• By: Dan Donovan

Attorney General must investigate misogyny at Ottawa Police

Pictured above: Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly and acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna

The Attorney General of Ontario should immediately step-in and override Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly and the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) decision to not call in an independent police agency to investigate criminal misconduct in the highest ranks of the OPS. Sloly’s response to the matter regarding the misogynistic and predatory criminal behaviour of several of his OPS officers toward female constables on the force is perplexing, alarming and distressing.

On March 13, Ottawa police Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal was charged with serious misconduct by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC), the civilian police watchdog, which accused him of sexual harassment and assault of a civilian employee of the Ottawa Police Service. Despite being charged, Jaswal-a deputy Chief did not see the need to step aside until his name was cleared. Instead of being immediately suspended without pay by Chief Sloly as soon as he was charged, it took a meeting of the OPSB ten days later to suspend Jaswal with pay ‘pending the outcome’ of a disciplinary hearing. The resolution the board passed in order to suspend Jaswal made mention of the board’s commitment to ensure “a positive and harassment-free workplace for its members” and added that the board was “committed to maintaining trust and confidence in the integrity of the Ottawa Police Service, in the eyes of the public and of (its) members.” Days later, the OCPC laid its sixth disciplinary charge against Jaswal.

In total, Jaswal stands charged with three counts of insubordination and three counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act for allegedly sexually harassing two female Ottawa police officers and allegedly sexually harassing and assaulting a civilian employee. The allegations against the deputy chief span 11 years. Paul Champ, the lawyer representing the first complainant who came forward, said that “the new allegations against Jaswal suggest there is a pattern to this behaviour.” He said that the most recent allegation, which dates back to 2008, shows that “the constable was fearful of coming forward for so long.” None of the allegations against Jaswal has yet been tested.

After Jaswal was charged it was leaked to the media that numerous other OPS female constables had experienced years of criminal sexual harassment by male colleagues yet were afraid to come forward for fear it would negatively impact their careers or jobs within the service. Despite this, Sloly refused at first to detail the numbers. After more media reports and complaints Sloly showed up Monday at the OPSB meeting and announced a new project to tackle workplace sexual violence and sexual harassment within the OPS.

It was disclosed at the meeting that fourteen more women working for the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) have come forward to report that they were sexually assaulted or harassed by male officers in the past three years and that since 2018, the OPS has launched internal investigations into two reports of sexual assault committed by members and six reports of sexual harassment. During this period, the aforementioned Uday Jaswal was the Ottawa Police Deputy Chief.

In his report to the OPSB Chief Sloly said, “I am willing to consider anything, including heavier penalties and more direct punishment, against those who continue to wilfully ignore and flout the rules and oath of office,” but in the next breath he claimed he's “learned that heavier punishment doesn't always solve the problem" and will also try “other tools such as mediation, restoration and truth and reconciliation” depending on the circumstances.

Sloly also refused to disclose what discipline the officers faced or if the women involved are still working within the organization. He then acknowledged that it's likely there are many other incidents of sexual misconduct by officers against other OPS employees that have gone unreported.

That Chief Sloly admitted that he knows this and obviously has details of criminal activity in his own organization and is refusing to call in an independent third party to investigate that matter shows a remarkable lack of judgment and accountability when it comes to egregious acts by some of his officers.

Instead of bringing in outsiders, Sloly has directed acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna to create a plan that will encourage female officers to come forward with complaints without fear of reprisal. In what was probably the biggest understatement of the year that only served to reinforce the need for an independent investigation and highlighted Sloly’s bungling of the matter, McKenna herself said “complainants may be reluctant to come forward to another officer at the OPS”.

Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) has called for an independent investigator saying  “Survivors within the OPS have few places to turn for support — sexual harassment, violence, and its trauma has significant and far-reaching consequences regardless of the perpetrator, but can be deeply compounded when perpetrators hold institutional power and public authority.”

Instead, Chief Sloly has chosen to have his own police officers investigating their own crimes involving criminal sexual harassment at the OPS. He has no way of knowing if the officers investigating the matter were themselves involved in the harassment. In a further show of hubris, Sloly also insisted that unless women outside the police service were impacted, the names of the officers found guilty of wrongdoing against female counterparts should not be identified because, “it’s an internal matter.”

Does the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service really believe that criminal sexual offences committed by his officers against other officers are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us and, that he will take care of these issues because it is an “internal matter?”

Chief Sloly has proven he is not capable of properly adjudicating this matter. He did not immediately suspend Jaswal when charged. He refused to release the information on the numbers of female officers who were harassed until pressed by the media. He did not call in an independent investigator from outside the OPS, instead directing his own officers to investigate their colleagues over criminal sexual misconduct. He has publicly stated that he believes other tools such as mediation, restoration and truth and reconciliation can be used for officers who engage in misogynistic (criminal) practices.

Sandy Smallwood, the acting chair of the OPSB has a duty to call for an independent third party police service to investigate criminality by officers within the OPS. If he does not, the Attorney General of Ontario should order the OPSB to do so or name an independent Superintendent to take over their role until they start properly adjudicating their responsibilities under the Ontario Police Services Act. 

Female Constables in the Ottawa Police Service deserve a safe workplace environment and stronger leadership. Hollow words and meaningless actions will do nothing to change the systemic culture of mysogyny on the force. Sadly, they will continue to face harassment until a light is shone on this tawdry mess and an independent investigator is brought in to find the perpetrators and charge them. If found guilty they should be fired. That will signal to all OPS officers that you cannot “willfully ignore and flout the rules and oath of office,” without consequences.