New accounts of harassment, discrimination by WRPS 'unacceptable,' lawyer says
Three new affidavits have been filed in class action suit but WRPS lawyer calls them 'exaggerated'
Three more officers have filed affidavits as part of a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against Waterloo Regional Police.
Lawyer Douglas Elliot said the three officers make serious allegations against the force including unwanted sexual advances and a superior officer sending a subordinate a picture of his penis.
- Women claim workplace sexual assault, harassment in $167M lawsuit against Waterloo Regional Police
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"A lot of people at the time had questions about whether these were isolated incidents," Elliott said of the allegations made in the class action when it was originally filed.
"I think these three affidavits make it clear that there has been a toxic work environment at Waterloo Regional Police Service for a very long time, there's an ongoing pattern of misconduct and that this misconduct is by very senior people," he told CBC K-W in an interview.
Suit seeking $167 million
The class action lawsuit was filed in May 2017. Const. Angelina Rivers, a current officer with Waterloo Regional Police, and Sharon Zehr, a former constable, launched the suit, which is seeking $167 million.
The class action lawsuit is on behalf of every female officer with Waterloo Regional Police unless they back out. Elliott said no one has backed out yet, but that could change as the suit still needs to go before a judge for certification. That will happen the week of June 18 in Brampton, where the lawsuit was initially filed.
In their statement of defence, the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board and Waterloo Regional Police Association have argued the case should be dismissed because the concerns raised should be dealt with through the collective agreement.
But Elliott said that's difficult because Gary Melanson, the force's director of legal services and risk management, has been named in one affidavit.
"He's supposed to be protecting the interests of women police officers," Elliott said.
"Women should be welcome and treated with respect in every workplace in Canada. That's the law," he said.
"These people are there to enforce the law. It's shocking to me that they would have such a cavalier disregard for the rights of their fellow workers who happen to be women."
Lawyer calls claims 'misleading'
In one affidavit, Sgt. Shelley Heinrich said she was passed over for promotions and specifically named Matt Torigian, who served as chief between 2007 and 2014.
Elliott said at this point in her career, Heinrich should have reached rank of at least superintendent.
"But because she has spoken up and has not played the game the way it was expected, she has not advanced to any of the higher ranks," he said.
Lawyer James Bennett, of the Kitchener firm Madorin, Snyder LLP, is representing the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board.
He said in a statement to the media he usually would not make any comments on a matter before the courts; however, "it would be unfair and wrong to let the Affidavits filed by the plaintiffs that we believe contain untrue, exaggerated, misleading and/or defamatory allegations against past, current and deceased members which we vehemently deny, be left unchallenged."
"The affiants are now going to be cross-examined under oath within the next 30 days and their false, exaggerated and misleading allegations will be challenged and exposed at that time," Bennett's statement said.
"The transcripts of their cross-examinations will then be filed in the court proceedings, and it is hoped that the media will then properly report on the actual evidence rather than the misleading and at present unchallenged allegations."
He added, "We continue to vigorously oppose the jurisdiction of the class action lawsuit."
'That's simply unacceptable'
Elliott said he's surprised by the force's reaction to the suit.
"The attitude towards this lawsuit has been deny, dismiss, disregard, attack, counter attack. It's the same old approach that we've always seen," he said.
"What's really been done to attack the toxic, misogynistic work culture at Waterloo Regional Police? Absolutely nothing."
He said when similar allegations were brought against the RCMP, the force took action while internal investigations were underway. In May 2017, the force paid out a settlement of $220,000 to women who were sexually harassed while working for the RCMP over the past 40 years.
However within the Waterloo Regional Police, Elliott said, he has heard from people are making jokes about the suit.
"People are trying to find out who's getting involved, who's talking to the lawyers, because it's thought that the good women police officers will just suck it up and stand by the men, and it's only the whiny women, the problem officers, that are complaining.
"That's simply unacceptable," he said.
None of the allegations against Waterloo Regional Police have been proven in court. The class action will proceed to certification the week of June 18 in Brampton Superior Court of Justice.