"She exhausted her sick days and had to sell her house just to get by."
This is why we NEED bill 26 and bill 132 to protect workers against violence and harrassment, to ensure that workplace policies ARE there to protect survivors not punish them and reward the perpetrators. This is sickening.
After more than a year of receiving unwanted, sexually harassing texts from a fellow jail guard, Camille Pouli complained to the institution’s management.
There was an internal investigation and the guard was reprimanded. Yet Pouli remained off work for 15 months — waiting, she said, for management at the Toronto South Detention Centre to guarantee her a position where she didn’t have to interact with the man who sexually harassed her.
She exhausted her sick days and had to sell her house just to get by.
Her harasser, meanwhile, was promoted to sergeant full-time.
“From the beginning, all I was asking is ‘Please don’t make me work with this individual,’ ” Pouli said.
“Then they had the nerve to promote him. It’s just a slap in the face.”
Pouli, who in October was finally given a new post at a different Toronto-area detention centre, has filed a grievance seeking back pay for the time she was off.
She is also demanding accountability for the way her case was handled, accusing the jail’s management of coddling the man who harassed her while they kept her in the dark.
“They treated him better than they treated me — the victim,” she said.
A spokesman from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said the government does not comment on “internal human resources matters.”
“All correctional officers must contribute to and maintain a workplace that is fair, inclusive and free from all forms of discrimination and harassment,” the spokesman said in a statement, adding that these principles are covered as part of the officers’ training program.
Pouli started her career as a correctional officer in 2007. Two years later, she was transferred to the now-shuttered Old Don Jail, where she met Sydney Walters.
The two were friendly, and remained that way as they were both moved to the Toronto South superjail when it opened in 2014. That year, following a Super Bowl party, they spent the night together.
According to an internal investigative report, their relationship became uncomfortable and Pouli said she asked Walters to no longer contact her.
But Walters continued to send her instant messages, 69 times over the next 13 months, many of them while he was scheduled to be working, all appended to the investigation report.
“Why are you being so difficult?” Walters messaged her one May night after Pouli did not respond to a text complimenting her hair.
“Anyhow, it was great seeing you today even on camera. Goodnight hon.”
Pouli said the text was in reference to seeing her through a prison security camera.
She ignored many of the texts and responded to others with often terse one- or two-word answers.
One day, after Walters sent her another note commenting on her looks — “Goodnight hon love the hair” — she fired back a response.
“Do me a favor please. My name is Camille or Pouli. Use the appropriate one,” she wrote.
He responded, “Lol as you wish miss Pouli.”
In June 2015, Walters was working on temporary assignment as sergeant — a supervisory role. He sent a picture of the backside of a woman, her skirt riding up to reveal she is wearing no underwear. The text “June 22, no panty day” was imposed on top of the image.
Pouli complained, prompting a five-month internal investigation that concluded Walters sent “unwelcome and unwanted” text messages to Pouli after she had repeatedly told him that she did not want him to contact her.
In an email to another prison official, the investigator called the conduct “sexual harassment.”
Walters told the Star, “The only thing I’m guilty of, sir, is of trying to get in contact with a friend.”
During the investigation, Walters described Pouli as a friend who had grown distant, which he attributed to him not staying in touch.
The “no panty” text was meant to be a joke, Walters told the ministry investigator, adding that he had sent the same image to three other friends.
He told the investigator that none of the texts he sent Pouli were harassing and that he routinely calls friends “hon” and “sweetheart.” He also said Pouli never told him to stop contacting her until a few days after he sent the “no panty” image, to which he texted: “Will do my best but I do worry about you from time to time and I can’t promise that I will not message you to see if you’re okay.”
He did not message her again after that, according to the investigative report.
Walters told the Star he was promoted to sergeant in May, before the complaint against him was filed.
In August 2015, while he was under investigation for harassing his colleague, his temporary assignment ended and he became sergeant full-time, according to the investigative report. That year, he earned more than $115,000.
In an April 2016 letter to Walters, a deputy superintendent at the Toronto South Detention Centre called his misconduct “a clear breach” of policies that cannot be tolerated.
As a manager, Walters is “in a position of trust,” the letter continued.
“Although you expressed some remorse for your actions . . . it was unclear that you fully comprehended the seriousness of your misconduct.”
His punishment: a letter of reprimand, one of the more lenient forms of discipline.
In a letter sent to Pouli, a prison official called the penalty “commensurate with the nature of the findings from the investigation.”
Pouli went on stress leave in late June 2015, just over a week before she filed her complaint. She was denied compensation by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board because her case did not “meet the criteria for a sudden and unexpected traumatic event.”
So she was put on the sick-leave program, which covered only 66 per cent of her pay, according to records included in the investigation report. She said she exhausted her sick-day credits in January. The paycheques stopped. With no income, she said she had to sell her home, a newly built townhouse in Stoney Creek.
“It hurt. I was so proud of that house. I had all of my family come see it,” she said.
Pouli said she would gladly have returned to work sooner if the ministry had ensured she would have no contact with Walters.
In letters reviewed by the Star, prison management told her that “it is impossible to provide you with a guarantee that you will never be required to work with” Walters, and that arrangements would be made to “minimize workplace contact.”
“I wanted to work,” Pouli said. “It feels like they punished me for speaking out.”
In October, after being off work for more than 15 months, Pouli was given a position at Vanier, a detention centre for women in Milton. She has filed a grievance for back pay but said the process has stalled.
She has repeatedly reached out to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office about the ministry’s handling of her case. Wynne recently unveiled an action plan to, in part, make workplaces safer from sexual violence and harassment.
A government representative told Pouli they could not comment or get involved in the case, first because it was under investigation and then because she is pursuing a grievance. The representative directed her back to her manager at the Correctional Services ministry.
“I went for help and I wasn’t helped at all,” she said. “The whole process — I just felt victimized all over again.”