didn't know. There were many days where I didn't know if I was going to survive this and have lived for the day to be able to think about it.
H Ashley: Wow. Like you're saying, as soon as your mental health starts to decline in any way, your body kind of goes into, like, two sorts of weird autopilot. Your body shuts down the parts that it's like, well, these aren't necessary things. And then it focuses on a couple of things. But then it also just kind of listens to what your brain is saying. So it goes into survival mode. But then if your brain is still saying, I can't get up anymore, your body is like, oh, we're not even trying to save the big stuff now, you know what I mean? Like, oh, man.
H McWilliam: Yeah. So self care became part of that survival toolkit.. everyday was okay. Well, what's coming at me? How do I protect myself? And the ways in which I was able to do that was through so many different self care tools, holistic ways to be able to survive. Basically psychological kind of torture on my mind is what I was feeling like. I'm not that person that likes to sit in what I went through, but it's necessary to talk about how serious it was in the extreme way that they took to silence me. But I want people to know that our mind and our body is resilient to go through a transformation of your mindset on how to survive. It's beautiful the way the mind works.
H Ashley: What were some of your favorite self care rituals that you had? What are ones that you still stick with now just when you're feeling exhausted?
H McWilliam: Yeah. So there's so many. And so really, it's just whatever speaks to me throughout each day. And so I'm very in tune with my mind and body now. And I listen all the time. And I'm kind of always in a meditative state where once your mind changes over, it's quite resilient. And it has a lot of muscle memory. And so there's your mantras that you are always there. And there's also dog therapy, spending time with my animals or physical health, and a lot of meditation, a lot of listening to what you need each and every single day. And I also use Chinese medicine, yoga, all things to create that calm and peace within your body. And that no matter what is going to come at you, that you are fully changed, you have that warrior mentality where you're at peace, that no matter what comes at me now, I can handle. And there's nothing that you can't survive.
H Ashley: Yeah, that's really great advice. It's one of those things where being in tune with yourself enough to know, like, okay, what is my mind needing? What is my body needing? Can we do it in one fell swoop with one activity? Or does one thing need to be exercised with, like, pseudoku? And then we need to go for a jog, like..
H McWilliam: It's a fine tuning.
H Ashley: Yes. And once you find that fine tuning within yourself is amazing, my friends say I have a card deck of hobbies that I can just pick through. And for whatever I need that day, it could be painting or knitting or writing. Or I'll go and I'll go on a two mile walk. Sometimes you have to just go through the deck of cards every once in a while and find what you're
H McWilliam: it's like picking a recipe.
H Ashley: Yes. And sometimes you just need a recipe, and then you feel better. Like, sometimes you just need to go Cook something..
H McWilliam: Exactly! Right! Where is your focus? Where is your focus needed today? Sustain that ability to be able to survive anything. And I agree with the writing because I do write a lot. And I think I've written enough for two books I've been writing for seven years since I've been trying to survive this, so eventually there'll be a book published that comes because I find it my best outlet.
H Ashley: There's something about physically writing something down. It feels like it can leave your brain if you physically write it down, because if you type it for me, it's still there. If it's still there physically writing something out, like puts it fully out of your body onto something else that you transferred with, and then you can put it down for the day. And if you need to pick up that thought again, you can. But you still don't have to.
H McWilliam: I totally agree. All the times where they didn't want to listen to me or they didn't want to protect me. I'm like, Well, I have to keep track of this somewhere because one day I'm going to put it all together as evidence as a police officer with that mentality, right. So the extraordinary measures they took to silence me, if anything truly was going to happen to me, I did need to have it on paper. I did write a lot because the extreme measures that they took, I really at that time didn't believe anyone would believe what was happening because it was so extreme. And so with my disability, it was difficult to express and communicate to people everything that was happening because I was still trying to heal from the previous years of what I had gone through with the flashbacks and the triggers and the trauma. And I was just being retraumatized basically every single day that I took off to heal. So there was no time to heal. But the writing played a huge part in allowing me to process, even though no one was there to protect me from it.
H Ashley: Well, during these times and now did you have a support system that you could turn to in any way because having system around you is so important, especially at a time like that.
