According to the transfer policy, officers who
leave their positions for longer than six months
are subject to being permanently transferred.
Despite a clause in the policy that allowed the
police department to extend the amount of time
an officer can be on leave when there are
"extenuating circumstances," the department
elected to transfer Const. Cuthill anyway.
Const. Cuthill, 39, was on a one-year
maternity leave until February of this year. The
16-year veteran filed the grievance after
learning in November 2005 she would not be
returning to the position she had held for three
years, which involved reviewing evidence and
making sure witnesses and evidence were
available for court.
While the Ottawa police transfer policy
appeared "neutral on its face" since all
employees were subject to it equally, the policy
actually discriminated against pregnant officers
since they are the ones most likely to take a
leave longer than six months, argues lawyer
Steven Welchner, who represented Const. Cuthill
and the Ottawa police association.
In Const. Cuthill's case, that meant a
transfer from a day job with no weekend or
holiday work to rotating night and weekend
shifts on patrol in the city's east division.
"It was discriminatory because it was women
being forced to give up their position that they
otherwise would have kept, only because of the
fact they were women and had become pregnant,"
However, Const. Cuthill and the police
association say the policy wasn't being applied
fairly across the board. Many male officers, who
took leaves of longer than six months for
medical reasons or because they were seconded to
other sections, departments or on peacekeeping
missions abroad, retained their positions, they
During the arbitration process, the police
department unsuccessfully argued that officers
are only entitled to return at the same rank,
pay and benefits.
"The argument that was put forward was that a
sworn officer does not own a position, they own
a rank," says Ottawa police director of human
resources Christine Roy. "This is simply a
matter of us saying we have a right to transfer
where there is an operational need."
Ms. Roy said the department never intended
the policy to be discriminatory against female
officers and is honouring the arbitrator's
"Our employees are our most valuable asset,"
said Ms. Roy. "This decision certainly brought
to light a practice that was inappropriate."
Mr. Welchner says the dispute was never over
the police department's right to transfer
employees, which the association doesn't oppose,
only transfers that were made for no other
reason than the member becoming pregnant.
Mr. Welchner says fixing the policy could be as
simple as being "sensitive" to pregnancy issues.
"I don't know if they actually have to change
the policy, they just have to understand that
pregnancy is an extenuating circumstance," he
However, the arbitrator's decision is
expected to have wider implications.
Police officers, who are bound by collective
agreements and the Police Services Act and not
subject to the Ontario Employment Standards Act
- which protects a woman's right to return to
the same or comparable position following a
maternity leave - now have a legally binding
decision protecting their job positions, he
Ontario Police Association president Bob
Baltin calls the decision "significant," adding
it "is going to assist employees in all manner
across the province where they may have a
similar policy," he says. "It's not restricted
to Ottawa officers."
Ottawa police association president Charles
Momy says he believes the decision has
highlighted the need for more training,
particularly when it comes to the Ontario Human
Rights Code and labour law, for senior officers
responsible for transfers at the superintendent
and inspector rank.
"It seems like if there is a policy in place,
some inspectors and superintendents just follow
the policy. They don't care if it is right or
wrong, they just follow it. You would think that
in this case here, someone would have raised the
red flag and said this doesn't sound right to
me.' And no one raised those red flags."
Const. Cuthill says she was "dumbfounded"
when at one point she was told by a senior
officer that there was an "element of choice" to
when an officer took maternity or parental
leave, but not when they went on sick leave.
"I was just speechless. I couldn't believe in
this day and age someone would hold that belief
and also express it," she says.
Since Const. Cuthill filed her grievance, Mr.
Momy said he has been made aware of other cases
in which female officers are claiming
In one instance, a female constable lost an
$8,000 premium in pay when she was demoted from
an investigator's position to a desk job within
the same section after becoming pregnant, says
Mr. Momy. While the department is required to
accommodate a pregnant officer by placing her on
light duties, it shouldn't be at a financial
penalty to the officer, he says.
"Members who work hard to get where they are
should not become afraid of becoming pregnant,"
says Mr. Momy, adding male officers are also
routinely being told what dates they can and
cannot take parental leave. "That's ancient
thinking. The service as a whole needs to change
the way that they do business."
In 2006, 21 female officers took maternity
leave, while 50 male officers took parental
leave. While female officers traditionally take
a year-long leave, male officers usually take
about 10 weeks leave, says Ms. Roy, although
they can take up to 37 weeks.
Const. Cuthill says she never wanted to file
a grievance, but felt she had no choice when it
became clear the department and union's
interpretation of the temporary transfer policy
differed so widely. She says fighting the policy
became a matter of "principle."
"I know there will be people who think I am a
troublemaker. They can think what they want. I
was being discriminated against, I was being
transferred against policy and human rights and
that speaks for itself," she says.
Const. Cuthill, who didn't ask for her old
position back, now works at the information desk
at the east division headquarters on St. Joseph
After being approached by several co-workers
who said they too had experienced a similar
situation, Const. Cuthill says she has no
regrets about taking on the police service.
"I know that the precedent has been set and
that's what I set out to do," says Const.
Cuthill. "I think I would have regretted it if I
hadn't filed a grievance because I would have
seen them do it over and over again."
© Ottawa Citizen 2007