Women behind police lawsuit start advocacy group for female officers

The women behind a $167 million class action lawsuit against the Waterloo Regional Police Service have launched an advocacy group for other female officers to voice their experience in policing.

Over 100 women across Canada reach out to Rivers and Zehr with similar stories

Angelina Rivers, left, and Sharon Zehr spoke with Craig Norris, host of CBC K-W's The Morning Edition, about the sexual harassment and gender discrimination they say they faced as members of Waterloo Regional Police. (CBC)

The women behind a class action lawsuit against the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) are in the early stages of creating an advocacy group for other women in law enforcement

In June, Angelina Rivers and Sharon Zehr filed a $167-million class action lawsuit against the WRPS's board and police association claiming they experienced systemic and institutional gender-based discrimination and harassment on the job.

Rivers and Zehr know that process will take several years. In the meantime, they have created the National Women in Law Enforcement Association as a venue for other women in law enforcement to share their stories and experiences.

Response from women and colleagues

Since the women launched the class action lawsuit, Rivers said that over 100 women have reached out to them, many from WRPS, sharing similar stories.

"We knew there would be dozens of women form Waterloo region with the same issues that we've had," Rivers told Craig Norris, host of CBC's The Morning Edition. 

"What we didn't expect was women from across Ontario and across Canada reaching out to us and saying the same thing was happening to them. It's very disappointing but we have to do something about that."

Rivers adds that they have also received support from male colleagues. She said that men play a critical role in creating a cultural shift in law enforcement.

"In my experience and in the experience of my friends and colleagues, most men treat their female coworkers with dignity and respect," Rivers said.

"[The problem] is the small percentage who act as if they can do what ever they want. Men can be a contributor and be the ones laughing and joking along. There are the bystanders who know what is going on, doesn't agree with it, but they also feel powerless because they know if they stand up, they will suffer as well."

Rivers said they plan to launch a website for the advocacy group in order to expand their reach beyond just the existing email address. 

The women behind a $167 million dollar lawsuit against the Waterloo Regional Police have launched an advocacy group for women in law enforcement across the country. Angelina Rivers explains why they decided to make that move. 5:56

A healing journey

Rivers says the process of taking part in the lawsuit and creating an advocacy group for women in law enforcement, has been healing for her.

"Before that I was really in a bad place, waiting for the next step, what's going to happen?" she said.

"It's really a hopeless place to be, where you feel like you don't have any control whatsoever."

She hopes to take the stories of women in policing to municipal, provincial and federal leaders to create change in law enforcement.

She adds their next court date in the lawsuit is set for June 18, 2018.