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Toronto police officer denies he shared photo of colleague in bikini, human rights tribunal hears

A sergeant with the Toronto Police Service denied accusations at a human rights tribunal Thursday that he shared a photo of a female constable in a bikini with colleagues.

Sgt. Howard Payton told the hearing he did not share the photo of Heather McWilliam, explaining that he saw the photo on Facebook at work while he was perusing the social media site, but did not share the image with colleagues at 23 Division, in North Etobicoke.

McWilliam, 33, is arguing at a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing that she was sexually harassed and humiliated for years by her supervising officers and that she was punished for speaking out. But she is also going a step further and alleging there is a systemic problem with the way female officers in the Toronto Police Service (TPS) are treated that needs to be addressed.

She alleges the workplace was a poisoned environment for female TPS employees, and that she heard sexual or sexist comments every shift for years. The tribunal has been sitting intermittently and has heard from over 15 witnesses so far.

McWilliam testified in 2016 that she had heard that Payton was showing a Facebook photo of her in a bikini to other colleagues in the division. At the time, she wanted to deal with the issue herself because she didn’t want to seem weak, she said.

Sgt. Kim Ledgerwood testified earlier in the tribunal that she saw the photo on Payton’s work computer when they were in the same office and on the same shift. Payton told the tribunal on Thursday afternoon that it is possible that Ledgerwood may have seen the photo because he had seen the picture “one or two times” on his work computer.

He denied, however, downloading the picture or saving it on his computer or phone.

He testified that he was aware that other officers in the division may have seen the photo as well through social media, adding that he remembers an officer asking, “Did you see their vacation pictures on Facebook?” Payton told the tribunal he could not remember who the question was directed to.

Payton was investigated by professional standards in 2015 because he used a photo of McWilliam’s face as his desktop background for months before she noticed and asked him to take it down. He was disciplined with an eight hour penalty.

He had also shared the same picture on his phone with another officer working with McWilliam because he found the pose “odd,” he testified.

McWilliam testified last year that these incidents were part of several incidents of harassment she experienced by her male colleagues while working at TPS.

In her testimony, McWilliam stated that male officers would assess the physical appearance and attractiveness of women and discuss the sex lives of female police officers. Female porn stars were sometimes used as screen savers or desktop wall paper, she said in 2016.

Various terms were used to describe female officers in addition to “dykes, c—ts and sluts,” she said. Terms such as “metro mattress” which she said referred to female officers who had worked in the metro division and liked to have sex.

“There were so many times it happened, so many words that were used, my brain sometimes blocks them out,” she said in 2016. “That was the norm.”

She said no one ever objected to the comments or referred to a workplace harassment policy. She also said that she did not see posters about workplace harassment that were supposed to be posted at every division.

Her way of dealing with it was to walk away or remain silent, she said, though inwardly “I was humiliated. I was degraded. I had no voice. I was being objectified sexually over and over and over again.”

McWilliam said she didn’t speak up about what she experienced until much later because she was focusing on her job and was aware how complaints of sexual harassment would impact her career.

The Toronto Police Services Board has denied McWilliam’s allegations on behalf of the officers and argued the hearing should not consider whether there is a systemic sexual harassment problem at the Toronto Police Service, since the allegations are being made by only one female officer.

The Board is also arguing that McWilliam’s allegations were properly investigated and dealt with by management.

The hearing will continue Friday.