Doubts raised about effort to reform Calgary police workplace

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Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin (left) and former Constable Jen Magnus at a meeting of the Calgary Police Commission on March 28, 2017.
Meghan Potkins, Calgary Herald

A former police officer is again speaking out to cast doubts on the sincerity of efforts by the Calgary Police Service to reform the service’s culture following allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse within the force.

At a meeting of the Calgary police commission on Tuesday, former police constable Jen Magnus said the force has done nothing since her public resignation in January to demonstrate it’s serious about making changes to police culture.

“I do not feel that things have changed. And I do not feel it’s a safe environment right now because they’re not acknowledging that bullying and harassment is an issue within the service,” said Magnus.

She said she received correspondence from CPS lawyers that suggested that the service still doesn’t believe there is a problem within the force.
“If they believe it doesn’t exist, why the heck are we here?”

Magnus is one of more than a dozen current and former Calgary police employees who have submitted formal complaints to the service, some of whom were present at Tuesday’s meeting.

The meeting included a lengthy progress report from CPS on efforts to reform the force’s human-resource structure and establish an independent, third-party advocate to hear complaints from police service members.

The independent advocate is just the first step in a seven-point plan to improve CPS’ workplace culture put forward by the police commission.

Commissioners, including newly appointed Coun. Richard Pootmans, were told at Tuesday’s meeting that the role and framework for the independent advocate will be presented in May.

Commission chair Brian Thiessen said despite what Magnus said, he feels the service has demonstrated that it’s taking workplace issues seriously.

“The service is setting very aggressive timelines for themselves,” said Thiessen, who added that he’s also pleased that CPS has agreed to allow the Alberta Human Rights Commission to advise them on their employment policies and practices.

“I’m disappointed to see constable Magnus resign . . . We’re going to keep working on the issue. We’re sorry to have lost her as a participant in that process, but the process will continue and we’ll have a better service for it,” Thiessen said.

Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin was quick to denounce Magnus’ comments following the meeting.

“Remarks like that are unproductive. Our service, as you saw today, is exhausting every effort we can to respect the need to have a respectful workplace,” Chaffin said.

“Every one of our staff, through our whole HR model, including our legal counsel, are working incredibly hard to make sure this works.”

One question that remains outstanding is how an independent advocate would operate within the limitations of the Police Act, and how it will integrate with existing complaints processes established under the city and police union.

Magnus said there needs to be more tangible action, including changes in police leadership, before things will change on the force.

“There needs to be an absolute change of the culture in the Calgary Police Service, and maybe that means we need to start taking out some of those head people,” she said.

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