14 women report sexual assault, harassment by male Ottawa police officers in past 3 years

Fourteen women have come forward to report that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by male Ottawa police officers in the past three years.

Police chief considering harsher penalties, changing options to come forward

Ottawa Police Service headquarters on Elgin Street.
The Ottawa Police Service headquarters on Elgin Street in Centretown. In the past three years, 14 women have reported being sexually assaulted or harassed by male police officers. (Radio-Canada)

Fourteen women working for the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) have come forward to report that they were sexual assaulted or harassed by male officers in the past three years.

The figure emerged from internal statistics released for the first time at a meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday.

Since 2018, OPS has launched internal investigations into two reports of sexual assault committed by members and six reports of sexual harassment.

In his presentation Monday, Chief Peter Sloly said he is looking at all measures to eliminate sexual violence within the force.

"I am willing to consider anything, including heavier penalties and more direct punishment, against those who continue to wilfully ignore and flout the rules and oath of office," he said.

But Sloly said he's learned that heavier punishment doesn't always solve the problem and will also try "other tools such as mediation, restoration and truth and reconciliation" depending on the circumstances.

Police board chair urges transparency

The chief did not reveal what discipline the officers faced nor did he say if the women involved are still working within the organization.

He also insisted unless women outside the police service were impacted, the names of the officers found guilty of wrongdoing against female counterparts should not be identified because it's an internal matter.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said he is considering a variety of measures to stamp out sexual misconduct in the force, including bringing in a third party to hear complaints. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The acting chair of the police board said the more transparency there is, the better it will be for the force.

Sandy Smallwood wants police to regularly report the number of internal sexual misconduct investigations. 

"The default [position] should be to expose, to shine a light on it. Often when you do that you create upheaval, but that can lead to change and that's what we need," he said.

3rd party reporting on the table

    Sloly acknowledged it's likely there are many other incidents of sexual misconduct by officers against other OPS employees that have gone unreported.

    He has tasked acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna with creating a plan that will encourage female officers to come forward with complaints without fear of reprisal.

    Acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna in July 2019. She's been with the police force for more than 30 years and sits on its Community Equity Council. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

    Although complaints can be made through the force's current respect in the workplace policy, McKenna said complainants may be reluctant to come forward to another officer.

    The new strategy involves giving an outside agency the ability to investigate internal sexual misconduct allegations. 

    "A third-party reporting agency may encourage people to come forward and protect them from any repercussions they may fear would take place," said McKenna, who took over Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal's responsibilities after he was suspended for allegations of sexual misconduct. 

    McKenna hopes to have the updated sexual violence policy implemented in some form within six months. It's currently a draft awaiting consultation with officers and outside advocates for survivors of sexual assault.

    The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) applauded the idea of a third-party investigator.

    Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW), said women who are assaulted or harassed by police officers have few places to turn. (Menaka Raman-Wilms/CBC)

    "A police service that is serious about gender equity and human rights cannot tolerate such behaviour from its own members and leadership," said executive director Erin Leigh in a statement.

    "Survivors within the OPS have few places to turn for support — sexual harassment, violence, and its trauma has significant and far-reaching consequences regardless of the perpetrator, but can be deeply compounded when perpetrators hold institutional power and public authority."

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