Harassment, threats, intimidation: the police of Longueuil have had to deal for years with serious work climate problems, both among its police officers and its civilians, discovered our Bureau of investigation.
The situation was so problematic that the City had to give financial compensation to employees between 2017 and 2020, in exchange for their silence.
In an interview , police chief Fady Dagher also recognizes that a “rotten” climate, even “toxic”, has persisted for years in a department.
Our research shows that the Longueuil agglomeration police department (SPAL) has commissioned two external investigations over the past six years to try to clean up the climate. One in connection with civilian employees, the other concerning problems with patrol officers (see the two texts below).
“At one point, I thought about killing myself on the premises of the police department,” says Pascal Pilon, a former civilian employee. I wanted to make them understand all the pain they were inflicting on me. »
Image vs. reality
The situation is the opposite of the image that Chief Fady Dagher wants to project, that of a man who mental health at the center of its priorities. He boasts of his initiatives in this regard in the new RDI TV series Police avant-gardiste, in which he insists on the importance of a “change of culture” and “an approach more humane and social” in the police.
Ironically, Mr. Dagher is featured these days in a series on Radio-Canada in which he praises the human approach of his organization.
However, several sources we spoke to denounced their leader's passivity on mental health issues affecting his own police force. “Mr. Dagher was aware of the situation. What I don't understand is why he didn't act,” says Mr. Pilon.
A version confirmed by Nathalie Roger, a recently retired police officer, who witnessed acts of harassment by managers. “I told him several times, 'Mr. Dagher, if you don't do anything, you're going to have a dead man on your conscience. Someone is going to end their life”. »
We also contacted the Union of Civilian Employees, which for its part deplores the “unhealthy, even toxic climate” experienced by several of its members, which persists in particular because of “the complacency of the Service towards faulty executives who are still in the organization”.
Simon Beaulieu, advisor to the local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, believes that both the City and the management of the SPAL must “make a clear commitment to changing the culture of the Service and not show blindness”.
The obligations of the mayor
Why not kick everyone responsible for the toxic climate out? “I understand people being suspicious, at the same time, we have legal obligations as an employer. We cannot act on hearsay,” replies Mayor Catherine Fournier.
The Mayor of Longueuil, Catherine Fournier, elected in November 2021, does not want a “culture of silence” at the Town.
Despite this, she encourages employees to “speak up”. “We don't want there to be a culture of silence,” she insists.
Moreover, it does not exclude taking additional means to restore confidence. “It is certain that I will have subsequent discussions with Mr. Dagher. […] We have a responsibility to see what additional actions could be taken, ”she says. ;
The Longueuil police had to appoint an external firm in 2021 to investigate a potential “climate of terror or reprisals” in one of its patrol teams.
Mayor Catherine Fournier speaks of a situation that “degenerated more than usual” due to a “particular context linked to the pandemic where there was much less communication in the teams”.
For his part, police chief Fady Dagher explains that the situation escalated after a manager “sanctioned” some of his employees. These offending police officers would have “mentioned certain words and made certain gestures” inappropriately targeting “certain parts of the population”, he said, without wanting to elaborate further.
The chief claims to have met each of the police officers involved – about ten – and that the situation would now be back to normal. He refuses to make the report public, but assures that the latter would not have found harassment.
“Urgency to act”
According to emails from 2021 obtained through a request for access to documents, it is in particular managers who alleged that they were victims of intimidation and harassment.
“There is an urgent need to act in this situation, because several team members are asking for team changes and/or mentioning that their state of health is deteriorating […]”, can we say read in emails from a City Human Resources Advisor.
She then contacted Claude Riverain, president of the consulting firm Groupe Trigone. His company had just been awarded a contract worth some $35,000 – at $220 an hour – to investigate “the work climate within the team [which] is said to be very problematic”.
“Given the number of employees in the team and its mandate, it is very important that the situation be taken care of as soon as possible”, indicated in particular the decision-making summary of the contract.  ;
Clearly, the report was able to target certain problematic behaviors: “It is thanks to [the conclusion of this survey] that it will be possible to put in place measures allowing everyone to work in a healthy work environment free from of psychological and sexual harassment,” the firm Trigone wrote to the participants in the investigation, shortly after the report was filed.
The police union did not want to comment on the situation.  ;
Unbearable climate among white collar workers
Pascal Pilon was compensated by the City of Longueuil in the wake of the toxic climate he suffered while working in the police information department. In mortise, we see a report which concludes with “a management based on fear, intimidation” and “harassment”.
“She often yelled at me, called me a fool, incompetent. She made us feel cheap for everything and nothing. »
Pascal Pilon fondly remembers his boss when he worked in the police information department.
The executive in question, still employed by the SPAL, didn't just have one victim.
“She treated me like a host of cows,” says an ex-employee, who refuses to identify herself for fear of reprisals. At some point, it comes looking for you.
Another executive in this department was promoted after having engaged in reprehensible behavior.
“She watched us, blamed us for every little mistake, rummaged through our offices” , tells about her another source who requested anonymity.
The situation was so toxic that a dozen white-collar employees in this department fell ill, not counting those who were pushed into premature retirement.
In August 2017, aware that the work climate had become unbearable, the union and the police called in external investigators.
The findings are scathing: “Some executives practice management based on fear, intimidation, harassment and improvisation”, indicates the report of the mutual aid collective of the regional council FTQ Montréal Métropolitain, filed in evidence at the Administrative Tribunal of work.
All the workers consulted “demonstrate high suffering and psychological distress”, continues the report.
One of the managers even told the investigators that '”an employee who is too happy is not productive, unlike one who is afraid”.
Mayor Catherine Fournier and Police Chief Fady Dagher agree that the report is “devastating”. The document recommends a major restructuring of senior positions and questions the relevance of incumbent leaders.
“It is so absurd [that toxic climate officials] are still there”, laments Mr. Pilon, who fears for the mental health of some of his former colleagues. Besides, the situation would still be very difficult.
“Until my departure last February, we were forbidden to talk about anything other than work. It is still a regime of terror, ”says Nathalie Roger, a retired police officer.
Mr. Dagher, who arrived in February 2017 in the midst of turmoil, denies having done little to improve the working climate. He claims to have suspended, as soon as the report was obtained, two executives who were later “thanked”. As for the other two still in post, human resources investigations would not have concluded that there was any harassment, he said
“I cannot go beyond my role as chief of police and become judge, lawyer, and give the sentence”, explained Mr. Dagher. He explains that his “hands are tied by labor standards” and by the findings of his human resources department.
The police chief affirms that the working climate has improved a lot over the past five years and that he has full confidence in the leaders in place today.
COMPENSATED IN EXCHANGE OF THEIR SILENCE < /strong>
Longueuil paid $50,000 in public funds to civilian employees who were victims of emotional abuse, with the aim of ending several grievances and a legal remedy.
The City confirms to our investigation office that it has compensated 13 employees “in the wake of the toxic climate”.
In an interview, Police Chief Fady Dagher lip servicedly acknowledged that these compensations were paid “perhaps in recognition that the working climate was not good”.
At the time of the payments, as of 2017, the SPAL was grappling with dozens of union grievances and an appeal to the Administrative Labor Tribunal for psychological harassment.
We obtained a copy of the agreement stipulating that employees who signed it were prohibited from speaking publicly about the situation.
– With Kathryne Lamontagne and Marie Christine Trottier
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Katrine Johns has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Gal Post, Katrine Johns worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my firstname.lastname@example.org 1-800-268-7128