Female police officers across Canada have reported being harassed, degraded, and deluged with porn by fellow officers. They've said that when they complain, they've been threatened, punished by superiors or told to "just eat a gun".
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the culture of sexual harassment and intimidation at epidemic levels among Canadian police from coast to coast.
Let's begin with Calgary, where the Calgary Herald recently reported on the story of Const. Kim Prodaniuk, who in 2010 was assigned to the vice unit to work undercover on prostitution stings.
She had to take a mandatory training course called "Identify Sex Trade at the Street Level", according to the paper.
"I believed I was participating in a course to train me how to perform undercover," Prodaniuk alleged in an affidavit, "but in reality it was a one-week-long course dedicated to entertaining male CPS officers at the expense of female officers’ sexual dignity."
Her superior officers on the "training course" allegedly forced her and other female officers into a variety of degrading scenarios. Prodaniuk claimed she was ordered to loudly pretend she was having an orgasm in public places, including in a Boston Pizza, and “while riding a horse on the children’s carousel ride in the crowded food court with children present."
None of these allegations have been proven in court.
She claimed in her affidavit that she was later ordered to go into a Safeway with another female officer trainee, "to collect items inside the store that could have a sexual connotation, and to approach someone grocery shopping to arrange a sexual encounter between the three of us. I was able to convince a male customer to agree to leave the grocery store to have a threesome with the female officer and I.”
Later, when she was alone with a superior in a police van, she alleged that he said “Tell me about the best blow job you’ve ever given.”
“None of the scenarios I engaged in had any practical applications to working as an undercover sex trade worker," said Prodaniuk.
A culture of intimidation
Prodaniuk's claims are nothing new. A 2013 internal review of the Calgary Police Service, obtained by Postmedia, described rampant sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying, within "a culture of intimidation and retaliation."
The report revealed that over 60 employees of Calgary Police Services were interviewed and many claimed they had been bullied and sexually harassed. One example is a female officer who said seven male officers each texted her photos of their genitals.
Like many officers who tried to complain, when Const. Prodaniuk reported the harassment through internal channels, she claimed she got shut down.
The police union allegedly told her "we don't do blue on blue" complaints.
Another Calgary Police Officer, Constable Jen Magnus, publicly quit the force in 2017 after 14 years in uniform. “I have been bullied, sexually harassed, degraded and chastised,” she told CTV, adding that when she spoke up things only got worse. “I did not leave the Calgary Police Service, the Calgary Police Service left me."
Disband the vice squads
This culture of sexual harassment and intimidation raises deep questions about policing. If a vice squad's senior officers treat their job as a means to exploit and degrade their fellow officers, then how are they treating the vulnerable sex workers they come into contact with?
Given this context, is it possible the vice squad is doing more harm than good? It would be hard to come to any other conclusion. In the context of "defund the police" maybe a good start would be to disband and eliminate the vice squad entirely?
Criminalizing sex workers and their clients causes more harm than good, especially if police charged with enforcing these laws are callously exploiting the power dynamic for their own gratification.
This isn't something to be solved with retraining and reprimands. The whole concept of "police vice squads" is a relic of the past and should be set aside. It's time for a new approach to sex workers that replaces criminalization, arrests, and victimization by police with decriminalization, health care and better social programs.
Next column we'll look into the culture of abuse within the Toronto police department, where female officers have been barraged with porn, slurs and come-ons, then threatened by senior officers when they try to complain.