Police union frustrated by secrecy surrounding beleaguered respectful workplace policy

The head of Calgary's police union is frustrated that the public is being excluded from a grievance arbitration hearing, because he says it highlights problems within the service's respectful workplace policy.

Calgary Police Service's lawyer successfully argues to keep public out of grievance arbitration

The public is being shut out of a grievance arbitration hearing involving a Calgary Police Service member complaining about problems with the force's respectful workplace policy. (Colleen Underwood)

Inside a hotel conference room in downtown Calgary sit a row of lawyers and labour experts representing the Calgary Police Service and the city.

Across from them sit a female officer and her lawyer grieving the way the officer was treated under CPS' respectful workplace policy, a policy that's been heralded by police leadership as evolving in the right direction.

But that's about all CBC News can say about this officer's story and her grievance, because arbitrator David Jones, a lawyer himself, has decided to keep the matter private and out of the spotlight, after listening to arguments for and against having an open hearing.

CPS lawyer Rebecca Andersen wants the grievance closed to the public.

CBC News can't even tell you what Andersen's reasons are, because that too has been deemed not reportable.

The female officer who launched the grievance had hoped Calgarians would hear her story, but her lawyer, Tamara Friesen, lost her argument in favour of an open hearing.

The only person CBC News was able to speak with on the record was the head of the Calgary Police Association, Les Kaminski, who was also in the room.

Kaminski said he's tired of hypocritical messaging coming from the top.

"I'll tell you, the service and the city have preached transparency and accountability, we've heard that for years," he said.

"When the spotlight shined upon them, on a flawed process, suddenly transparency and accountability don't seem to be as important.

"If there's nothing to hide there should be full-on transparency."

'There was no voice for her'

The female officer's grievance could not be resolved between the union and the service, said Kaminski, and that's why they've sought help through a mediator.

Kaminski said the officer believes she was unfairly treated by the service after she became the subject of workplace complaints. He said the process was flawed.

And her story exemplifies the problems swirling around the CPS respect in the workplace policy.

"There was no voice for her, it spread through the service, people watched what happened, it was a non-punitive process that absolutely penalized this person."

Lawyers for the Calgary Police Service successfully argued to keep public out of a quasi-judicial hearing, much to the concern of the head of the police union. (Colleen Underwood)

Unfortunately, he said, because her story is being kept hidden, the problems are too.

"The citizens pay for this service they should see what's happening within the HR reforms, see if its working or not."

The arbitration process that deals with labour-related grievances is a quasi-judicial one, and based on applicable Supreme Court case law.

It's supposed to be open to the public.  Based on the open court principle, the onus should be placed on those who are seeking some type of publication ban to prove why a grievance hearing should be closed.

But over time, arbitrators have developed their own approach to this issue. And it's left up to the arbitrator to rule on whether a hearing is public or private on a case by case basis.

And, in the end, Jones decided not to allow the media to be present, adding "that ultimately my award will be filed and made public and that can be reported on."

"Taking this into account, I exercise my discretion not to open the hearing."

Flawed process

Kaminski said Jones' ruling sends the wrong message to an already battered police force dealing with low morale, feeling overworked, and ignored by their leadership.

He said the problem is there are no protections in place for the accused only the complainants.

And it's not supposed to be punitive, but he argues it is, because she was removed from her job before she even responded to complaints.

Former Calgary police officer,Jen Magnus was part of a group of female officers who had been meeting about workplace issues before she resigned. Magnus alleged she was bullied, sexually harassed and intimidated. 

She said there are inconsistencies within the service, such as, when complainants are believed and when people are held accountable.

She said she's aware of this female officer's grievance and Magnus believes it was poorly investigated. 

Magnus has since started a consulting business helping companies transform their workplaces to healthy and respectful environments.

"Now knowing a lot more with conducting workplace investigations you have to treat them fairly, and you need to do a proper investigation where you provide all the allegations to the respondents as to what they're being potentially charged with and that doesn't happen, it's like they're very secretive, and it depends on who the person is," said Magnus.

But Magnusis is hopeful the service's Respect Matters program is heading in the right direction toward reform and being a fair process, but she said experts need to be in charge to make sure it functions correctly. 

The police commission has been overseeing the service's implementation of HR reforms ever since issues around workplace harassment, intimidation and bullying bubbled to the surface.

But in that time the head of HR resigned, telling CBC News she was bullied and ignored, and lacked the support she needed to implement a culture change.


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.