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Human rights settlement aims to increase gender diversity in Ottawa Police Service

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December 2, 2015

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Toronto - A settlement has been reached with the Ottawa Police in a case that alleged a female police officer was denied training, job placement and promotion opportunities because of her family status, sex and maternity leaves. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) intervened at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to address systemic barriers to promotion and advancement that women can face. 

As a result of the settlement, the Ottawa Police will conduct a systemic review of its workforce demographics, policies and procedures.  The aim is to ensure that female police officers, particularly those who take maternity leaves and have family caregiving responsibilities, have equal opportunity to be represented at all levels and ranks.

OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane called the settlement an important step forward. “There’s lots of evidence that gender bias affects the careers of many women. There is also evidence that women tend to be underrepresented in policing institutions. This settlement commits a large Ontario police force to reviewing its demographics, policies and practices and to taking concrete steps to promote gender equality.  Full representation of men and women throughout the organization should be the goal of all Ontario workplaces”, she said. 

The OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on pregnancy and breastfeeding, says that barriers can result from policies, practices and the informal “culture” of an organization.

“While my family and I have been at the centre of this human rights case, it is important to acknowledge the other officers who have been marginalized”, said Constable Barb Sjaarda.  “Many officers have experienced reprisal after coming forward with issues similar to mine, with some female colleagues going so far as to quit the profession out of frustration. A change in policing culture, encouraged by policies that respect human rights, can only be viewed as a positive step forward,” she continued.

As a result of the settlement, over the next two years the Ottawa Police will:

  • Analyze the data collected in its 2012 Workforce Census to determine the representation of employees protected by the grounds of sex, family status, or both where applicable, at all levels and ranks and report the results to the OHRC, the Applicant, and the Ottawa Police Association.
  • Review all written and unwritten promotion and job placement policies, practices and procedures to ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of sex and/or family status.
  • Assess whether perceived or actual gender bias, maternity and parental leaves or family caregiving responsibilities may be impacting women’s access to advancement opportunities.
  • Revise its promotion and job placement policies, practices and procedures and human rights accommodation policy to address sex (including pregnancy) and family status discrimination and accommodation.
  • In consultation with the OHRC and Ottawa Police Association, provide training to employees on the revised promotion and job placement policies, practices and procedures and human rights accommodation policy.

The Ottawa Police will complete this work with the help of an expert or experts on employment, gender and human rights and in a manner consistent with best practices in conducting gender audits in policing organizations.  

The OHRC will review the implementation of these systemic measures.

Ottawa Police Association President Matt Skof said, “Given the scope of this issue, and the commitment from the organization to establish policies, the Ottawa Police Association is hopeful that the Ottawa Police Service will establish a fair mechanism for staffing decisions.  The absence of a fair and transparent process in assigning courses and temporary job placement opportunities has been a source of frustration for many of our members.  We are looking forward to the opportunity to work with the Ottawa Police Service and to assist with the development of these new policies.”

"Our Service is committed to being a progressive employer that reflects the community it serves. These minutes of settlement further the work the Ottawa Police has already undertaken to increase the overall diversity and representation of women in its membership. Our progress has been measured through initiatives like the Workforce Census studies conducted in 2005 and 2012," stated Chief Charles Bordeleau. He further added that, "The Gender Audit outlined in the agreement is an important step to ensure that all employees of our service have the opportunity to excel in our organization. By conducting these types of studies we can better ensure that we are listening to the needs of all of our Members and are addressing those needs in a comprehensive manner."


For more information:

Afroze Edwards
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Human Rights Commission

Matt Skof, President
Ottawa Police Association
(613) 232-9434

Chief Charles Bordeleau
Ontario Police Service
613-236-1222, ext. 5366