11/02/2016 06:09 EDT | Updated 11/03/2016 08:46 EDT

Calgary Police Service Faces Allegations Of Harassment And Intimidation

Jack Cusano / Reuters
Calgary Police cars block off a street were seven people were shot in a New Year's house party in the South West community of Killarney in Calgary, Alberta January 1, 2015. REUTERS/Jack Cusano (CANADA - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST)

If you've ever wondered why women are reluctant to bring forward allegations of sexual harassment, look no further than the furor unleashed when 15 female police officers contacted city councillor and police commissioner Diane Colley-Urquhart to discuss sexual harassment and the culture of intimidation and retaliation they'd experienced at the Calgary Police Service.

Ms. Colley-Urquhart took the matter to police chief Roger Chaffin. Nothing happened until the story hit the press.

Then Chief Chaffin posted a statement on Facebook saying his door is always open to anyone who has been mistreated, implying that people (Ms. Colley-Urquhart perhaps?) were politicizing the matter and former police officers who confirmed the women's allegations were spreading inaccurate information.

Ward Sutherland, a fellow city councillor and police commissioner, weighed in saying if this was a real problem, Colley-Urquhart should have acted sooner, she should have brought the matter to the Police Commission and she was wrong on the facts.

Whoa, what's going on here?

The facts

In 2009 a workplace audit warned that a culture of bullying and retaliation existed in the Calgary Police Service. Then-police chief Rick Hansen implemented a program called Respect Matters to "foster and maintain a culture of respect."

The audit report and Respect Matters were of such little significance that they didn't rate a mention in the 2009 Police Commission Annual Report (the Police Commission, like the board of directors of a corporation, provides governance and oversight to the Calgary Police Service).

While the Respect Matters program was good in principle, it wasn't being used properly to investigate, track and manage complaints

In 2013 Chief Hanson commissioned a second workplace investigation, this one focusing on the human resources department. The investigation revealed that while the Respect Matters program was good in principle, it wasn't being used properly to investigate, track and manage complaints. The investigator offered recommendations to strengthen the HR department to address discrimination, harassment and bullying, and to redress a lack of accountability where "bad" actors with the right connections are rewarded by preferred placements and promotions.

Once again, the investigation's findings failed to make it into the 2013 Police Commission Annual Report.

I repeat: the Police Commission is like a board of directors. It receives monthly, quarterly and annual reports from the Calgary Police Service and meets with the chief of police on a regular basis, and yet it was unaware of the 2009 and 2013 reports which painted a frightening picture of a toxic workplace culture at the Calgary Police Service.

But wait, maybe we're overreacting.

Chief Chaffin's response

Chief Chaffin says notwithstanding what some may think, the human resources practices at the Calgary Police Service "... are as modern and evolved as any professional and progressive organization."

This is not correct.

The HR departments in private sector companies understand that sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying happen in every workplace. They develop policies that clearly state that employees (and contractors) who engage in harassment, discrimination and bullying will be disciplined. They set up an independent complaints investigation process. They track the number of complaints to ensure their policies are effective and they report to their boards of directors annually on the number of complaints and how they were resolved.

calgary police officers

Calgary police officers. (Photo: WHEREZJEFF/FLICKR)

By doing so these HR departments protect corporations from legal liability and improve their ability to attract top talent.

What does Chief Chaffin suggest?

He asks anyone who feels they've been mistreated to reach out to him (this is the equivalent of reaching out to the CEO of a 3,000-person organization) or use the "resources in our service" (the police officers serving a stint in HR until their next assignment comes along and who were roundly criticized in the 2013 report).

Chief Chaffin says the HR department has gotten better at doing its job. He says "the recommendations from the 2013 workplace review have been implemented to a great extent."

If this is the case, workplace morale in general should have improved since 2013, right?

These are very good numbers; unfortunately, they've slipped.

The 2012-2014 Business Plan and Budget says "promoting a respectful workplace" is a strategic objective. The person responsible for achieving this objective is the HR Operations Inspector. The HR Operations Inspector needs to meet certain performance measures to satisfy this objective. The only relevant performance measurement I could find in the Plan was the response to the question "Overall, I'm generally satisfied with my current job." In 2010, 85 per cent of the respondents said yes. In 2011, the percentage of generally satisfied respondents dropped to 78 per cent.

These are very good numbers; unfortunately, they've slipped.

By 2012, the percentage of employees who strongly agree with the statement "Overall, I am generally satisfied with my workplace environment" fell to 28 per cent. In 2013, it popped up a bit to 32 per cent. More recent numbers are not available.

While the rephrasing of the question from "current job" to "workplace environment" could impact the result, the general lack of employee satisfaction is confirmed by the Employee Engagement Index Score which placed employee engagement at 27 per cent for 2012 and 31 per cent for 2013.

So there's probably a good reason why the 15 female police officers chose to reach out to Ms. Colley-Urquhart instead of circling back to the HR department.

Collateral damage

Ms. Colley-Urquhart has come under fire for weighing in on this issue.

Chief Chaffin said instead of "politicizing the challenging times an officer has experienced" it would be better to "expend that energy towards putting them in touch with the services we have to provide assistance." Given the problems with the HR department that were identified in the 2013 report (which don't appear to have improved), it made sense for Ms. Colley-Urquhart to take the matter straight to Chief Chaffin, who appears to have done nothing.

Councillor and police commissioner Sutherland has a whole host of criticisms: why didn't Ms. Colley-Urquhart raise this issue with the Police Commission (perhaps she wanted to give Chief Chaffin a chance to rectify the situation first)? Why didn't she act sooner (the Police Commission was not told about the problem)? Why is she playing this for political advantage -- is she?

All of which makes me wonder: If 15 male police officers approached a male police commissioner to report a systemic problem at the Calgary Police Service, would they have been hit with the same degree of skepticism and censure?

A version of this blog originally appeared on

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