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Jul 15, 2020
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McWilliam v Toronto Police Services Board and Angelo Costa

On June 30, 2020, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) released its long-awaited decision in McWilliam v Toronto Police Services Board and Angelo Costa, 2020 HRTO 574, which concerns sexual harassment in the Toronto Police Services. Police Constable McWilliam was represented in the proceedings by Cavalluzzo lawyers Kate Hughes, Tyler Boggs, as well as lawyer Nadia Lambek.

In her lengthy, 156-page Decision, Tribunal Vice-Chair Jo-Ann Pickel found that Police Constable Heather McWilliam has established that she was subjected to a poisoned work environment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination by superior ranking officers employed by the Toronto Police Services Board. A copy of the Decision can be found HERE.

The case, which took roughly five years to complete and included 35 days of testimony, is a landmark decision for women who work in policing and paramilitary institutions.

After hearing from the Applicant and approximately 30 of Police Constable McWilliam’s colleagues – who were primarily called by the Toronto Police Services Board to challenge Police Constable McWilliam’s allegations – Vice-Chair Pickel concluded that Police Constable McWilliam gave “detailed, credible, and largely consistent evidence about the incidents of sexual harassment that she alleged.” By contrast, Vice-Chair Pickel found that she “had concerns about the credibility and reliability of the testimony given by some, even many of the respondents’ witnesses” – many of whom continue to be employed in senior management positions by the Toronto Police Services Board.

With respect to her factual findings, Vice-Chair Pickel detailed many of the daily abuses experienced by Police Constable McWilliam, which included sexual innuendos and solicitations from male supervisors, such as gesturing how they masturbate and “orally pleasure women”; giving Police Constable McWilliam handwritten notes stating that she was “smokin’ hot”; and viewing, discussing and sharing pictures of Police Constable McWilliam throughout her workplace. As detailed by the Vice-Chair, many officers were so inured to this type of behaviour that they failed to recognize it as inappropriate workplace conduct.

Vice-Chair Pickel further found that Police Constable McWilliam satisfied her onus of establishing on a balance of probabilities that the individual respondent committed an act of sexual assault by forcibly kissing Police Constable McWilliam without her consent. Police Constable McWilliam’s testimony was found “to be clear, forthright, detailed and very specific” in this regard.

In relation to these findings, Vice-Chair Pickel found that the poisoned work environment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination experienced by Police Constable McWilliam were so routine and rampant throughout the Toronto Police Service that they had “formed part of a pattern or series of similar incidents to which [Police Constable McWilliam] was subjected and which became a condition of her employment.”

Vice-Chair Pickel consequently ordered the Toronto Police Services Board to pay to Police Constable McWilliam $75,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect. A further $10,000 was ordered jointly and severally against the individual Respondent, former Sergeant Angelo Costa, and the Toronto Police Services Board in relation to the sexual assault and other incidents of sexual harassment committed by former Sergeant Costa against Police Constable McWilliam.

Recognizing the deeply systemic issues that exist throughout the Toronto Police Service, Vice-Chair Pickel also ordered extensive public interest remedies against the Toronto Police Services Board. The Decision included orders requiring the Toronto Police Services Board to do the following:

  • Develop a Human Rights Strategy;
  • Retain an external expert on policing and human rights to conduct additional training for supervisors;
  • Provide annual training for all officers on sexual harassment, human rights, and poisoned work environments;
  • Track and report on internal human rights complaints; and

  • Amend internal reporting forms to ensure that they are compliant with the Human Rights Code.

Cavalluzzo LLP is proud to stand with Police Constable McWilliam in her ongoing fight for systemic change. 

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