Retired police officer who complained of harassment urges commission to speed up complaint process

A retired Edmonton police officer is urging the Edmonton Police Commission to expedite the complaint process after waiting nearly two years to have her harassment complaint investigated.

'The last five years of my time in the Edmonton Police Service was oppressive and intimidating'

Retired Const. Nadine Swist says it's been 625 days since she filed a harassment complaint with the Edmonton Police Commission. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

A retired Edmonton police officer is urging the Edmonton Police Commission to expedite the complaint process after waiting nearly two years to have her harassment complaint investigated.

"I made my complaint 625 days ago and it's still going to be investigated," retired Const. Nadine Swist told the commission in a public meeting Thursday.

"Already in dealing with this complaint several of the people named as being harassers have retired and moved on, which means the Police Act loses jurisdiction over them."

Swist said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being dragged by a motorist she was trying to arrest in 2000.

She said the Edmonton Police Service did not provide mental health support and instead she was harassed years later when she refused to return to patrol duties, despite doctors advising otherwise.

"The EPS will tell you — and it's been reported in the news — that they have a robust mental health system, mental health policy. Nobody ever asked me and I'm pretty sure they never asked anybody else who's suffering," Swist told commissioners and police officers, including her former boss, police Chief Rod Knecht, who the complaint was lodged against.

"For me, the last five years of my time in the Edmonton Police Service was oppressive and intimidating — that's the environment I was working in."

Swist, who retired in 2015, said she was also the victim of gender-based harassment. 

"The more time you spend as a family, the more time you be a female, the weaker you are in their eyes," said Swist, adding she expects the investigation to begin in March.

'A valid complaint'

Newly minted commission chair Tim O'Brien said it takes time to gather the facts and make sure everyone has their say.

"I think an abundance of caution drove us to be a little slower than we should have been, slower than normal," said O'Brien. "And she has a valid complaint. It shouldn't take this long but that's why it's taken so long."

Knecht said he couldn't comment specifically on Swist's case, noting it was still under investigation and citing privacy concerns.

But he said the service invests heavily in counselling services to support employees in distress or after traumatic incidents.

"And it wouldn't only be if they self-identified … We may change their duties by either request or we may change their duties from a wellness perspective," said Knecht. "We have a very robust program in place."

Knecht said complaints around gender-based harassment are dealt with quickly and some cases have led to dismissals or resignations.

EPS is currently exploring options to boost the number of female officers, which hovers around 22 per cent, said Knecht. One of those initiatives could involve "family leave," allowing female staff to spend a period of time at home, then return to the service.

New commissioners

Four new commissioners, who come with a wide range of experiences, were also welcomed at the meeting.

Maj. John McDougall, who has served overseas and across Canada in the Royal Canadian Air Force, is well-known for his advocacy for LGBTQ issues. He raised the first pride flag at CFB Edmonton in 2013.

Management consultant and entrepreneur Aneela Hussainaly is a member of the Ismaili Council for Canada and sits on the board of directors for Telus World of Science.
Major John McDougall is one of four new members of the Edmonton Police Commission. (John McDougall)

Economist Erick Ambtman is the head of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre, an organization for immigrants and refugees, and a former executive director of Aboriginal Friendship Centres in various Alberta locations.

Janet-Sue Hamilton is a former prison warden who currently serves on boards with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Aboriginal Counselling Services.