British Columbia·Go Public

Caught on camera: prison guard sexually assaulted by colleague says Corrections Canada 'did not protect me'

A female prison guard who was sexually assaulted by her co-worker says management downplayed the incident, did little to support her and created so much stress by fostering an "old boys club" that she has been off work for over a year.

Crown says sexual assault charges 'not in the public interest'

Go Public: Sex assault caught on surveillance tape

5 years ago
Duration 2:22
A B.C. correctional officer who says she was sexually assaulted on the job claims Corrections Canada didn't protect her

Tracy Mercier doesn't want to watch the video of a colleague sexually assaulting her, but is glad the tape exists — recorded by a hallway camera inside Mountain Institution, a medium security federal penitentiary for male offenders in Agassiz, B.C.

"It's hard for me to watch it, because I feel like it's my fault that it happened," says Mercier. "That I invited that behaviour. But really, I know I didn't."

Mercier, 42, a prison guard with the Correctional Service of Canada for more than five years, was doing the first hourly round of the day with her male partner on April 17, 2016. The two guards were checking to make sure inmates were accounted for in their cells.

Suddenly, Mercier's colleague thrust a long, cylindrical metal tool used for data collection between her legs, from behind.

"He shoved it into the crack of my buttocks," says Mercier. "It was right in there. I felt humiliated."

A security camera at Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C., captures the moment a prison guard pokes a metal tool into the buttocks of his co-worker. (Security camera/Mountain Institution)

But that was just the beginning of a long fight for justice that Mercier says has left her "damaged," "without dignity" and unable to return to work.

'Culture of bullying'

Mercier says her co-worker had bullied her at work for months, mocking a thyroid disease she has and making insulting comments to her and to colleagues about her dyslexia.

When her co-worker seemed particularly moody, she switched duties with a colleague.

"It was a general culture of bullying," says Mercier. "I did not feel safe working with him due to how unpredictable he was."

Tracy Mercier says she became a Corrections Canada officer to be a role model for other aboriginal women, and her daughters. (Tracy Mercier)

Mercier says she asked her superior to move her colleague to a different shift, but says she was told that couldn't be done.

"I was told he had rights," says Mercier. "I'm thinking, 'I have just been sexually assaulted ... and now I'm stuck with the man who sexually assaulted me.' It's an old boys' club."

After three weeks of repeatedly encountering the man at work, Mercier says she had a breakdown and went on stress leave. She is currently on sick leave without pay.

Internal investigation

It took 62 days after Mercier complained to the warden of Mountain Institution for the Correctional Service of Canada to inform her it was conducting an internal investigation.

"They took two months to decide to investigate," says Mercier. "Despite having video evidence of what he did."

The investigation concluded that Mercier's colleague had not only verbally harassed her for months, but had sexually harassed her as captured on video — although the man claimed he only poked Mercier "below her tool belt" because he was trying to get her "to move along." 

Mercier says she dreaded going to work because her co-worker was unpredictable and intimidating. (Erica Johnson)

The investigation also concluded that Mercier's colleague had sexually harassed her several weeks earlier, in a similar fashion. He told the investigator he was "trying to step past her" and "inadvertently" touched her, but a report says a witness called the harassment "intentional."

Correctional Services of Canada would not give Go Public an interview, but in an email said that, "CSC employees are expected to act according to the highest legal and ethical standards" and that "CSC is committed to providing a workplace free of harassment and discrimination."

'There is something blatantly wrong' 

Alberta MLA Maria Fitzpatrick says she has heard stories like Mercier's for far too long. 

She worked for the CSC for three decades, much of it as a union representative for two different locals, where she "frequently" helped female corrections employees in harassment cases.

"Very little has changed," says Fitzpatrick. "When somebody is off work for over a year without pay after they've been victimized by a co-worker, there is something blatantly wrong with that picture."

Harassment widespread 

In a 2017 annual survey of public service employees, 40 per cent of correctional workers said they had been a victim of harassment on the job in the past two years, up from 31 per cent three years ago.

Of the 40 per cent who experienced harassment, 60 per cent said it was committed by co-workers.

CSC said more employees are likely reporting harassment on the job because awareness has increased, and all employees now receive anti-harassment training.

"Making it mandatory for everybody to do the training does not mean it changes," says Fitzpatrick. "And, in fact, it is evident from [Mercier's] case that the perpetrator did not abide by the training that he had.

"I'm angry that my previous department is not moving forward on things that are so important," she says.

Last fall, a CSC investigation revealed that male prison guards at Edmonton Institution had been recorded having sexually explicit phone discussions about their female colleagues.

An internal report described a toxic culture at the federal prison, riddled with harassment, bullying and intimidation.

Charges 'not in the public interest': Crown 

Seven months after going on stress leave, Mercier asked Agassiz RCMP to file a sexual assault complaint against her co-worker.

At first, the RCMP said the incident was an assault, but not a sexual assault, so the six-month statute of limitations had passed.

Mercier pushed back, and eventually the RCMP recommended a charge of sexual assault.

But B.C.'s Prosecution Service decided not to proceed, telling Mercier that "even though there was substantial evidence to get a conviction for sexual assault," it was not in the "public interest" to proceed, in part because "the alleged offender has received meaningful consequences through workplace disciplinary proceedings."

"My heart sank," says Mercier. "That's a big insult to women in this profession." 

CSC would not confirm what discipline Mercier's co-worker received.

'Union did not support me' 

Mercier says she is also disappointed with her union, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which she says did not support her desire to file a grievance against management's handling of her harassment complaint.

In two emails, Mercier asks for support but UCCO doesn't address her request in either of its responses. When Go Public asked a spokesperson for the union why it didn't support Mercier's complaint, our questions were also not addressed.

Alberta MLA Maria Fitzpatrick says when she complained about a Corrections employee who tried to put his hand up her skirt 30 years ago, 'management did nothing.' (Peter Evans/CBC)

Management's handling of Mercier's case sends a bad message to other female prison staff, says Fitzpatrick. "Bullying will not stop if action is not taken against that behaviour," she says. "People are afraid to come forward and say anything when nothing gets done."

49 complaints of harassment to CHRC 

How harassment cases are handled is also a concern to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In a statement, chief commissioner Marie-Claude Landry told Go Public, "The Canadian Human Rights Commission is very concerned with the prevalence of sexual harassment that continues to take place in organizations with a historical male dominance."

Marie-Claude Landry, of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, says sexual harassment continues to be a problem at male-dominant institutions. (Canadian Human Rights Commission)

The commissioner says anyone who believes their sexual harassment complaint has been mishandled by management "should file a complaint" with the CHRC. In the past 10 years, the commission has received 49 complaints of harassment from CSC employees.

Mercier has now filed a complaint as well.

After almost a year and a half on leave from what she calls a "toxic" workplace, Mercier says she is suffering from depression, thinks daily about what happened to her, and worries about returning to a workplace where she doesn't feel supported.

"I don't know if I can ever get back to work. And I loved my job. I really loved my job," she says.

With files from Enza Uda

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.

Submit your story ideas at Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.


Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.