Veteran female officer alleges police ‘culture of sexism’ in human rights complaint
A police sergeant with nearly 20 years on the force is coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination within the Toronto Police Service in a recent complaint to Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal.
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Sexually explicit text messages and photos. Degrading remarks made in front of other officers. A “poisoned, sexist workplace environment.”
A female sergeant with nearly 20 years on the force is coming forward with claims of sexual harassment and discrimination within the Toronto Police Service, allegations detailed in a recent complaint filed to the Human Rights Tribunal on Ontario.
Sgt. Jessica McInnis, a 43-year-old officer who has earned accolades since joining the Toronto Police Service in 1998, alleges she was subjected to a “steady barrage of unsolicited sexist, sexual, harassing and obscene messages” by Det. Mark Morris, her former police partner and co-leader of their Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB) team, at downtown’s 14 Division.
The CIB tackles a range of crimes within the division, including thefts and suspicious deaths.
“I hope you don’t call the (Special Investigations Unit) on my (sic) when we do the nasty,” Morris texted her on Nov. 27, 2015 according to the claim, a message sent after Morris caught wind that the SIU, Ontario’s police watchdog, was probing sexual assault allegations against a colleague.
“Remember if I slapped that ass it’s not a sexual assault if I say nice game. That’s what we do in sports,” he added, according to the claim.
At work, in front of subordinates, McInnis claims Morris undermined her, called her vulgar and demeaning names, commented on her body parts and referred to her as “Needle Dick.” Repeated complaints to him and superiors were fruitless, she alleges, and damaging to her career. The complaint says a senior officer told her she should be tough enough to withstand the behaviour.
McInnis also alleges there is a “general culture of sexism” within 14 Division, an environment that discourages women targeted by sexist behaviour from coming forward, and has implications for public complainants.
“Often when a woman would report a sexual assault, male officers would make comments about how she was simply after the money. If a woman had been drinking to excess prior to the incident, they would suggest that she deserved it,” McInnis alleges in her claim.
None of the allegations has been tested at the human rights tribunal.
David Butt, Morris’ lawyer, said in an email Wednesday that “Detective McInnis’ allegations are either false or deliberately misleading. They will be vigorously contested. Out of respect for legal processes, Detective Morris will respond in detail only in the appropriate legal forum, and at that time he will have plenty to say. Until then there is nothing close to sufficient information on the public record to permit the drawing of either informed or accurate conclusions.”
Also named as a respondent to the claim is Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders. Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said the service will carefully review the claim and consider their response, as with any allegation.
“Until that time comes, we will not offer specific comment on the details put forth by the officer,” she said an email Friday.
Gray could not confirm whether the claim had been received by Toronto Police as of Friday.
McInnis previously pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct at the Toronto police disciplinary tribunal for making an inappropriate sexual comment to a subordinate female officer in two encounters in 2012. The specifics of what McInnis said are not included in a written sentencing decision from 2014, which saw McInnis docked 20 days’ pay, though the decision states they were about the subordinate officer’s “personal circumstances.”
The hearing officer on that case, Supt. Debra Preston, wrote that while she did not know what was said — a deliberate choice made at the hearing to “insulate the victims” — the comments had been described as “egregious in nature.” Though both times McInnis said she had meant the comments as a joke, Preston said it would be wrong to dismiss them as such when, as a supervisor, McInnis should have known better.
However, Preston also noted that while McInnis’ misconduct was serious, she had apologized, worked hard to regain her reputation, and had an unblemished service record during the 14 years prior.
McInnis’ 15-page human rights complaint alleges there has been negative fallout from complaining about Morris’ conduct. She claims she was subjected to unwarranted investigations into her police work by superiors seeking to charge her with professional misconduct.
McInnis’ lawyer describes her as a police officer who consistently exceeds expectations. But at the same time, “she has an ongoing fear that she will be the target of further reprisals, and this constantly causes her stress,” said Barry Swadron, who is representing McInnis alongside Marshall Swadron and Lisa Leinveer.
Appended to the claim are over 100 text messages or group chats through messaging app WhatsApp that McInnis alleges were sent to her between February 2015 and March 2017. The messages — the bulk of them alleged to be from Morris — include sexual comments about McInnis and himself and images or videos of partially or fully naked women and men, according to the complaint.
Throughout the messages, Morris repeatedly refers to his genitalia as ‘Anaconda,’ according to the appended text. In one message, he says he would describe himself as “quiet, reserved, calculating and horny.” In one instance, Morris is alleged to have shared an Islamophobic joke about women who wear niqabs.
McInnis’ claim also includes messages in “The Dream Team” chat, a group comprised of current and former members of one of 14 Division’s CIB teams. It includes a mix of sexually explicit images and at times refers specifically to McInnis in degrading terms.
In one group message, a member is alleged to have posted a photo of a woman in black underwear with the caption “Black Panties Matter.” In another, an officer shares an image of “a man’s perfect remote” which includes buttons that say: “Remove clothes,” “PMS off,” “Stop nagging,” “Stop Whining,” “Boobs,” and “Sex/Food/Beer.”
In the claim, McInnis says that on some occasions she felt pressured to respond positively to Morris’ behaviour “in order to fit into the culture of 14 Division and maintain working relationships.”
According to the claim, McInnis complained to Morris and superiors about his behaviour. In one incident, Morris is alleged to have become extremely upset with McInnis after she was ordered to investigate his friend, a fellow Toronto police officer, concerning sexual assault allegations.
After that officer was arrested, McInnis alleges that Morris began screaming at her in front of colleagues, banging on his desk, throwing things and calling her a “f—king rat” and that she was going to “get kicked out.” When she reported the behaviour to Toronto police Det.-Sgt. Laurie Jackson, she was told to “suck it up, you are a detective now,” according to the claim.
Jackson, who is named as a respondent in the human rights claim, could not be reached for comment.
McInnis’ claim says she feared confronting Morris about his inappropriate texts because of his aggression toward her. When she later did, Morris agreed to stop sending sexual messages — only to send her a link about National No-Bra Day four days later, the complaint states.
McInnis’ complaint alleges Morris “made it clear to me that he enjoyed institutional protection for his discriminatory and harassing behaviour.”
The situation became unbearable in March 2017, the claim states, when McInnis was interviewed by a member of Toronto police’s Professional Standards unit after questions arose about how a sexual assault investigation was conducted by officers at 14 Division. Although she had no choice but to speak with the officer, McInnis claims Morris became angry with her like never before and alleges in the claim that he lunged at her with clenched fists; she was fearful that he would hit her, the claim says.
That night, McInnis asked her bosses to have Morris be removed from the workplace, but according to the claim, Jackson said: “Oh honey it was just an argument.” McInnis went on sick leave for a week.
When she returned she was told she was being placed in an administrative role and advised of the first of several investigations into her police work that she says were unwarranted, including the complaint that she had written a date down wrong in a memo book, according to the claim.
She requested a transfer from 14 Division and in May moved to a different division.
As a result of McInnis’ complaint, Morris is under investigation by Toronto police professional standards, according to the claim. In October, McInnis was advised that she had become a subject officer in the investigation her complaint about Morris had initiated — meaning she, too, is under investigation.
McInnis’ claim also alleges that throughout her policing career, she has experienced bullying and harassment, including an incident where a male inspector grabbed her in front of other supervisors and kissed her on the lips. In another example, a male instructor told her she “dressed like a slut.”
“I have also learned from other women in the TPS of the serious and ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination they have experienced at work. When they finally came forward, the TPS did not support them, but instead permitted reprisals to be brought against them and made their work experience unbearable,” McInnis writes in the complaint.
Indeed, in one exchange on the “Dream Team” group message, some of McInnis’ colleagues bring up another female Toronto police officer who is alleging sexual harassment in the workplace. Sharing a link to a news story about Heather McWilliam’s ongoing human rights tribunal hearing, Morris, who says he trained McWilliam for six months, said: “I knew she was a little odd but this? I don’t know.”
He went on to say that “they called her ms piggy and she was not my type.”
“R vs anaconda coming soon lol,” replied another member in the group chat, apparently joking that Morris was going to be charged, using the nomenclature of criminal court cases.
McInnis’ claim includes a number of requested remedies, including human rights training for supervisory staff at 14 Division; that Toronto police conduct regular audits to probe workplace sexual harassment; and that the service establish policies to address any barriers employees face in reporting harassment. She is also seeking just over $600,000 in damages and reimbursements for lost income.
Excerpts of sexual text messages
Sgt. Jessica McInnis’ complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario includes a 15-page list of the sexual and inappropriate messages she was allegedly sent by her then-police partner, Det. Mark Morris.
Also included are group messages from “The Dream Team,” a group of Toronto police officers currently or formerly within Toronto police 14 Division. Below are some of the messages alleged to have been received by McInnis.
May 24, 2015: When McInnis texts Morris about a missing Black man, he responds by sending her a photograph of a naked black man with a large penis.
April 1, 2016: (Chatting about how “The Dream Team” is group message that everyone can see). Morris: “Soo what you are saying is that everyone can see and read the text right? Cause (McInnis) sometimes may want to send me nudes. I will let her know not to do this and keep it professional only.” Another officer replied: “Lol! Ya every one can see these msgs. So make sure she sends it to u directly.”
June 1, 2016: Morris sends “The Dream Team” group chat an image of a naked Black man dragging a large penis on the ground. “That one is McInnis’ favourite one,” Morris wrote.
September 15, 2016: Morris a photo to McInnis of a woman with large buttocks and a caption that said scientists have found that woman with bigger butts have smarter children. “Hmmmm…. i guess if you had kids…. they would be geniuses,” Morris wrote.
October 20, 2016: Morris sends the “Dream Team” group a video of a woman dancing with part of her buttocks exposed. When one officer says “Nice. Who is that?” Morris says: “It’s the black Jessica McInnis. I’d tap that.” The other officer responds: “Lol ya I would too haha.”