H McWilliam: Yeah. So when this happens to anyone in life, that all of a sudden they're going through a difficult time. I didn't even know what PTSD was when I first was diagnosed. Family played a big role in supporting me. My father was a police officer, a very strong minded man. My mother wanted to be a police officer, but at that time, they weren't taking any women. So she understood policing. And she also knew what had been happening over the years that I told her they're very strong, my people. My mother is the mother warrior of all warriors. And so when her daughter wasn't getting up, she was going to make sure that I was and my brother as well was special support. My partner, who is a veteran, he understood and was behind me 100% and to have outside support as well is that I had a team of lawyers, I had a team of doctors and their resilience to support me was unwavering, and I'm so blessed and grateful to have had all of them in my life and friends from the past and friends that came into my life that I met all very supportive. And it doesn't matter what happens in life. There's always going to be someone around the corner to help you to pick you up. There's good people everywhere. And as long as we remember that positive mindset, it all seemed to work out. But again, I have to remember that not everyone has that support. So it's something that I want to give back now is that support to other people. And I try to do as best I can and to empower others and to support them and to promote wellness, to get through, to survive and all the things that I was able to learn from in the future. I'll be opening a nonprofit to be able to help support other people. Just through my experience, I want to share and make sure that they have those tools.
H Ashley: Absolutely. What you just said is so important. The fact not everyone has that support around them, they really don't. And it's so important to have when the odds are stacked against you, you need to have a good handful of people in your corner, even if all they can do is just say, like, I love you. I love you. Everybody needs a little bit of that in any circumstance, but especially in something like this. And I just love that you're taking what you've gone through. And you've noticed based on.. what stories that people feel comfortable sharing with you, that they're like that you're noticing that not everybody has that support system and that you want to provide that. But it's also important that it doesn't all fall on your shoulders, right. That's why we got to make sure that everyone hears what's happening and what has been happening so that we can all really take a stand and be like, this isn't okay.
H McWilliam: Yeah. That support system got me through this. I got myself through it. But they were there. They were in my life for a reason, and I couldn't have done it without them. Truly.
H Ashley: Absolutely. Can you tell us about the police women's movement of integrity specifically? Is it like an organization? Is it a group of people who are working on something specific?
H McWilliam: There is a group of women, and there's also a group of men as well of officers. And then from there, other allies that have been holding police services accountable. I mean, for all the time, there's been people holding police services accountable. Right. But I think that now having police officers kind of crossed over that thin blue line, quote unquote, of not going against one another. But now saying we've had enough of this secret society within policing where you don't do the right thing because it's against another police officer. People have had enough.. officers have had enough.. And there is a larger group of people that are continually joining in that empowerment movement with police culture, with integrity is everyone should have full treatment, and there shouldn't be negligent investigations. There shouldn't be hiding of evidence. And all of the things that go along with corruption is that the police officers that join for good. We don't want this. We don't want to be a part of the past has been created. And this pattern of this kind of this abuse of power. So there's various people throughout Canada and the world really that we are connecting with on Twitter in that movement, to say, humanity deserves more, and we all deserve more, and we don't want to be a part of it. So we are standing together with integrity.
H Ashley: Yeah. And this is just a random thought that I've just had, but it's a little off. It's fine. It makes sense. So, like, within the military, right. They investigate their own stuff. It's one of those things where I've been listening to a podcast that's all about, like, military corruption, crimes and cover ups and stuff. And it seems crazy to me that there's not an outside force that is brought in to investigate things like that, which is why I know there's, like, internal Affairs, I guess, with police administration, but that's not far enough removed to be held truly accountable within the Department. It's like you can't expect people to investigate their friends unbiasedly, even if they have done something horrible, you can't expect them to be 100% unbiased. It's just not. And they're not going to be held accountable. And I think it's like you've been saying, it's just been left alone for so long and allowed to just run rampant within this, like we protect our own. But what if they're doing bad things? You shouldn't protect them.
H McWilliam: That's exactly it. And I went through an internal investigation. I went through an outside agency who investigates because I was sexually assaulted by my supervisor, and they investigate specific incidents of abuse. And they're called the special investigation the SIU within Ontario province in Canada. And they're supposed to be removed from the situation. However, they found that in my incident, sexual thought that it was unfounded. But in the human rights hearing, it was found that he did commit sexual assault. The investigation that was conducted within the internal investigation and then the outside agency. After I listened to and went over the investigations and the interviews and the evidence that was or was not collected, they were negligent in more than one way. So it was difficult. Again, it was another layer of trauma to my trauma was, as a police officer, knowing that they had been negligent, they had not conducted proper investigation. Their interviews were they had failed in the interview process of actually gathering evidence, and they had hid evidence. They had not collected evidence. They conducted an investigation that was with tunnel vision and investigate all of it. So there were so many layers to the trauma of these outside agencies, covering up the collective police culture of not holding police officers accountable. Yeah. So even one of my there was a female supervisor who had discriminated against me, and after my complaint went in, she became in charge of our internal investigations. So this is when all the other abuse was happening to me, outside of the hearing, at my home and on my phone, I was made the target of a cyber crimes investigation after I put in my original complaints to the human rights and for some reason, I was the investigation of a cyber crime investigation all of a sudden. So there definitely needs to be a better oversight body to be able to fix these problems within police culture.
