Ottawa police officer alleges racial discrimination
Const. Khoa Hoang, a Vietnamese Canadian, says he was bullied and blocked from promotion because of his race
A veteran Ottawa police officer who has won numerous awards and graduated from the Ontario Police College at the top of his class has filed a complaint against Chief Charles Bordeleau and the force, alleging he's been harassed and denied promotion because of racial discrimination and his previous decision to testify against fellow officers.
In his complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Const. Khoa Hoang, a 37-year-old Vietnamese Canadian officer, claims top executives of the Ottawa Police Service ignored his complaints about continuous harassment by managers and colleagues.
Nearly a dozen officers, including constables, sergeants, staff sergeants and inspectors, are named in his complaint.
Hoang wrote he was living in constant fear of reprisal at work and suffered from panic attacks and depression as a result.
'Determined to ruin my career'
"There was no satisfying the bullies and predators that were determined to ruin my career, leveraging their positions to inflict as much pain, suffering and humiliations as possible without following process," he wrote in his claim.
The force has not yet filed its response to the complaint, and Bordeleau has said he won't comment on the specifics of the case.
Hoang's policing career began with promise. After obtaining a bachelor's degree in psychology from Carleton University, he was accepted into the Ontario Police College and graduated with the highest overall average in his class.
Within months of being hired by the Hamilton Police Service, Hoang's character was tested in a police corruption case. As a rookie cop, Hoang testified against three fellow officers who broke into a home without a warrant to arrest a suspect.
At the time, Hamilton police Chief Brian Mullan praised Hoang's decision to testify as a "single act of courage" and commended him for having the "moral fortitude to do what is right."
Dogged by rumours
Hoang was recruited into the Ottawa Police Service in 2007 and quickly made a name for himself in community policing. Despite being recognized as the city's best law enforcement professional by Crime Prevention Ottawa and winning other leadership awards, Hoang alleges he was dogged by false rumours surrounding his work in Hamilton, which thwarted his advancement.
In his complaint, Hoang wrote a senior officer spread rumours he "could not be trusted" when Hoang applied for a job-shadow opportunity in the partner assault unit in 2014.
That same year two of Hoang's supervisors recommended he be promoted to sergeant. They noted his performance tracking log included 28 positive entries and no negative ones. In a pool of 40 eligible promotional candidates, Hoang was ranked 34th.
In the tribunal documents, Hoang alleges that after he made the cut for the promotional pool, a fellow constable filed a complaint about him and the supervisors who initially supported him, now facing pressure from other senior officers, interfered in the process "to discredit and manipulate [Hoang's] successful results" in favour of a white officer who was ranked below Hoang at no. 78.
The human rights tribunal route actually affords complainants something the grievance route doesn't ... a public interest remedy.- Elie Labaky, Hoang's lawyer
Hoang alleges his supervisors harassed and targeted him using an ad hoc disciplinary process in an attempt to silence him and mask the underlying racism in the promotional process.
After the constable's complaint against the Vietnamese officer was deemed "unsubstantiated," Hoang's patrol staff sergeant decided to launch a "personal investigation" into his performance. She reviewed Hoang's response to more than 400 calls over a two-year period, even though it was outside her responsibilities, Hoang wrote.
Following his staff sergeant's investigation, Hoang was told management found significant misconduct and performance issues and that he would have to complete 500 hours with a coach officer. Hoang was also ordered by his inspector to apologize for his behaviour in front of other officers in his platoon.
In his statement to the tribunal, Hoang wrote he tried to resolve the "sudden allegations of performance issues" by agreeing to take responsibility for his alleged mistakes and apologizing to his platoon because he was afraid of being punished.
Third-party investigator finds unfair treatment
Hoang grieved his treatment through his union and a third-party labour investigator, Robert Henderson, who was hired to review his case. CBC News has not seen Henderson's report, but Hoang's human rights complaint quotes from Henderson's findings.
Henderson found Hoang was subjected to "inconsistent, unequal and unfair treatment." The labour investigator also said if the constable's performance issues were as serious as his supervisors indicated, Hoang should have been charged with negligence and investigated by professional standards, not subjected to disciplinary measures that didn't follow any of the force's internal policies.
According to Hoang's complaint, the top five Ottawa police executives and the chief "permitted harassment and targeting to continue against the applicant" by denying Hoang the ability to clear his name in a formal disciplinary hearing, therefore blocking his path to promotion.
Hoang's lawyer, Elie Labaky, said pursuing resolution through the human rights tribunal allows his client to seek a remedy beyond a promotion.
"The human rights tribunal route actually affords complainants something the grievance route doesn't. It's basically a public interest remedy. They can ask the tribunal for something bigger, [such as] a review of a policy or the development of a program," he said.
4 race-based human rights complaints
Hoang is one of four police officers who are alleging racial discrimination in active human rights complaints.
The other three officers include Insp. Samir Bhatnagar, who claims he was harassed and passed over for promotion; Const. Matt Clarke, who previously told CBC he was the target of bullying while working at the Ottawa International Airport; and Const. Pat Lafrenière, who is of Indigenous heritage.
In an interview Monday, Bordeleau said he's disappointed any member of the force feels unfairly treated.
In response to Hoang's allegations that Bordeleau has ignored discrimination within the force, Bordeleau said there have been four black officers promoted to the rank of inspector and above, and that three of those promotions occurred under his leadership.
Bordeleau also expressed optimism that visible minority officers will benefit from the changes of an upcoming diversity audit. The force will choose a consultant to conduct the audit later this month, and officers of colour will be interviewed about any barriers they face in the organization.
The race and diversity audit was promised after the fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016.
Ottawa police also made changes following an earlier human rights tribunal decision that found the force discriminated against a female officer. After the 2015 ruling, Ottawa police conducted a gender audit and made changes in how women officers are treated. Now at least one woman must sit on the selection panels that decide who gets promoted and transferred. Decisions made by the panels are reviewed by an outside party to ensure objectivity, and officers on these panels are now get trained on how to conduct "bias-neutral" interviews.
"We were able to make changes based on the information and evidence we were able to gather [in our gender audit] and we will do the same thing following our diversity audit. And if there are barriers that exist within the police service, we will fix those," Bordeleau said.