Lawsuit launched against WRPS over sexual assault, harassment, discrimination
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Thursday, June 1, 2017 12:01PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 1, 2017 6:04PM EDT
Current and former Waterloo Regional Police officers are spearheading a $165-million class-action lawsuit against the organization over alleged gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The lawsuit, which was made public Thursday at a press conference, also names the Waterloo Regional Police Association union as a defendant. None of its allegations have been proven in court.
In the suit, plaintiffs Const. Angelina Rivers and Sharon Zehr claim they were regularly harassed and abused by male colleagues, including superior officers.
In one case, Zehr says, a male officer asked her for unsolicited oral sex.
In addition to things like inappropriate messages from a supervisor and comments by male officers that they didn’t want any female colleagues, they allege that when they raised concerns, they were “dismissed and ridiculed.”
Zehr spent more than two years as a constable with Waterloo Regional Police in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Rivers has been with the organization since 2006, and is currently on leave due to PTSD-related issues.
Also listed as a plaintiff is Barry Zehr, Sharon Zehr’s wife and a former WRPS superintendent who recently retired from the organization.
He claims that he repeatedly raised the issue of gender-based discrimination with specific examples in his capacity as the superintendent of human resources, only to have his concerns ignored.
Speaking to CTV News, Zehr said he would try to get female officers assigned to specialized units, particularly ones where women were underrepresented. Often, he said, the assignments didn’t last.
“I would hear back specific names that certain women were being called,” he said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of them either asked transfers out or found themselves in disciplinary situations.”
At the press conference, all three said they were speaking up on behalf of other officers who are afraid to do so.
In a statement emailed to media outlets Thursday morning, Waterloo Regional Police called the lawsuit “inappropriate” and said the issues should have been dealt with through the Police Services Act grievance and arbitration system.
“Some of the allegations attributed by the plaintiffs date back to 1988 and those have only just come to the attention of our service,” Chief Bryan Larkin said in the email.
“Some were already the subject of an investigation by an independent law firm and dealt with appropriately.”
The statement also said that the organization “does not condone or tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.”
One of the lawyers involved in the case says he expects about 200 women to take part in the class-action lawsuit.
With reporting by Leena Latafat