Yahoo! News amplifies Heather McWilliam's landmark win against workplace sexual harassment

July 2, 2020

Human rights tribunal finds Toronto police officer endured 'significant' sexual harassment on the job - Yahoo! News

Yahoo! News amplifies Heather McWilliam's landmark win against workplace sexual harassment

The Toronto Police Services Board has been ordered to develop new human rights policies and training programs after an officer was found to have been the subject of years of sexual harassment at the hands of her colleagues.

The ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario also awards Const. Heather McWilliam $75,000 from the police board as result of injuries to her "dignity, feelings and self-respect."

Tribunal adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel wrote in her ruling that McWilliam likely endured a "poisoned work environment" during her career at the force's 23 Division. In a statement, McWilliam said her "integrity has been returned" as a result of the ruling. "This decision is truly priceless for me and all those who have been affected by police abuse. This decision takes seriously the need to change the deeply troubled police culture and signals that perhaps there is hope," McWilliam said. McWilliam, in her initial complaint filed in 2014, said a superior officer once made a sexual joke about wanting her to "ride his horse."

She said another superior, Sgt. Angelo Costa, tried to force his tongue into her mouth at an after-work function. Costa is the only officer named as a respondent in the case. He has since retired from the service.

McWilliam also recounted being called "degrading names" such as "c--t, bitch and dyke" by colleagues in her submission to the tribunal.

"The evidence in this case demonstrates how the cumulative effect on someone of a series of comments and actions may be very significant," Pickel wrote, adding that many of the accused harassers "had a significant degree of power over [McWilliam's] day-to-day work as well as her career prospects."

Pickel goes on to say that inappropriate sexual comments and harassment were so routine that they became "a condition of her employment" during McWilliam's time at the division.

"That is the essence of a poisoned work environment," Pickel writes.

The Toronto Police Services Board, a civilian body charged with governing the Toronto Police Service, said it is in the process of reviewing the ruling and its orders. It also pointed to a number of enhanced policies introduced since McWilliam's complaints.

"The Board must constantly strive to do better, to move forward and to listen to the experiences of those in our organization, with a willingness and openness to embrace change," said the board in a statement.

Toronto police chief Mark Saunders called the findings "serious and concerning" while pointing to an independent workplace harassment and discrimination review happening right now within the force.

"I am disappointed," Saunders added. "We will take the time to carefully review the public interest remedies ordered by the [tribunal] and make the necessary adjustments to our efforts."

The board and Costa were also ordered to pay McWilliam an additional $10,000. The board is also ordered to retain an external expert on human rights and policing to conduct training for supervising officers at 23 Division within the next four months.

Another order calls for all officers at 23 Division to take part in annual training related to sexual harassment.

Pickel said she has reason to believe sexual harassment issues exist at other police divisions, but she said the limited scope of McWilliam's case did not allow her to order training across the entire force.

Source: Yahoo! News