H Ashley: Yeah. You know, it kind of even makes me think about sometimes a case, let's say, like somebody the car got stolen, at least in the States. They'll move it over a couple of towns if there's been too much publicity on the crime already, if everyone in that city already knows who these charges are up against, so they'll move it to a different area where the jury can be fresh, where they've never heard of any of these people. And it's that sort of thing where it's like, why not? Even if it is just a police force from an entirely separate area that has no stakes in the case that has no stakes in anything other than let's look at this completely objectively and see what's going on. Let's look at the facts and not be taking it personally. I don't know. I feel like so many times it's taken personally. Like, if you come after one of us, you come after all of us. Well, why isn't that then assigned to what they're doing to you? They're coming after you. So aren't they coming after everyone? If they're coming after you, I guess it only goes in one direction. I don't.
H McWilliam: I went to the other services within Canada that I had option to go to, and they told me to go back to the original service that was harming me and asked them for help.
H Ashley: But that doesn't make sense. That's like telling literally, like, a domestic abuse victim to go to their partner who's abusing them and ask for help. That's literally exactly what that circumstances.
H McWilliam: And this is the state of police culture problem that we are in. This is it. And you go through all the steps, you do everything right. And this is the result of the ripple effect of what I've gone through. This is not where I want to go. I wanted to go back to work. This is how it all started, because I wanted to work in an environment that was free of sexual harassment, and I didn't want to be sexually assaulted. And I followed the trail to continuing to keep getting back up to say, no, this must change. And this has been kind of the end of the road as to how far we've come or not come with accountability within policing in Canada anyways,
H Ashley: it's kind of with the outside police, like with the other areas you went to saying, no, go back to the original one. It's like we were saying earlier with that they're like, I could get involved or I cannot and nothing's going to change for me. So that's just where they're like, we just will not get involved. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. You're like, yeah, obviously, me too.
H McWilliam: You and me both.
H Ashley: What do you hope the people in and out of the police force gain from hearing about the movement in your case, in particular.
H McWilliam: I think the message is clear is that we're the only ones that can affect change. And it takes each of us to personally make a decision to stand against what's happening. To really see the bigger picture is to make a decision every single day to not allow these mistakes, these behaviors to continue. And the bigger picture is how it affects society. All of the women that they fail to protect, to serve, that they turn to blind eye to within policing or outside of policing, whether they believed women or not believed women. Police officers, We need to understand that we have training, but we don't have expertise. We're not doctors, the people that need to be making the decisions about how this change needs to occur. Police Culture.. Most of the people running policing didn't go to College, they didn't go to University. And it's nothing against that. But those that are running it now, the superintendents and the Chiefs that are running policing in Canada no fault to their own. But when they were hiring police officers 30 years ago, the requirements were different. It was about height. It was about weight. And that's how you got hired. So we need to allow the experts to come in. We need to understand their perceptions or the way that they're seeing how things can be changed and made for a better way that we can police society to accept that and understand that that is the way of the future so that we can all be treated better.
H Ashley: Yes. I don't want to say out of touch but out of touch when the powers that be have not held self accountability and staying updated with the times with what's acceptable with what's not. It's just definitely the 80s in police force around the world, totally different story than what it is now, at least in a lot of ways. And it's something where it's like, yeah, we need people who are going to hold others and themselves accountable rather than just default on the Brotherhood because it's not anymore.
H McWilliam: A small example is when a female comes in to report a sexual assault and my male colleagues, officers and bosses are responding with, I don't believe her. She's lying without furthering the investigation and collecting evidence. And instead, they're giving this presumed assumption about what symptoms look like or what the truth looks like. We have a problem, and we really need to fix how police officers understand what trauma looks like,
H Ashley: especially because it looks different on everyone, as does grief, as does happiness, sadness. Every emotion and experience is different, like per person. It's like when they say, when this is a really bad example. But when a serial killer gets caught and they're like, wow, I would have never guessed it. He was such a good guy, and it's like, well, sociopaths looked different on everyone, too. So just because your perception of what this person is, it should be doesn't mean that it is. I don't know why I went to serial killer, though. That was poor. That was in poor taste.
