'Fearful in my own workplace': Veteran Toronto sergeant files human rights complaint

A veteran female sergeant has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that alleges sexual harassment and discrimination within the Toronto Police Service that left her feeling "intimidated, threatened and exhausted."

Accused's lawyer says allegations are 'either false or deliberately misleading'

Sgt. Jessica McInnis filed a human rights complaint on Dec. 22 alleging her former police partner sexually harassed her for three years and that a 'culture of sexism' allows discrimination to continue within the force. (Toronto Police Service)

A veteran female police sergeant has filed a complaint with Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal that alleges she experienced sexual harassment and discrimination within the Toronto Police Service over for three years, leaving her "intimidated, threatened and exhausted."

Sgt. Jessica McInnis, who has worked with the force for nearly 20 years, claims that her former police partner sent her a "steady barrage of unsolicited, sexist, sexual, harassing and obscene" text messages and photos. She also alleges he made degrading remarks that undermined her authority in front of other officers. 

The pair worked together in 14 Division's criminal investigations bureau in downtown Toronto between October 2014 and May 2017 — at which time McInnis requested a transfer from what she calls a "poisoned, sexist workplace environment." 

"The indignities I experienced felt like a continuous hazing process that I had to pass and keep passing in order to be accepted as a co-worker," she wrote in the claim, filed on Dec. 22. 

"I became fearful in my own workplace." 

The 15-page human rights claim filed by McInnis's lawyer, Barry Swadron, details more than 100 text messages allegedly sent to McInnis between Feb. 17, 2015 and March 6, 2017 by her partner, Det. Mark Morris. 

None of allegations have been heard by the human rights tribunal or proven in court.

Morris's lawyer, David Butt, told CBC Toronto they plan to vigorously contest the complaint. 

"Detective McInnis's allegations are either false or deliberately misleading," Butt said in an email. "Out of respect for the legal processes, Detective Morris will respond in detail only in the appropriate legal forum, and at that time he will have plenty to say.

"Until then all media stories about these allegations will necessarily be incomplete because there is as yet nothing close to sufficient information on the public record to permit the drawing of either informed or accurate conclusions."

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has not set a hearing date. McInnis plans to ask to be reinstated as a detective and return to the committee positions she held at 14 Division. She also plans to seek more than $600,000 in damages and reimbursements for lost income.

'Very disturbing' texts

According to the complaint, Morris repeatedly asked McInnis to send him nude photographs and referred to his genitalia on eight different occasions as "the anaconda."

The complaint also says that he indicated that he wanted to spend the night with her, made sexual comments about graphic images and videos, and referred to McInnis by the nickname "needle dick." 

"I found these texts very disturbing," McInnis said in the complaint. 

When she confronted Morris about his messages on several occasions, he would promise to stop, but she said after a few days the lewd messages would ensue.

Toronto lawyer Barry Swadron is representing McInnis human rights complaint against Det. Mark Morris and other members of the Toronto Police Service. (CBC)

"Morris's conduct progressed to the point that it seriously affected my enjoyment of life and caused me to dread reporting to work at a job that I had once loved," McInnis, 43, wrote in the complaint. 

'Extremely difficult' for female cops: McInnis

McInnis contends that coming forward about Morris's sexual harassment has damaged her career because of a "culture of sexism" within the force. 

Mark Pugash, spokesperson for Toronto Police Service, said Thursday the force has not received notice of the claim and therefore is unable to respond. 

McInnis accuses the Toronto Police Service of "making it extremely difficult for women to come forward if they are sexually harassed or targeted by sexist behaviour." She says that when she first reported Morris's behaviour, her complaint was dismissed. 

As such, the complaint lists Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders as a respondent because of what McInnis says is his responsibility for training supervising and disciplining officers. The complaint also outlines a series of remedies for Toronto Police Service, including human rights training for all supervisors at 14 Division, regular audits to investigate sexual harassment, and a review of the force's sexual harassment reporting policies. 

The human rights complaint alleges Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders negated his duty of properly training, supervising and disciplining officers accused of sexual harassment and discrimination. (Canadian Press)

In April 2015, McInnis claims she went to her supervisor about Morris. She alleges she was told to "suck it up."

"I have lost income and opportunities for advancement as a result of being removed from my role as a detective within the CIB (criminal investigations bureau) at 14 Division, my transfer to 33 Division and my removal from the six committees in which I participated or led at 14 Division," the claim reads. 

McInnis now serves at 33 Division and has been stripped of her detective title, Swadron said. Morris, meanwhile, continues to work at 14 Division.

Claims of 'institutional backlash'

In March 2017, McInnis claims her partner attacked her in front of their co-workers after she was interviewed by the force's professional standards unit about concerns with a sexual assault investigation that was conducted by officers within their division. 

"Morris screamed at me, swore at me, called me misogynistic names," the claim read. 

When she later notified her bosses of the incident and requested Morris be removed from the police station because "she did not feel safe," McInnis says her supervisor characterized it as "just an argument."


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.