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Dozens of Vancouver police officers allege workplace harassment

VPD survey says race, gender, sexual harassment and ancestry among types of harassment
At least 51 police officers and 18 civilian staff employed at the Vancouver Police Department say they were the subject of workplace harassment at some point between 2017 and 2018. Photo Dan Toulgoet

At least 51 police officers and 18 civilian staff employed at the Vancouver Police Department say they were the subject of workplace harassment at some point between 2017 and 2018.

The harassment identified was primarily related to race, gender, ancestry and sexual harassment, according to results of a survey completed last year by VPD officers and staff.

The Courier obtained the “2018 Employee Job Satisfaction Survey Results” report via a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The incidents of harassment are possibly higher because the results were based on responses from 551 of 1,811 employees, which is roughly 30 per cent of total staff working at the department.

Statistics reported in the results are also inconsistent on a definite number of employees who complained of harassment.

In one sentence, the report says 71 respondents reported workplace harassment at some point between 2017 and 2018. In another section, the report states 51 officers and 18 staff – for a total of 69 employees – said they were harassed.

A breakdown on the gender of respondents – 34 men and 28 women, for a total of 62 employees – further confuses the actual number of employees who experienced harassment.

Regardless, women said gender and sexual harassment were the primary types of harassment experienced on the job. For men, the most commonly reported type of harassment was related to ancestry.

Despite dozens of harassment complaints, only 11 officers and three staff reported the harassment to the department. Thirty-nine officers and 15 staff did not bother to report.

“Of those respondents who stated they were the subject of workplace harassment over the past two years, 37 people made mention as to why they did not report the harassment – 15 felt the VPD would take ineffective or no action, 14 felt that submitting a complaint would ruin their reputation or career, or result in retaliation, five respondents’ comments were themed under ‘other’ and three felt their complaint would not remain confidential,” the report said.

A select number of responses from officers and staff that elaborated on reasons for not reporting were redacted from the report.

The survey allowed for an employee to report more than one type of harassment, with “race” topping the list at 15 reports, followed by gender (14), ancestry (14) and sexual harassment (12).

Other grounds for harassment identified by VPD employees included age, sex, place of origin, colour, sexual orientation, family status, country, religion, marital status and political beliefs.

The report said the results are comparable to surveys of VPD employees in 2014 and 2016 that examined the topic. In 2014, a total of 17 per cent of respondents said they had been harassed. It was 12 per cent in 2016.

In the 2018 survey, 346 officers and 194 staff, which includes special municipal constables such as jail guards, participated. That was an increase of 33 respondents over the 2016 participation rate.

To provide context to the number of harassment claims at the VPD, the report pointed to results of employee surveys at other law enforcement agencies and public bodies in Canada.

“Compared to 2018 results from Government of Canada-Pacific Region employees in law enforcement agencies, the VPD reported rate of 14 per cent [or 71 respondents] is below: 36 per cent of the Correctional Service, 24 per cent of the Canada Border Service Agency and 16 per cent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police-E Division that reported experiencing workplace harassment in the last two years,” the report said.

Harassment reports totalled 15 per cent for Government of Ontario employees and 24 per cent for City of Edmonton employees.

The report responds in detail to measures the department has taken and continues to implement to address harassment, including:

  • Putting in place a “respectful workplace” policy.
  • An anonymous reporting feature on the department’s human resources’ “wellness website.”
  • Training all staff about changes in legislation and “the absolute requirement for respectful workplaces.”
  • Posting of “respectful workplace” posters throughout VPD buildings.
  • Addition of four WorkSafeBC videos related to workplace bullying and harassment to the VPD’s “wellness website.”
  • Department’s focus on encouraging employees to wear pink shirts on “Pink Shirt Days” to symbolize support for anti-bullying in the workplace and in public.

In addition, human resources staff has undergone “high level training” related to investigating complaints, said the report, adding: “There has also been strong messaging from senior management members.”

Supt. Martin Bruce, who oversees the VPD’s personnel services, said in an email Wednesday there was no room for workplace harassment in policing.

“However, the reality is that these incidents do happen in all industries,” he said.

“We are doing our best to provide the right training, leadership and oversight to ensure these issues are dealt with. Our policy is to address harassment complaints head on.”

Bruce said the survey allows the department to hear from people who want to remain anonymous. Data collected helps determine what changes can be made and where to improve, he said.

“We have a comprehensive respectful workplace policy and strive to create a work environment that is healthy and respectful for everyone – all our sworn and civilian members,” Bruce said.

“Everyone has the right to come to work and thrive and be effective in an environment that is harassment free.”

The dozens of harassment reports by officers and staff is in contrast to the overall job satisfaction rate cited by employees in the survey: 69 per cent, the highest it’s been in eight years.

It was 66 per cent in the 2016 survey.

The 69 per cent rate was calculated on results of 519 employees who answered the overall job satisfaction level question. They reported “very high or somewhat high” satisfaction levels.

“Job satisfaction rates for other demographics include: 73 per cent of males and 68 per cent of females; 89 per cent of senior managers, whereas 76 per cent of supervisors and 69 per cent of practitioners had a high job satisfaction, and; respondents with 20 years of service or more were the most satisfied with their job [80 per cent],” the report said.

“From a divisional perspective, 71 per cent of those working in the investigations division and 79 per cent of those in the operations division responded with job satisfaction, while that rate was 60 per cent of those in the support services division [including secondments]. Eighty-six per cent of those who stated they worked under the Office of the Chief Constable [Adam Palmer] were satisfied with their jobs.”

All respondents were asked to provide their opinions on how to make practical changes to improve job satisfaction levels. A majority – 26 per cent – said they want more staffing.

The department’s planning, research and audit section conducted the survey. All employees were invited to participate, with the largest response rate – 40 per cent – from the VPD’s operations division.

“Although this report can be seen as an excellent tool to obtain a better understanding as to what is working well and what areas need improvement, it is important to note that the feedback provided is only representative of less than one-third of the organization’s employees who responded the survey,” the report concluded.

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