A Toronto Police Service decision to dock a female officer eight hours’ pay for being part of sexually explicit online group chats will discourage other officers from bringing similar harassment complaints, says Toronto employment lawyer Bram Lecker.
The timing also suggests there’s an indirect connection between the penalty handed down by the professional standards unit and the officer’s earlier complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging sexual harassment and discrimination, says Lecker, principal of Lecker & Associates.
“This kind of retaliation speaks volumes about the culture of toxicity within the Toronto Police Service,” he tells Advocate Daily.
For them to discipline her for trying to exercise her right to file a human rights complaint speaks to the fact that we’re still far away from the kind of workplace where women are comfortable coming forward and filing complaints without fear of repercussion,” says Lecker.
The officer handed over text messages and material from an online messaging app to the professional standards unit as evidence that she had been harassed, the Toronto Star reports.
In addition to the police services board, her human rights complaint names specific officers and her former police partner, who allegedly sent her a “steady barrage of unsolicited sexist, sexual, harassing and obscene messages,” the claim says.
Lecker, who’s not involved in the case and speaks generally, says he’s not aware of any statute or common law that would give the police force the authority to reduce the officer’s compensation for failing to bring forward the messages sooner. By finding that the officer bore some responsibility for being in the group chat and imposing a penalty, it looks as though the force is trying to protect itself when she had little choice but to take part, he says.
“If you use the app and someone has your phone number, they can put you in a group and you are subject to receiving messages,” Lecker explains, adding that although someone can leave, it would have been difficult for the officer to do so because her partner was also part of the mostly male group.
“Her partner and the people she’s talking with might have valuable information to share. She shouldn’t have to recuse herself from this group because they’re making lewd comments toward her,” he says.
“They should know better when they’re supposed to be representing the highest ideals of law and order, not propagating these antiquated ideas about women and men.”
Given that police officers are expected to stand up for each other, especially with respect to their partners on the force, Lecker says the officer was in an “untenable situation.”
“If she were to retract herself from the app, she’d be taking a chance that her partner might harass her further. So she can’t really leave the group, but for her to stay, she has to be subject to this harassment.
“She was in a very tough place and obviously for her to come forward with a human rights complaint is tremendously courageous,” he says. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”