H McWilliam: Totally understanding what you're saying. And it goes into every single. offence that's committed is you can't judge someone by the way they look. You just can't judge them by what they're wearing, what they're saying. You really don't understand the person until you truly know someone on. And so that's why we have investigations, right? That's why we do a full investigation on everything before we come to a conclusion.
H Ashley: Yeah. Have any changes been implemented in response to the verdict of your case?
H McWilliam: Yes. We did have remedies that were given to the police service implement, and one was to have a human rights strategy where they didn't have one before, and more specifically, to have sexual harassment training for all officers and supervisors within the service. So not just a computer module where they click answers, but it's got to be in person or through a Zoom kind of conversation. So more interactive to involve people to understand more of what sexual harassment is, because a lot of the officers that gave testimony simply had been in the culture so long that they no longer recognize what sexual harassment was. And I did see that as I removed myself, is that I could now see that this behavior was just commonplace for them, and I had been in it for so many years. I at one point believe that, possibly, sadly, that other workplaces must be the same as mine because I didn't know any different. So a lot of the officers couldn't even recognize what it was. And they've also been asked to order to ensure that internally and externally, the service must report incidents of human rights so that they are tracked publicly because before they were not posting them publicly. So when I came forward, their original response was, we've never had any other complaints of this nature, and they went through six years of not disclosing other incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault by police officers.
H Ashley: That's so messed up. Wow.
H McWilliam: And then in the last testimony, the deputy that took the stand, the female deputy finally disclosed that there was a system where they kept these records, but not many people had access to them, and they did that so that they could protect the victim.
H Ashley: No, that's not anything that's not real, especially if they could.. My mind is breaking because that's crazy that they're like, we do this for the victim's sake. No, no, you don't. You could leave their name out of it. If you were really worried about for the victim, just leave them their name out of it when you're going back to look at the history of recorded
H McWilliam: when I came forward, the projection was that I was the only person that had ever come forward with a complaint about sexual harassment or sexual assault within the organization.
H Ashley: That's statistically impossible. Literally statistically impossible.
H McWilliam: So it prevented a lot of other victims from coming forward just to add to the oppression of victims. Is there was a poster put up in my police service that was there, and it prevents sexual harassment or harassment in the workplace. And someone had put I found out months and months later, they were too afraid to show me. They sent a picture, and it was there were two pins in the word, not the phrase was, you are not alone. And someone put pins in the word not. So the poster read, you are alone. And that was up for about eight months after I left my workplace, right beside the nail change room to prevent other witnesses from coming forward. So not only did they prevent other victims from coming forward by saying there's no other people that have reported this, that I was the only one complaining, but they also prevented witnesses from supporting me and testifying on my side.
H Ashley: You know what? To me, that screens vowed off protest too much where it's like, if you are having to go to these extremes to make it look like to say like, oh, it's only one person. If you're having to go through this much to say that, then that means certainly she's not the only person. And you are a big, fat creep. That's what that means to me.
H McWilliam: Yeah. I mean, you would have thought that 30 officers standing against one officer in court would have been enough.
H Ashley: Honestly, that's just crazy.
H McWilliam: Yeah. So now you understand why it was like living in the Twilight zone for about seven years.
H Ashley: Oh, my gosh. I can't imagine the type of I don't want to say impostor syndrome, because it's not quite the right term, but it's sort of a little bit where you're like, I know that it's kind of like gas lighting, almost. It's like a combination of gas lighting and imposter syndrome, and also a little sprinkle of PTSD in there. And it's just like you're like, I know this happened on more than one occasion. I know I'm not the only one. And yet we have dozens of people saying it's not happening. It's never happened. You're crazy. This isn't real. You're making it up, and you're like, I can't be making it up. I have the proof what is happening. Oh, my gosh. For six years, man, I hate that for you. I really hate that for you.
H McWilliam: Yeah. I think one of the hardest things, too, was knowing that my Superintendent had told my once mentor / boss was when he was trying to get me out of the environment that I was working in. And I had received superior evaluations my entire career. And they wanted me to go work at Homicide as the Detective. And my Superintendent told my boss that if you weren't having sex with her, why were you trying to advance her career? And then I found out through another female officer that disclosed to me that another Superintendent from another division had said to her, the only way that female officers were going to get promoted was to have sexual relations with a supervisor. So it's very serious. The culture has a subculture which is now being categorized as a rape culture.
