Unwanted sexual advances or comments about the “inferior abilities of women in policing.” An organization “predominantly” led by white men. Fear of blacklisting when complaining about workplace harassment — and the belief that little would be accomplished by speaking out.
An independent review of Toronto police workplace culture by the consulting firm Deloitte found “a clear perception” that harassment and discrimination regularly occur within the force among the hundreds of officers and civilian employees they consulted.
The findings — which mirror complaints from officers who’ve spoken out in recent years about discrimination in the workplace — are laid out in a 65-page report made public Wednesday and set to be discussed at next week’s Toronto police board meeting.
The report acknowledges Toronto police and its board have taken steps that demonstrate “an organizational intent to change and improve workplace culture.” But it says there is more work to be done.
“The extensive and historical nature of workplace harassment at the service warrants a continued, renewed and robust approach to achieve long-term change,” the report states.
A spokesperson for Toronto police said the force accepts the findings of the report. In a statement Wednesday — the same day he issued an apology to Toronto’s racialized communities for systemic racism — Toronto police Chief James Ramer his service is part of a working group with 15 other Ontario police services, started in November, to tackle workplace harassment and discrimination. The problems are “sector-wide and require sector-based solutions,” he said.
Ramer thanked the officers who participated in Deloitte’s review and said his police service has been focused on change and being responsive not only to communities but their own employees.
“That work includes understanding and reforming our own workplace, and being frank about the challenges some of our members have experienced at work,” Ramer said.
Jim Hart, chair of the Toronto police board, said the board and the service are listening and “committed to fostering a progressive and inclusive culture.”
“Harassment and discrimination have no place in our organization,” Hart said.
Responding to the report Thursday, Heather McWilliam — a Toronto police officer who in 2020 won a years-long sexual harassment case at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal — called for greater support for officers who’ve experienced a “toxic police workplace” and a transformation in policing, starting at the top.
“Police leadership’s action and inaction severely affects our lives every day, the well-being of our community, police officers and civilian members,” McWilliam said.
Deloitte launched its examination of Toronto police workplace culture in 2019 and its review included interviews with 55 employees, focus groups with 70 participants, and a confidential survey sent to 7,818 sworn officers and civilians in 2020, garnering responses from more than 900 employees.
Employees who spoke with the consultants described a culture “tolerant of harassment and discrimination,” according to the report. Of the 908 participants in the survey, 60 per cent said they’d witnessed or experienced harassment or discrimination within the force in the past five years.
Gender-based discrimination was common in the feedback from employees consulted. Almost all “perceive a history of gender-based discrimination” within Toronto police, the report said, noting the severity ranged from gender-based stereotypes and inappropriate jokes to sexual assault.
Among the examples cited: unwanted sexual advances, sexualized comments or pranks, “comments about the inferior abilities of women in policing relative to men” and remarks about the negative impact that pregnancy and maternity leave have on the careers of female officers, according to the report.
Employees also expressed concerns about the conduct of senior leaders, some sharing stories about people in leadership positions “engaging in harassment or discrimination or failing to prevent or call out such behaviour,” the report said.
Some noted Toronto police “is led predominantly by white males,” the report said. The lack of diversity “reinforces the status quo, creating a cycle of ‘more of the same,’ with leaders promoting new leaders that look, think and act like them,” the Deloitte report said.
It noted that, as of 2018, about 16 per cent of senior officers with the inspector rank or higher were racial minorities and 13 per cent were women.
In its statement Wednesday, Toronto police noted “the diversity of senior officers” has been brought up to 25 per cent.
Another ongoing issue was stigma around mental health issues. The report found that employees believed that coming forward about a mental health problem could mean harassment, being left out of peer groups, and having their career take a hit.
Consultants also uncovered issues employees had raising the alarm internally, whether it was speaking out about their own experiences or whistle-blowing about the mistreatment of others.
“Participating members expressed a general lack of trust in the internal complaints and investigations process, citing biased investigations and a perceived lack of accountability,” the report said, also noting a fear of retaliation for speaking out, including being labelled as “troublemakers.”
The report laid out a series of recommendations, including instituting independent and confidential reporting, and improving harassment and discrimination training.
In its statement, Toronto police said it has already begun the work of acting on recommended steps, saying it has enhanced the training requirement for police officers and cadets, and provided anti-harassment training for all supervisors and senior officers.
The force has also redesigned its workplace harassment and discrimination complaints process, “which will address feedback about the lack of trust, transparency and accountability in the process,” the police service’s statement said.
Toronto police said it has also added two specialists in workplace-dispute resolution to work proactively with officers, civilian employees and leaders.
Changes are being noticed, Toronto police said, noting that a followup review done in 2021 showed that 78 per cent of TPS employees felt the force “is improving and making active efforts to build a more inclusive environment,” the statement said.
“We see the Deloitte report both as an endorsement of our ongoing work, and as an obligation to push forward,” Ramer’s statement said.
Findings like the ones in the latest report can be helpful for officers reporting workplace harassment in civil actions, arbitration, or human rights cases — but they reveal nothing new, said Lesley Bikos, an assistant professor at King’s University College at Western University.
“We have decades of evidence from police services across Canada of systemic racism, sexism, ableism in relation to mental illness, and unsafe, toxic, and abusive work environments, particularly for those from marginalized groups,” Bikos said.
In her research on police workplace culture, which has involved surveying hundreds of officers from across Canada, Bikos found that almost all officers consulted — regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, and rank — had a “significant fear of the consequences of reporting workplace discrimination, harassment, or bullying.” The findings of Deloitte’s report likely don’t reflect the severity of the problem.
“There will undoubtedly be people who did not feel safe or wish to participate in the survey,” Bikos said.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis