Police employees file bullying complaints with chief in hopes of changing workplace culture
A group of employees from the Calgary Police Service submitted formal bullying and harassment complaints to the chief of police on Tuesday alleging that the service has failed to provide a safe environment for some.
“Bullying and workplace issues are not uncommon. What is uncommon is people who are willing to stand up and say this is wrong and stand up and put their names out there in a complaint form so typically these individuals are the tip of the iceberg and there are many, many more who are experiencing it but are simply putting their heads down or are afraid to speak up,” said Rachel West, lead counsel for the complainants. “There’s 13 individuals and so everybody is going to have their own experience. What has been consistent across the board is what happens once the individual has a complaint or some sort of issue within the service.”
Jen Magnus, the officer who tried to publicly resign at a Calgary Police Commission meeting last month, and 12 other employees say the culture of the service protects those who are involved in abusive behavior in the workplace.
“I had tried repeatedly to seek help from my supervisors and the union and no one was helping me so as another option this is what I had to do. I mean, it was a last ditch effort to get someone to listen in the Calgary Police Service,” said Magnus. “There’s definitely a culture of harassment and bullying.”
The group says that in some cases complainants were told by their superiors that nothing would be done if they filed a grievance.
They also claim that the Calgary Police Association advised some employees that it would not take on blue-on-blue complaints and that the response left some members feeling like they had no options.
“It feels defeating. It feel like I’m not valued and it’s a sick feeling because there’s so many people out there that are suffering as well and you’re not getting answers for anything,” said Magnus. “I don’t want anyone else to suffer like I did.”
“Most victims do not report their concerns in any formal way for fear of retaliation and damage to their careers,” said West. “However, a number of CPS employees are now making formal complaints directly to the chief in a concerted effort to push the CPS to make the changes that are desperately needed.”
Magnus would not give specific details about her complaints and says she is still struggling to deal with what happened to her.
“It’s very painful to talk about. I’m trying to heal, physically and psychologically, and I’d prefer not to delve into the exact issues. It’s tough, I’m crying all the time and it’s tough to even sit here and discuss that,” she said.
She says support from friends, family, the public and other police officers has been encouraging but that it’s been a long road to get to this point.
“I’m stuck in a difficult position because I worked as a police officer for 14 years and now I feel like I have to give that all up just to get my sanity and health back,” she said. “It’s been so hard to be the face of this. I never expected this to happen but if I can help at least one person then I’ve done my job and absolutely, if what I’m doing helps anybody in any occupation then I’m happy with that.”
West says they met with Chief Chaffin last week and that he expressed his commitment to investigate the complaints with an independent workplace investigator.
“It was really positive. The chief listened to Jen, listened to the concerns that were raised, made a commitment to prioritize this going forward and committed to having an external investigator look into this matter. He also agreed to accept the complaints on behalf of these 13 individuals and take it seriously,” said West. “The important thing here is cultural change and the fact that, in Canada, every employee has the right to a safe and respectful workplace, the CPS should be no different.”
“In meeting with the chief on February 16th, he did agree to bring in an external investigator and he acknowledged the other complaints and I’m hopeful that he will make that a priority,” said Magnus. “I hope that supervisors make it a priority to listen to employee’s complaints and take actions. I hope that the union listens to the employees and, as well, takes action when they have complaints instead of saying we don’t do blue-on-blue complaints and I hope the leadership takes accountability for themselves and for the employees to make the service a better place.”
The Calgary Police Association says it cannot comment on specific cases but that it "represents members who ask for advocacy" and that it is also working to ensure a safer workplace for its members.
In a release to CTV News, the Calgary Police Commission says it is working with the CPS to ensure that an action plan on gender equality is carried out.
“It is encouraging to hear that these individuals are now comfortable bringing forward their concerns. It shows they have confidence that the Chief is committed to evolving the workplace, and creating a sense of trust that concerns will be addressed.
“The submission of formal complaints gives CPS the opportunity it needs to investigate the specific allegations and work toward a resolution.
“While the Commission does not have details about the complaints or the proposed resolution process at this time, it is still a priority for us to oversee the reforms underway at CPS to create an inclusive workplace with fair opportunities that is free of harassment and discrimination.
Chief Chaffin spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon and says addressing the allegations is a positive step in developing a better work environment.
“It’s actually a really good opportunity for us. I think this is the first really big, positive development we’ve had on this story, the ability to get to the table and to start working through specific allegations is a really good step for us to start to create the organization that we’re trying to here,” he said. “This is a good opportunity to sit down with them and get some of the details out so we can move forward for them as well, so we can make sure we’re able to see what needs to be fixed in the organization, if there’s actual misconduct, if there’s actual criminality that’s occurred, these are things that are important to me, you can’t get to a zero tolerance strategy until you can start investigating some of these things.”
The group of 13 is currently focused on the complaint process and say they hope their efforts prompt the service to make the changes that are desperately needed.