H Ashley: yeah, if they're literally saying the only way a woman is going to rise up through the ranks is if she sleeps with a superior officer, that's number one really disgusting. Number two.. Still really disgusting. And if that's not proof alone.. that should be proof alone in this court case, these are things that are said all the time. And this is not a healthy environment for anyone to breed that sort of culture. I don't know. I just want to be like, would you tell your grandmother that you are saying things like this? You probably wouldn't. So maybe don't do it.
H McWilliam: It has to change the safety for women and the accountability within it. It is very serious. And it takes these conversations to be able to create that space for that further conversation about it. It's not okay. It's never going to be okay. And myself and others are never going to stop fighting for that change.
H Ashley: Well, before we get to our last two questions, is there anything else that you would like to add? Anything we didn't get to talk about that you wanted to discuss where we can follow you and your journey online. Anything like that?
H McWilliam: Yeah, sure. I am on Twitter now. I opened up my Twitter account in July this year after the decision where I won, I spent years being hacked by the police, and I was unable to be on social media. So in honor of my freedom of speech, back again, I reopened my Twitter account, and I'm starting to understand what the world of social media is again. So bear with me. It's @HeatherMCwill1. And then I'm also on Instagram and Facebook. But social media is kind of overwhelming when you haven't been on it in seven years. But I'm doing my best.
H Ashley: to a whole other thing. You're like what is happening.
H McWilliam: I forgot how to even use it, so I had to relearn
H Ashley: it's. Fine. I've had to learn. In general, I'm no good at Twitter. My cohost takes care of our Twitter and our social media. I'm like, I'm no good at this. You do it. It's hard. It's scary sometimes, too.
H McWilliam: I'm finding Instagram more complicated than Twitter, but everything takes time. I'm having patience with myself, and I want to enjoy life more than I want to be on social media. But I find social media is so important for change to occur, to reach out to people to let them know that they're not alone and that we're going to get through this together. So that's why my social media is to ensure that other people know that they have support and we're here for them. I really want to empower those through social media, so we'll see how many people we can reach.
H Ashley: Yeah. I feel like I have a good feeling. I have a good feeling that it's going to make its way around in a really impactful way. So I ask the same last two questions to everyone that comes through the podcast. First, what is your second favorite color?
H McWilliam: I'm going to say Violet. Violet.
H Ashley: Why Violet?
H McWilliam: So in my journey of healing, I've learned about the chakras in the body, and purple is always a color that spoke to me. And just to give you a background with purple within the Chakra, it has to do with our higher self. Our intuition and our wisdom is how that represents in our body.
H Ashley: I love Violet.
H McWilliam: I also want to mention it's the color of Heather.
H Ashley: Yes. Oh, my gosh. I love it. I love that nobody else. That's so funny, because a lot of people don't know that Heather is a flowering Bush. And last, what in your opinion, is the best part of being a woman?
H McWilliam: The best part of being a woman, I think, is our superpower, which is our sixth sense and it's the ability to have that intuition within ourselves so that it can help guide our journey and tap into where we need to be.
H Ashley: Yeah. I love that. I love that we all seem to be so in touch with our oh, we're coming, like, kind of full circle because this is kind of back to earlier talking about being able to just like, what do I need today? And then also, what does the situation that's happening in the room need? Because when you walk into a room and you're like, something weird just happened in here. Yeah.
H McWilliam: It's that ability. It's tapping into that.
H Ashley: I love that. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and for being honest and authentic and sharing what I know is a really tough and just difficult thing to talk about. It's awful to have to go through what you've gone through. And I hate that for you. And I hate that for anyone who has had to go through situations like that in a place of work in any place, but especially in a place of work when you feel trapped and powerless. And so I think that you have done an incredible job of not just advocating for yourself, but making sure that women now and also women to come who want to do better and join the police force to make good happen, that they are going to feel safe and comfortable in these environments because of the work that you are doing.
H McWilliam: Thank you so much, Heather. I really appreciate that. And I just want everyone to know that being brave is truly, truly beautiful. And I want everyone to know that the more we face our fears, the more we live our authentic self and create that energy of less fear in our lives that we will be able to live our best life. And we can do that collectively.
H Ashley: Thank you Historians, for tuning in again. I know that this is a kind of a heavier one today, but it's an important one. And I hope you guys will share this with everyone that you know so that we can really make sure we are spreading the word about changes that need to be made, changes that are being made, and just the all around culture that is police culture at this moment and what we can do to change it. Please don't forget to subscribe Rate and review so that the show can keep growing and follow us on the social media on Twitter at the Herstorypod Instagram at WomenofHERstory Podcast and visit our website womenofherstory.com until next week. Bye be safe. Stay healthy and show the world what you're made of.