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Retired female Durham cop says men ‘did not think a woman belonged on the job’

Click to play video: 'One of Durham’s first female police officers opens up about harassment from male colleagues' One of Durham’s first female police officers opens up about harassment from male colleagues
Pearl Gabona says she endured decades of discrimination as a police officer and she encourages all women in policing to "be strong." Jasmine Pazzano has more – May 25, 2018

Pearl Gabona holds a wooden plaque she received during her time as a Durham police officer. It’s engraved with what was her nickname: “One of the guys.”

But the 68-year-old says most of the time, she was not treated like one of them.

“Many of them did not think a woman could do the job,” said the Bowmanville, Ont., resident, who began her career in policing in 1975.

Gabona was one of the first four women hired by the Durham Regional Police Service and says she endured decades of discrimination and harassment from her male colleagues.

Referring to one of her training officers, she tells Global News, “He said, ‘I don’t think women should be police. I’m going to mark you twice as hard as I would any man because I want to make sure you can do the job.'”

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She became a decorated member of the force over the years, earning many awards, including a merit badge for her near-perfect shooting aim. But despite her success, she says she was constantly discriminated against, especially when she became pregnant with her daughter, Marilyn.

“The guys could go and they’d play in the hockey team and they might get a broken or a broken … foot or leg or something, and they would immediately be put on the front desk so they didn’t have to walk or didn’t have to go out. When I got pregnant, I asked, ‘Why can’t I go on the front desk like the guys do?’ And I was told, ‘No. You can’t.'”

She says comments like that from her superiors did not stop there. “He looked up and he watched me and he said, ‘Oh, you must be pregnant. Your breasts are growing.’ That’s from a superintendent.”

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Gabona worked her way up to becoming a detective — she was the first female to work for the morality unit (now the Sexual Assault/Child Abuse Unit) that she says was created in the late 1980s. A woman holding such a high position was rare at this time — females represented fewer than 1 per cent of senior Canadian officers in 1986.

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Today, the face of policing continues to change. Women represent 17 per cent of senior Canadian officers — the highest proportion ever recorded — compared to 7 per cent in 2007, and nearly a quarter of all sworn Canadian officers are females.

Gabona retired in 2003, but she wants to encourage all women in policing, and those looking to pursue careers in the force, to persevere as she did. “You girls have a wonderful … opportunity,” she said. “Stay strong, be strong.”

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