WARNING: There are graphic and mature details in this article. Discretion is advised.
When four female corrections officers went to work at the Edmonton Institution, they allegedly endured a supervisor who often exposed his genitals to them. One woman said her co-worker threw a urine-filled rubber glove at her and she was even waterboarded.
The allegations are found in a lawsuit filed March 5 in Edmonton court by four plaintiffs who are only identified by pseudonyms.
Jessica claims she became suicidal after working at the maximum security prison for nearly nine years.
“Every day, as she drove to the facility, she would contemplate driving her car off the Terwillegar Bridge,” reads the statement of claim. “Jessica would hope that an inmate would stab her to end her ordeal. She stopped wearing body armour.”
The four plaintiffs are suing Corrections Services Canada and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers for $43.4 million plus other costs for years of abuse and harassment in what they describe as a toxic work environment.
“Edmonton Institution is a workplace rife with discrimination, harassment, bullying, abuse of authority and sexual assault,” reads the lawsuit, which also accuses the union of working “with the employer, not to represent its members, but to enrich a select few at significant expense to vulnerable members such as the plaintiffs.”
Many of the allegations focus on the actions of John Doe #1 who was described as a “chief tormentor” of one of the plaintiffs. No real names are used in the lawsuit because of the “confidential and secretive nature of law enforcement work.”
Jessica began working at the prison in May of 2007. She weighed 110 pounds at the time and felt under-qualified to deal with inmates. The lawsuit says: “John Doe#1 assured her that he would protect her from violence.”
For the next decade, she said she “was sexually harassed daily.”
Jessica described a litany of harassment and abuse.
“Mr. Doe #1 made a habit of stirring her and other female officers’ unattended drinks with his penis and not telling them until after they had drunk from it, then laughing.
“He would ask her and other female officers to close their eyes and hold out a finger. He would then suck on the finger.
The statement of claim says it’s after this point that the relationship between Mr. Doe #1 and Jessica soured.
She says she was waterboarded on two occasions while onlookers laughed. She was handcuffed, put into choke holds, John Doe #1 would grab her hair and slam her face into hard surfaces.
She has since transferred to Abbotsford, B.C.
A woman identified as Andrea claims John Doe #1 started rumours that the two were in an inappropriate relationship. He often pressured her to meet outside of work.
When Andrea became pregnant with her first child, she claims John Doe #1 started a rumour among other guards and inmates that the child was his.
She complained and another defendant dismissed her complaints as a “relationship gone bad.” He apparently added Andrea is “unworthy of humane treatment because she is Serbian.”
Samantha describes being the target of a prank that saw pepper spray used on her toilet seat.
The statement of claim says Samantha “was exposed to vulgar comments lacking in wit on a daily basis, which were far beyond what anyone could consider reasonable humour.”
The lawsuit accuses Corrections Services Canada of allowing this behaviour to seem acceptable but it also accuses the union of failing to support targeted workers.
“They knew what was happening, but they had no interest in preventing these actions,” reads the lawsuit.
None of these claims have been proven in court. A statement of defence has yet to be filed.
The Union of Canadian Correction Officers provided a written statement responding to the allegations.
“The union wants to clearly state that it firmly condemns all forms of harassment and the union will continue its work to promote a harassment-free environment at all federal facilities, including the Edmonton Institution.”
Corrections Services Canada (CSC) also issued a statement.
“We do not tolerate harassment in our organization and we take this matter very seriously. It is a priority for CSC and for our senior management team to address the issue of harassment and ensure a positive work environment.”
Ralph Goodale, the federal minister of Public Safety, told reporters at an event in Regina that “there is absolutely no room and no tolerance for behaviour of the kind that has been alleged and the investigation will be thorough both within the CSC and by the police and appropriate consequences will follow.”
This isn’t the first time the prison has been at the centre of harassment claims. Four people have been fired and police are investigating.
Edmonton police say that investigation continues and no charges have been laid.