More female officers accuse WRPS colleagues of discrimination
Published Tuesday, January 9, 2018 6:12PM EST
Two current Waterloo Regional Police officers and one former officer have sworn affidavits as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the region’s police board and police union, alleging a culture of sexual harassment that leaves female officers afraid to report misconduct.
The legal action was launched last year, when a current officer and a former officer came forward with allegations that they were repeatedly harassed and abused. Like the earlier claims, none of the new allegations have been tested in court.
The lawyer representing Waterloo Regional Police in the lawsuit says the organization does not normally comment on a matter before the courts, but is making an exception in this case.
“It would be unfair and wrong to let the affidavits filed by the plaintiffs that we believe contain untrue, exaggerated, misleading and/or defamatory allegations against past, current, and deceased members which we vehemently deny, be left unchallenged,” James H. Bennett said in an email to CTV News.
The new claims include a sworn affidavit from Sgt. Karin Eder, who joined the organization in 1988, at the age of 21.
Eder claims that her early years with Waterloo Regional Police were rife with sexual harassment, as she was only one of two women in her platoon.
She says she was told that women shouldn’t be working for the police, had an officer lift up her skirt in front of her colleagues, and had a supervisor repeatedly hand her photos of him having sex with other women. She says she and the other female officer were given male uniforms because the organization did not yet have uniforms for women, and were mocked for the poor fit of the male uniforms.
Eder says she raised these concerns with her supervisors, and felt she wasn’t taken seriously. One time, she says, a supervisor told her she “should have been a model and not a cop.”
Eder’s affidavit also claims that in 2008, Pat Dietrich – now a superintendent with Waterloo Regional Police – sent her a picture of his penis, asked her for a naked picture in return, and stopped talking to her when she refused to send a picture.
Eder says her time with Waterloo Regional Police has left her feeling “depressed, ashamed and worthless” and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Such feelings appear to be a common theme in the affidavits filed as part of the class-action suit.
Dietrich’s name also comes up in a new affidavit filed by Barry Zehr, who was the WRPS superintendent of human resources until his retirement in 2017.
Zehr says he heard about Dietrich sending a female officer a picture of his penis, and was told by the organization’s lawyer that nothing could be done without a formal complaint – which Eder says she decided not to file because she was told it would likely only result in Dietrich being warned, and feared that it would lead to professional reprisals against her.
Zehr says he believes senior officers were aware of the incident and other alleged sexual misconduct on Dietrich’s part, and chose not to address it with him. He says Dietrich has since been given “prestigious assignments” within the organization.
Concerns about officers facing reprisals for reporting wrongdoing are also voiced by Sgt. Shelley Heinrich, who has also filed an affidavit supporting the lawsuit.
Heinrich claims that both the police service and the Waterloo Regional Police Association union “deliberately and systemically fail to properly punish the wrong doers and deter the insidious behaviour.”
An officer since 1991, Heinrich says her experience has left her traumatized both physically and psychologically.
Her allegations include that, in 2005, two WRPS supervisors referred to a staff sergeant of Asian heritage as “slant eye” and tried to get him transferred.
She claims some of those supervisors filed a baseless sexual harassment complaint against that staff sergeant on Heinrich’s behalf. When she found out about it, she says, she told the supervisors that she wanted no part of it – only to find herself “blacklisted and ignored” from then on.
“In many cases, the male perpetrators were promoted and rewarded despite their wrongful conduct, while I was isolated and subjected to further harassment and discrimination,” she says.
Waterloo Regional Police do have a procedure regarding discrimination and harassment. It is overseen by Gary Melanson, the organization’s director of legal affairs.
Melanson’s name also turns up in Eder’s affidavit, as the sergeant claims that Melanson made inappropriate comments to her about her appearance and personal life, talked about his sex life in front of her and once brushed hair off her face – which she says made her feel “extremely uncomfortable.”
Eder says that as a result of those incidents, she didn’t feel the harassment and discrimination procedure would be an effective way for her to address her concerns.
CTV News contacted Melanson and Dietrich about the allegations in the affidavits. Neither wished to comment.
The final new affidavit is from Vera T. Mackenzie, a former officer who worked with Waterloo Regional Police between 1986 and 1998.
Mackenzie says she was once told by an officer, in front of the rest of their platoon, that she should perform a sexual act on him. She says she was subjected to remarks on her appearance as well as “snide comments” about a miscarriage she had experienced, for which she filed a complaint. She says she was later denied a transfer and told concerns about her complaint were the reason why the transfer had been turned down.
According to her affidavit, later on in her time with WRPS, her son became seriously ill and she would call home during her shifts to check on him. She says supervisors became aware of these personal calls and began requiring her to log her daily activities, right down to bathroom breaks.
“We had male police officers spending their work hours organizing their personal affairs, discussing and scheduling their hockey and golf games and attending to their personal matters, yet I was the only person who was required to report on all of my daily activities,” she says.
Mackenzie says she eventually filed another complaint, laying out a pattern of incidents she saw as harassment and discrimination, including a fellow officer not being punished for calling her a vulgar term.
She says she was eventually told that any sexual harassment “never occurred”, and chose to leave the organization because she felt she would be “harassed and punished” if she stayed.
“I am one of a few officers who took my grievance through all stages of the prescribed procedure and it cost me my career,” she says.
The proposed legal action has yet to be certified as a class-action lawsuit. The case returns to court in March.
Bennett, the lawyer representing police on the matter, says the organization does not believe the lawsuit should be certified.
“The affiants are now going to be cross-examined under oath within the next 30 days and their false, exaggerated and misleading allegations will be challenged and exposed at that time,” he said.
Douglas Elliott, one of the lawyers behind the proposed lawsuit, sees it differently.
“There is simply no accountability in the Waterloo Regional Police Service,” he said in an interview. “I dare say there are less sexualized environments in frat houses at universities than there are at WRPS."
With reporting by Krista Simpson