Toronto Police Officer’s Posts About Work Harassment Led to Her Firing - The World News

Toronto Police Officer’s Posts About Work Harassment Led to Her Firing

Her 10th anniversary as a Toronto police officer was approaching, but Firouzeh Zarabi-Majd was in no mood to celebrate. Embittered by the years of sexual harassment she said that she and her fellow female officers had experienced at work, she was engaged in a one-woman campaign to make her case public across Canada.

She had already gone through official channels, but when that didn’t work she took to social media.

For 18 months, Ms. Zarabi-Majd posted images of the pornography and racist and sexist messages that she said she witnessed in the workplace.

She disclosed details of a sexual assault she said she experienced and cursed and mocked officials whom she believed were dismissive of her accusations.

She ignored warnings from Toronto’s police force to stop.

Ms. Zarabi-Majd said she should have a right — just as civilians do — to discuss her grievances publicly.

But in May 2023, police officials fired her, saying she was trying to destroy the Toronto police’s reputation and that her behavior rose to serious misconduct.

Ms. Zarabi-Majd, 43, appealed her dismissal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, an independent tribunal. This April, the commission sided with the police, ruling that there was just cause to fire her “to protect public confidence in policing.”

Ms. Zarabi-Majd is pursuing a separate claim she filed with another body, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, a quasi-judicial agency that handles discrimination complaints.

“The fact that I was fired really put things in perspective for me,” Ms. Zarabi-Majd said. “What are they trying to do by firing a woman who’s been sexually assaulted?”

Her experience, according to law enforcement experts, reflects similar issues in other municipal police forces in Canada, which remain male-dominated workplaces where female officers often do not report sexual harassment because they fear retaliation.

In British Columbia, six female police officers filed a class-action lawsuit last year against several police forces in the province, claiming that they had experienced gender-based harassment and bullying, including sexual harassment.

In Toronto, several female officers have filed sexual harassment claims against the city’s police department, and a 2020 ruling by Ontario’s human rights tribunal involving one case described the police force as “poisoned.”

The department retained the consulting firm Deloitte to examine look at workplace practices and, in a 2022 report, the firm found that 28 percent of female police officers surveyed said that they had been victims of sexual harassment.

The agency, officially called the Toronto Police Service, would not comment on Ms. Zarabi-Majd’s case, but said it had instituted anti-harassment training and was committed to improving the workplace.

“Harassment and discrimination have no place in our organization,” said Stephanie Sayer, a spokeswoman for the Toronto police.

Ms. Zarabi-Majd was hired by the Toronto police as a 27-year-old cadet in 2008. Her supervisors had supported her ambitions to pursue investigative roles.

But by 2014 Ms. Zarabi-Majd said she had begun to encounter what she described as casual displays of sexism that she flagged to supervisors. With her phone, she began to snap pictures of pornography magazines stored in the station.

Male colleagues would regularly prod her about her sex life and sexual preferences, according to the complaint she filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

She deflected questions, she said, about her breasts and the appearance of the genitals of female officers.

Ms. Zarabi-Majd said the sexual harassment escalated in 2014, when she offered a ride home to two male colleagues who were intoxicated. After they reached the apartment of one of the officers, the men propositioned her and threatened to tell their colleagues it had happened, according to her human rights claim.

Then, in late 2015, a senior colleague visiting Ms. Zarabi-Majd’s home forcibly kissed her while bragging of his sexual prowess, the claim says.

Fearing retaliation, she said she did not immediately report the episodes to her supervisors.

But Ms. Zarabi-Majd broke her silence in 2018 and pursued official channels to report her accusations, first to her supervisors, then to her police union. (She took sick leave from work and continues to receive disability benefits.)

The police department offered her a settlement in 2019 of 1.3 million Canadian dollars, but she rejected it because she said it required a nondisclosure agreement.

She instead decided to make her case before the province’s human rights tribunal. Then she began her public campaign.

“I went on social media and I started connecting with people, and it just felt like I was alive again,” Ms. Zarabi-Majd said.

Her social media posts included evidence gathered over the years to document the harassment, such as screenshots of sexually explicit comments made about her in a WhatsApp group chat by male officers.

She chose not to show up a disciplinary hearings over her posts. In one post, she wrote, “I will not be attending this,” referring to a hearing, with a feces emoji. She also accused a former police chief of enabling “sexual predators,” according to her termination ruling.

The police found her guilty of discreditable conduct and insubordination. She raised the “proverbial middle finger” at the police force, Robin McElary-Downer, a retired deputy chief who presided over her disciplinary hearing, wrote in the decision dismissing Ms. Zarabi-Majd.

“Her blatant public refusal towards lawful orders, yelling and swearing at senior command, both verbally and electronically, her relentless unrestrained disdain for her employer,” Ms. McElary-Downer wrote, “points to an individual who is filled with so much contempt and anger she is ungovernable.”

Simona Jellinek, a Toronto-based lawyer who represents sexual assault victims, toured the police division where Ms. Zarabi-Majd worked about 15 years ago. On a bulletin board, she said she saw some of the images of “pinup girls and homophobic slurs.”

“I remember challenging the officer that was showing us around, saying, ‘Would you accept that if it was against a straight, white man?’.” Ms. Jellinek said. The officer removed the posters.

Heather McWilliam, a Toronto police officer who started on the force two years before Ms. Zarabi-Majd joined, said she also endured sexual harassment, including sexual comments and a forced kiss from a colleague.

Photos of her and other female officers in swimsuits were pulled from Facebook and passed around by a superior, she said.

The human rights tribunal, in a 2020 ruling, found that she had been victimized by a workplace that was not the product of “bad apples” within the force, but of behaviors and comments that had become normalized at work. The tribunal awarded her 85,000 Canadian dollars, roughly half her legal bill of 150,000 Canadian dollars.

Ms. McWilliam, who is on paid leave from the force, said the department had tried to silence her accusations with procedural delays, intimidation and nondisclosure agreements.

“The police prolonged it, thinking that I was eventually going to give up,” she said. The department said the findings were serious and that it had put changes in place in response to the ruling.

As Ms. Zarabi-Majd awaits a decision from the human rights tribunal, she said her legal bills have mounted to 240,000 Canadian dollars. But, she added, she is determined to press on.

The message is clear, Ms. Zarabi-Majd said. “If you dare go on social media and talk about anything that should be kept in the family,” she said, “we’re going to fire you.”

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