Edmonton

$13-million lawsuit accuses Corrections Canada of racism, sexism, bullying and intimidation

A former female warden has filed a $13-million lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada alleging her 26-year career has left her suffering from post-traumatic stress, anger, depression, fear and humiliation.

Former female warden claims she endured 26 years of harassment, assault in ‘old boys club’

A former high-ranking Corrections Canada executive is suing the agency for $13 million over allegations of systemic racism, sexism, harassment and abuse. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

A former female warden has filed a $13-million lawsuit against Correctional Service of Canada alleging her 26-year career has left her suffering from post-traumatic stress, anger, depression, fear and humiliation.

The 28-page statement of claim filed Monday in Federal Court in Edmonton does not identify the woman "due to the confidential and secretive nature of law enforcement especially within Corrections [Canada]," instead giving her the pseudonym Jane Doe.

CBC is not naming the woman as some of her allegations involve sexual assault.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been tested in court. A statement of defence has not yet been filed.

The document describes the plaintiff as a former a national executive with Corrections Canada — also known as Correctional Service of Canada — and an Indo-Canadian resident of Ottawa who is "a hard-working, dedicated, high-performing employee."

The woman began her career as a psychologist in a maximum security prison in the Prairie region and over 26 years worked her way up the ranks in the correctional system.

She was subjected to racism, misogyny and sexual abuse from the start, the statement says.

She fell victim to unwanted touching of her backside and genitals and colleagues pinched her breasts and deliberately brushed against her.

Whenever she complained she was ignored and, often, the harassment and intimidation would grow in frequency, the document says.

She was also subjected to intimidating comments such as: "The inmates here are looking forward to getting you alone and having their way with you," and "I'd love to get up your skirt."

"There was and remains a pervasive old-boys-club mentality in the manner of how the penitentiary is operated and managed," the woman said in the statement.

"As persons in abusive situations learn to do, I learned to adapt and to accept abusive surroundings," she writes.

"I knew that if I did not conform to the expectations of the 'old boys' mentality of management style within Corrections Canada that I would be considered an outsider and that my career would be irreparably maligned."

Attacked by an inmate

The woman eventually got on the management track, eventually becoming a warden of a women's prison in Ontario.

In 2007, she was attacked at a psychiatric facility by an inmate and suffered life-threatening injuries.

She says she was made to feel she was at fault for the attack and was forced to return to work too soon.

Later that same year, she was moved to Ottawa to work at CSC national headquarters, where she was named director general for women offenders.

But the discrimination, bullying and harassment continued, she says.

The commissioner of Corrections Canada was "abusive with his power" with "a reputation for being a bully and a tyrant who unfairly intimidated and pressured people to have his way."

When a young female Indigenous inmate committed suicide in 2007, the woman alleges the commissioner told his senior management team not to speak to her.

"As a result of this shunning, the plaintiff took an administrative leave," the lawsuit states.

While on leave, the woman discovered she had advanced cancer. 

"Her medical reports indicate that her advanced cancer was exacerbated by her stress and on-the-job duties," the statement claims.

When she returned to work, she was eventually named director of departmental security and acting director general security.

Edmonton Institution allegations

However, when word surfaced about trouble at the Edmonton Institution about harassment and sexual harassment in 2017, she was kept in the dark, she says.

"The discussions and meetings that I know of were not about how to identify and eliminate systematic problems," she says in the lawsuit.

"Rather, the focus was more about how to ensure that a positive image of Corrections Canada was portrayed, despite management's knowledge of the problems."

She was forced to stay back in Ottawa while the top two CSC officials went to Edmonton, she said.

She was later ordered by the assistant commissioner to install security systems in the homes of certain Edmonton Institution staff members with instructions not to document anything.

"I knew from the lack of information and secrecy around the instructions that something was occurring improperly and that there may have been a cover up of some nature occurring," the woman claims in the lawsuit.

'She can't do the job'

In October 2017, an email about her was circulated among staff at national headquarters which stated, "Working with women is a HUGE challenge!!! She can't do the job. OMG it's ridiculous. She's acting only because she's a minority."

Working with women is a HUGE challenge!!!- Email circulated among CSC  National HQ staff in 2017

According to the woman, the assistant commissioner of correctional operations wanted the email destroyed in case it hurt his boss's career. Later, he launched a breach of privacy investigation against the woman because she held onto a copy of the email.

When she was demoted, she decided to leave CSC.

The plaintiff now works for a different government department, but claims she is forever scarred by the continual abuse she suffered from fellow staff and management.

She describes their conduct as "outrageous," that "it was intended to, and did cause the plaintiff emotional stress."

"During her tenure, the plaintiff was the subject of and witness to systematic and prolific racism, sexism, harassment and assault including bullying, intimidation and corruption tolerated and perpetuated by top senior officials within Corrections Canada," the lawsuit states.

The woman wants the civil trial to be held in Ottawa. Her lawyer is based in Edmonton.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston