Female municipal police officers from across British Columbia have taken the first steps of what may turn into a class action lawsuit. The civil suit alleges gender-based discrimination and harassment, naming all 13 municipalities in B.C., the attorney general and public safety minister as defendants.
The 25-page lawsuit names Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Victoria, and aims shocking claims at Central Saanich Police Services.
One of the plaintiffs is Const. Ann-Sue Piper, who started working with Central Saanich police in 2008. In the notice of civil claim to B.C.’s Supreme Court, she details frequent, unwanted touching and an incident where she “was threatened to be penetrated with a service rifle by a male officer.”
In the suit, she, and five other female officers, say their subsequent complaints were either not, or insufficiently, addressed.
“B.C. Municipal policing, the workplace, is unsafe for women, full stop,” said one participant in the suit, whose identity is protected by a publication ban. She survived a sexual assault by a Vancouver Police officer who was convicted and jailed.
“When you come forward under that type of discrimination, they find a way to get you, whether it’s financial, they get you,” she told CHEK News.
‘Terrified to go to work’
All the participants in the suit say their complaints led to retaliatory abuse from fellow officers and from management.
“You are ostracized as a victim, you are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed,” said former New Westminster Police officer Const. Lauren Phillips. “You’re terrified to go to work, absolutely petrified to go to work because you’re not sure who’s going to come at you, with what.”
All of the plaintiffs say they suffer from depression or PTSD as a result of their alleged discrimination and harassment and say the current municipal policing system doesn’t protect them.
“All of us have suffered at the hands of these police agencies, the solicitor general, and enough is enough,” said Phillips. “We’re sick and tired of it, which is why we’re going the route we’re going. We’ve decided to push forward and put the boxing gloves on.”
In a statement, the Central Saanich Police Service, while not addressing the specific claims in the lawsuit, said it wanted to make it clear that any form of harassment, violence, and discrimination by members or staff is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“We strongly encourage anyone who has experienced harassment, violence or discrimination to come forward,” the force wrote.
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Central Saanich Police Services have issued a statement on the class-action lawsuit filed against 13 B.C. municipalities outlining allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.https://t.co/sm4f4mnfTy pic.twitter.com/MdfHBDSOAp
— cspoliceservice (@cspoliceservice) October 13, 2023
“We are bringing the issues forward and we run into this government system that eats us alive, that doesn’t work,” said the plaintiff protected by a publication ban.
The female officers say filing this suit will now allow other female officers to come forward with anonymity, saying dozens have already reached out.
A judge will determine if this suit will be certified as a class action. If it doesn’t, the plaintiffs tell CHEK News they plan to move ahead with a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal.
A similar class action case involving the RCMP resulted in more than $100 million dollars awarded to female officers.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.