Female Waterloo regional police officer details harassment at grievance hearing

After a three-month break, an arbitration hearing against the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) picked back up with a central witness testimony on Tuesday. 

Testimony continues Thursday and Friday

Testimony began on February 4 and continues in an arbitration hearing this week. (Colin Butler/CBC)

After a three-month break, an arbitration hearing against the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) picked back up with a central witness testimony on Tuesday. 

Police officer Angie Rivers, who has been on sick leave since 2015, alleges she was harassed by various employees and sexually harassed by a sergeant, with no adequate action from her employer to protect her.

In 2017, Rivers co-filed a class action lawsuit against the police service and Waterloo Regional Police Association alleging she was subjected to discrimination because of her gender, on-the-job sexual harassment and abuse. A judge ruled that these issues raised were best addressed by a human rights tribunal or labour arbitrator.

Now, through the grievance hearing, the Waterloo Regional Police Association is seeking a declaration that states the police service violated Rivers' right to be free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of her gender and that she was subjected to a "poisoned" work environment. It's also seeking undisclosed damages and compensation.

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On Tuesday, Rivers testified that a higher ranking colleague made sexual advances through phone messages, and that she felt unsafe while on duty due to an unsupportive work environment.

Rivers' testimony began in early February. Later that month, arbitrator Sheri Price ruled in favour of a WRPS court order to prevent the police association from pursuing some of its allegations on the grounds they relate to post-grievance events and disciplinary measures that go beyond the scope of the current grievance, court documents show.

Sexualized messages 

On Tuesday, screenshots of phone messages were revealed in the hearing. The messages were from 2013 and were between Rivers and Sgt. Nathan Cardoza, a colleague and mentor at the time. Sgt. Cardoza was among others named in a class action lawsuit co-filed by Rivers in 2017. 

Rivers said the relationship was platonic and professional, but alleged eventually Cardoza began to cross the line.

She detailed one such occasion, on May 31, 2013. Rivers testified she was working an overnight patrol shift, while Cardoza was in Ottawa for additional training.

Rivers said Cardoza messaged her early that morning about a rumour going around that she was in a sexual relationship with another colleague. 

In the exchange, Cardoza said he was "insulted," suggesting Rivers' could've been in a sexual relationship with him instead, said Rivers.

"I felt absolutely disgusted that he couldn't see the professional side in me. I felt that I was demeaned. I'm just a sexual target," Rivers said in her testimony.

The messages showed Cardoza said he was "naked and drunk," asked Rivers to play "truth or dare," and for a photo of herself. 

Rivers said she attempted to switch the topic back to the rumour or work to avoid the conversation from getting too personal.

Rivers said she reached out to Cardoza at a later date to get more details about the rumour, with the goal of filing a formal complaint about the rumour. Rivers said Cardoza advised her not to say anything because it would backfire.

Toxic work environment 

Rivers also testified that a couple of her colleagues were unsupportive while on duty.

She said there were several times when she would communicate with dispatch, hoping a colleague would volunteer to back her up, but that didn't happen.

"I recall feeling unsafe and like I'm on my own," she testified.

Rivers said soon after, a female colleague, who she had a good working relationship with, told her a colleague who wouldn't back her up had called Rivers' a "bitch" and that he wouldn't help her if she needed back up.

Rivers' decided to make a formal complaint with the help of the female colleague, but said the consequences didn't go far enough. She said two of her colleagues were given verbal warnings and one was moved to another unit.

The hearing continues on Thursday.