BREAKING: Class action lawsuit filed against WRPS

Two former female constables have filed a class action lawsuit against the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) for systemic and institutional gender-based discrimination and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault, as reported by 570 News earlier this morning.

The former constables, Angelina Rivers and Sharon Zehr, reported that they were subjected to routine harassment and abuse from fellow male superiors and colleagues at WRPS.

As reported by CTV Kitchener-Waterloo, Rivers revealed that she received sexually inappropriate texts and images from a supervisor. Zehr, who served on the force for two years, reported that she was told by two male officers that they did not want any woman, including herself, on the force. Zehr also reported that her sergeant wrote a negative and “fictitious” report about her performance on the force and told her to “quit or get fired.”

Heather Davidson, File Photo

“My dream of becoming a respected police officer was systematically and intentionally turned into my worst nightmare,” Zehr said, as reported by CTV. “The injustices I faced at the hands of men whose job it was to uphold public justice have shaken my belief in the police system to its core.”

Doug Elliott, a lawyer of the Toronto firm Grosso McCarthy, said the lawsuit could “force real change and make things better for those facing institutional injustice.”

According to the plaintiff’s law firm, the plaintiffs are currently seeking both general and aggravated damages for class members in the amount of $100 million and punitive and exemplary damages of $50 million, as reported by 570 News. The family class suit is seeking $10 million in general damages, $5 million in special damages and $2 million in punitive damages.

According to CTV Kitchener-Waterloo, the family case is being represented by superintendent Barry Zehr, a member of the force’s human resources department. Zehr noted that concerns of fellow male officers were raised but ignored.

“The actions of these men also impacted the families, friends and communities of the officers,” Barry Zehr said. “Our family continues to deal with the trauma they inflicted to this day.”

It is reported that none of the class action allegations have been currently proven in court.

570 News also released the full statement from the plaintiffs (GrossoMcCarthy Inc.):

A class action lawsuit has been issued against the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) and the Waterloo Regional Police Association (WRPA) for systemic and institutional gender-based discrimination and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Representative plaintiffs Constable Angelina Rivers and Constable Sharon Zehr allege that they were subjected to routine harassment and abuse at the hands of their male colleagues and superiors. Any effort to address these issues internally were dismissed and resulted in additional ridicule, degradation and retaliation to the plaintiffs, pointing to a culture of misogyny that was tolerated and even promoted at the highest levels of the organization.

The plaintiffs are seeking general and aggravated damages for class members in the amount of one hundred million dollars and punitive and exemplary damages of fifty million dollars. The associated Family Class are seeking general damages of ten million dollars, special damages of five million dollars and punitive damages of two million dollars.

Angelina Rivers began working as a constable with the WRPS in 2006. Male officers refused to provide her with backup when she was dispatched to dangerous situations. When she reported her safety concerns to WRPS superiors she was warned to be careful how she treated people or she would get her “ass kicked”. She received sexually inappropriate text messages and pictures from her direct superior, who remains in a position of authority over women at WRPS to this day.

“When I tried to address the issues I was facing internally I was dismissed and ridiculed at every turn,” said Angelina. “I am participating in this lawsuit so that my daughters, or any woman who wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, can do so without facing the kind of systemic harassment, discrimination and abuse that I faced.”

Sharon Zehr served with WRPS for two and a half years. On her first day of work she was told by two male officers that they did not want her or any women on the force and that it was up to them “to get the women out.” Her Sergeant wrote a negative and fictitious report on her performance and in presenting this report told her to “quit or get fired”. On one occasion five male officers attempted to drag Sharon against her will into the men’s change room. Sharon was forced to quit and move out of the Waterloo region due to concerns for her safety.

“My dream of becoming a respected police officer was systematically and intentionally turned into my worst nightmare,” said Sharon. “The injustices I faced at the hands of men whose job it was to uphold public justice have shaken my belief in the police system to its core.”

Superintendent Barry Zehr is representing the Family Class in this suit. As a member of the HR department he raised many of the concerns addressed in this action but his demands for change were ignored.

“The actions of these men also impacted the families, friends and communities of the officers,” said Barry. “Our family continues to deal with the trauma they inflicted to this day.”

“I got into class action law because it has the potential to force real change and make things better for those facing institutional injustice,” said lawyer Doug Elliott. “No male officer on this force would tolerate his daughter or his wife being treated so disgracefully. Open season on female law enforcement personnel needs to end now.”

As well, the WRPS published an official press release earlier today:

On May 31, 2017, the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board and the Waterloo Regional Police Association were served a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges systemic and institutional gender-based discrimination and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Some of the allegations attributed by the plaintiffs date back to 1988 and those have only just come to the attention of our Service,” said Bryan Larkin, Chief of Police. “Some were already the subject of an investigation by an independent law firm and dealt with appropriately.”

While Chief Larkin and the Board take these allegations seriously, it’s important to note they remain allegations and have not been proven in a court of law. Our Service has progressive policies, procedures and training to ensure that any such allegations are dealt with in accordance with the law.

Our lawyers will be first challenging the complete lack of jurisdiction to bring this claim and, if necessary, will be defending these allegations and challenging the certification of the class action.  We take the position that the class action is inappropriate.  The Police Services Act provides for a grievance/arbitration system pursuant to the collective agreement and would have been the appropriate means to deal with the allegations. In addition, one of the representative Plaintiffs was, until very recently, a member of senior leadership.

The Waterloo Regional Police Service does not condone or tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

“The Waterloo Regional Police Services Board has shown its continued commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity,” said Tom Galloway, Chair of the Board. “Our Service has recently developed several initiatives aimed at highlighting women in leadership, recruiting and mentorship.”

Equally, the Waterloo Regional Police Association, the exclusive bargaining agent and advocate for its membership, takes all matters of harassment and/or discrimination seriously.

“Harassment and discrimination, in any capacity in our community, is inappropriate and unacceptable in the past or present,” said Chief Larkin.

Due to the fact that this matter is now before a court of law, we will be making no further comment. We will continue to work together with our members and the public to provide a safe and vibrant community.

More to come.

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