Windsor

Windsor police among forces with highest number of human rights complaints in Ontario

The Windsor Police Service has more internal human rights complaints about reprisals and sex per capita than any other municipal law enforcement service in Ontario.

Reprisal, sex complaints highest per capita at the Windsor Police Service

John Boyle said his life is a lot less stressful now that he's retired and not working as a Windsor police officer. (Courtesy John Boyle)

Retired constable John Boyle blames the Windsor Police Service for ongoing financial struggles and mental health issues after getting hurt on the job, claiming he was then discriminated against due to his disability.

Boyle is one of the 28 human rights complaints filed against Windsor police between 2008 to 2018. That puts Windsor among the top police forces with the highest number of complaints per capita, according to numbers obtained by CBC News through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

"It felt almost like a personal vendetta against me or that they were out to get me and push me out," said Boyle. "I wasn't trying to be unreasonable. I just needed some help."

Many people are attributing this to the old boys club, the brotherhood and that it's very much alive.- Elie Labaky , Ottawa lawyer with focus on police law

In 2003, Boyle slipped and fell while getting out of his police cruiser, injuring his hip. A year later during a police chase — and hopping five fences — Boyle said he further hurt his hip, which eventually resulted in getting it replaced.

"I felt like I was being punished for that," said Boyle.

Allegations of disability discrimination

Boyle's injuries meant he had some limitations and restrictions when he eventually came back to work behind a desk in 2006. Although some accommodations were made, Boyle claimed his Windsor police superiors discriminated against him over the years due to his disability by:

  • Not providing him with accessible parking
  • Requesting him to wear a uniform after doctor said he shouldn't
  • Altering work conditions and hours
  • Forcing him to choose between losing income & increasing pain

Boyle said he couldn't walk more than a block without prompting severe pain, which is why he requested accessible parking at police headquarters in downtown Windsor.

"They didn't seem at all interested in even entertaining a conversation on what can we do to make this a little easier," Boyle said.

John Boyle during police college in 1987. (Courtesy John Boyle)

In the police response to Boyle's complaint, they claim the force's duty to "accommodate the applicant's alleged disability does not include providing him with transportation to work or ensuring that he can find parking in close proximity."

Windsor police said Boyle could use public transportation or a taxi to get to work, or a parking structure across the street which "has ample handicapped parking."

All of this led to Boyle having his pay cut off by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Boyle, "forced to try to work eight hours when I could barely do four," ended up retiring early. Boyle said he hadn't received a full paycheque most weeks since May, 2015 — which caused his family to nearly go bankrupt.

Boyle's case has since been closed and that settlement remains confidential.

Windsor police ranks fifth in Ontario, out of the top 16 police services, for the most human rights complaints per capita between 2008 and 2018. Windsor is ranked fifth behind North Bay, Brantford, Thunder Bay and Toronto.

Windsor police tops in Ont. for reprisal complaints

The top two types of complaints against Windsor police in that time period are reprisal and related to one's sex, which includes sexual harassment and pregnancy. The Windsor Police Service has more internal human rights complaints per capita in those two categories than any other municipal law enforcement service in Ontario.

"Many people are attributing this to the old boys' club, the brotherhood and that it's very much alive," said Elie Labaky, an Ottawa lawyer with a focus in police law, including human rights complaints involving officers.

"I would suggest that this is more of an ideological conflict. If you don't follow our ideology, you will not be promoted, you will not move up. It's the concept of La Cosa Nostra of policing essentially — it's 'our thing' of policing."

Internal complaint process called 'questionable' 

Officers have other options to file a complaint, either internally or a grievance with the union. However, Labaky calls these routes at times "questionable," which prompts officers to file an Ontario human rights complaint because it's an "impartial process."

"There are alliances, favouritism, nepotism across the board. But we're not doing anything about it because they're part of 'our thing,'" said Labaky.

Elie Labaky is a lawyer in Ottawa who practices police law. (CBC)

Labaky suggests the Windsor Police Service should be addressing these issues head-on. There's also a "responsibility" for the police services boards to take action.

"A lot of the time what we're finding is these police service board members are rubber stamping everything that comes before them," said Labaky.

Especially since these human rights complaints come to the police boards directly, he believes they should be asking the tough questions of the chief of police.

Chief, mayor decline interview request

Neither Chief Al Frederick or Mayor Drew Dilkens, who's also chair of the police board, would agree to an interview.

The mayor's chief of staff said in an email that "the mayor is not prepared to comment during an active Human Rights Tribunal process."

A spokesperson for Windsor police said due to an ongoing Ontario Civilian Police Commission investigation, they cannot comment.

"The board and service is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation, [and] as such is unable to comment, respecting the confidentiality of the process and the integrity of the investigation," said Sgt. Steve Betteridge. 

Although these numbers may seem "very concerning," Labaky says the real worry is that human rights complaints in policing are rising across Ontario.

There are currently five open human rights complaints against the Windsor Police Service. One of the most prominent cases is that of Christine Bissonnette, who has three separate ongoing proceedings of her own.

Bissonnette has alleged gender bias as the reason she was passed over for several promotions. Bissonnette also claims she's the victim of reprisals because of her HTRO complaints, as well as discrimination due to her age and disability.

Provincial involvement

To better address the "old boys' club," which Labaky says contributes to reprisal or harassment in policing, he believes the province needs to get involved.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of the Solicitor General said in an email that it underscores police services are required to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

"Under the new Community Safety and Policing Act (once in force), police service boards and the Commissioner of the OPP will be required to deliver adequate and effective policing in accordance with the requirements of the Charter and Code," said spokesperson Brent Ross.

The new bill includes mandatory training for all new officers, special constables and police board members across the province on human rights, systemic racism, diversity and Indigenous issues. 

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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