The Sarnia Police Services Board has hired an independent investigator to look into an ongoing workplace complaint by a female officer who says she was assaulted and harassed by a male officer.
Helen Daniel, a Toronto labour and employment lawyer, is conducting the probe and will provide a report with recommendations in the coming weeks, said board chair and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.
Once complete, Chief Norm Hansen and the board will decide if further action is appropriate and necessary, he said.
Staff Sergeant Jaime McCabe-Wyville alleges she was assaulted at Sarnia Police headquarters on Christina Street, and then subsequently harassed and bullied by the same officer and a second officer.
The assault allegation was turned over to Windsor Police for investigation earlier this year. The Windsor and Essex County Crown Attorney’s Office concluded “there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction if the police laid criminal charges,” the Sarnia Police Services Board said in a release last week.
McCabe-Wyville, who is no relation to another Sarnia officer named Wyville, has refused to return to work.
The 22-year police veteran, who has spearheaded two recruitment campaigns to increase diversity on the force, said she wouldn’t return to work until Sarnia Police put a safety plan in place.
“She absolutely fears for her safety, and quite rightly so,” said Gary Bennett, McCabe-Wyville’s lawyer.
“The problem is the person who has made her workplace unsafe is welcomed there without any type of punishment or any type of deterrent. And her only option is to be off work without pay, while her assailant is at work being paid.”
In a statement, McCabe-Wyville said Sarnia Police have threatened to charge her under the Police Services Act for not remaining silent about the incident.
And she called an offer by Sarnia Police to order the male officer not to speak to her “unacceptable.” She wants the officer who allegedly assaulted and harassed her sent home, she said.
Bennett, based in Mississauga, said he is representing several women with similar complaints at other police forces.
“This type of discrimination against female officers is rampant,” he said. “It appears as though in policing, when these types of behaviours happen… the female officer is marginalized and the male officers — who are typically the perpetrators — continue to be promoted.”
In any other workplace such behaviour would be snuffed out, punished, and possibly result in termination, he said.
“The Occupational Health and Safety Act is pretty clear. A perpetrator in the office who may have power and authority over her… is a very clear and present hazard,” he said.
Bennett said McCabe-Wyville needs to be back on the job and compensated for time missed.
“The only reason she’s off is because they refused to create a safe workplace for her.”
Meanwhile, dozens of protestors gathered in support of McCabe-Wyville at Sarnia Police headquarters on Oct. 24 in a demonstration organized by Women’s March Sarnia-Lambton.
“I’m not sure why a female police officer who has had an independent review indicate that harassment did happen in the workplace remains on leave, unpaid,” United Church minister and activist Adam Kilner said at the protest.
“Perhaps the police have different rules than we in the public have. Regardless of what the rules are, we should all feel unsettled.”
In a statement last week, the Sarnia Police Services Board said the health and safety of all its employees is of paramount importance, and it’s satisfied appropriate accommodations are in place to allow McCabe-Wyville to return to work during the investigation.
“The SPSB recognizes the severity of these allegations and assures all citizens we are sensitive to the matter at hand and will continue to conduct this investigation while protecting the well-being, safety, and privacy of everyone involved,” it said.