Correctional officers in Edmonton allege that they have been subjected to intimidation, harassment, sexual assault, and physical abuse, including mock drowning, by male colleagues.
An officer accuses a colleague of pushing her over a desk and putting her hand in her pants. She also said she was strangled and had her head thrown on hard surfaces with her hair.
Another woman reports being constantly harassed for her homosexuality and claims to have suffered burns while sitting on a toilet seat that had been sprayed with pepper spray.
These allegations appear in a recent lawsuit filed by four correctional officers at Edmonton Institution against Correctional Service Canada and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the defendants have not yet filed their statements.
The lawsuit indicates that sexual assault, abuse, intimidation and harassment were endemic in the maximum security prison, which is located northeast of Edmonton.
A survey conducted last year at the prison concluded that the working atmosphere was toxic and made several recommendations to improve the situation.
The Correctional Service announced last January the dismissal of six employees following an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct. He had also hired a new director, improved training and introduced a confidential complaint line for employees.
The Correctional Service and the union did not want to comment on the lawsuit on Monday, but they said they did not tolerate the harassment.
Edmonton police continue to investigate and may file further criminal charges in this case.
“Voile of secrecy”
The lawsuit accuses the Correctional Service of “giving a veil of secrecy that directors, senior employees and the union used to harass and intimidate employees.”
“Under this veil, the plaintiffs were hurt by disastrous consequences, which affected their lives,” it says in the suit.
Three of the women were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and no longer work in prison. The fourth continues to be employed on a part-time basis, but she says she has trouble putting on her uniform every morning.
The prosecution does not detail how the simulated drownings were perpetrated. In general, this term is used when a person is tied up and is immersed in water to simulate drowning.
Jeffrey O’Brien, the lawyer for the four women, declined to comment and indicated that her clients would not speak either. Women were not identified “because of the confidential and secretive nature of law enforcement personnel”.
The alleged assailants are also not named in the prosecution.