Female security guards at the Royal Canadian Mint operation in Ottawa faced constant sexual harassment and racial taunts while superiors either stood by or joined in, according to several former employees who spoke to CBC News.
The former staffers said white protective services officers used the N-word against Black colleagues, called them slaves and compared one woman to a chimpanzee, while another former female employee said she was sexually harassed frequently.
They said the sexism, harassment and racism drove them to quit their jobs and abandon their dreams of entering law enforcement.
CBC News interviewed five employees who described a toxic, destructive workplace atmosphere that was enabled by management.
Four spoke on the condition they not be named. A fifth filed a human rights complaint and is speaking publicly.
“The damage is done,” said Joelle Hainzelin, who worked as a Mint protective services officer from 2011 until 2019.
“I am not the same person I was a few years ago.”
Racist persecution and panic attacks
Hainzelin filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission last year after she raised her concerns with the Mint’s president, which triggered an external investigation.
She said the stress, harassment and persecution caused her to lose more than 60 lbs during her eight years at the Crown corporation.
Hainzelin, who quit the Mint in July 2019, said more than a year passed before she could drive by her old workplace without suffering a panic attack.
“I trained myself just to drive by and then diminish that physical reaction every single time,” Hainzelin said.
“I did that on my own because I don’t want it to win.”
Hainzelin said she was the only officer of colour when she started working at the Mint’s security department in 2011.
She said some of her male colleagues jokingly told her not to steal anything from their homes, asked her whether she had attended school in a mud hut and whether she had gang tattoos, and wrote her notes on coconuts. She said team leaders and supervisors participated in this harassment.
Hainzelin said that, as a new employee, she was very reluctant to push back.
“You don’t rat on people,” Hainzelin said. “So you shut up.”
The “tipping point” came, she said, during a workplace conversation about Jane Goodall’s research with chimpanzees.
“I had one officer point at me and he said, ‘Chimpanzee? We work with one,'” Hainzelin said.
WATCH: Former Mint employee says she was called a ‘chimpanzee’ by a fellow officer
The next day, Hainzelin said, she wrote an email to her colleagues asking them to stop.
She said it was unintentionally forwarded to a manager, who — instead of apologizing — told her she should have raised the issue privately with him.
She said she was later called into a meeting with human resources, a manager and a member of her union, and was urged to divulge the name of the person who made the insult.
Hainzelin said she was shunned by her colleagues after the meeting.
“I have never felt more alone in my life than that time,” she said.
Unsolicited harassment and touching
Another employee, who spoke to CBC News on the condition they not be named, described the workplace as a boys’ club tolerant of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and bullying.
The employee said Black members were called the N-word and their features were mocked.
“It would be expected, especially at a Crown corporation, that the respect and integrity of their employees would be of the utmost importance and that there would be zero tolerance for this type of behaviour,” the employee said.
“But, unfortunately, it is only the tip of the iceberg at this ‘fortress.'”
WATCH: Former Mint employee explains why she felt she couldn’t speak out after racist incidents
A third former employee said she heard white protective services officers call Black officers “slaves” and say they were lazy and slow.
The former employee said she was subjected to unsolicited touching and advances by staff members, including supervisors.
She said one supervisor told her that if he wasn’t her boss, he would “flirt” with her.
She said that when she started at the Mint, a male team leader groped her while he was showing her the grounds. She said he told her he was trying to prove there weren’t any cameras in the area, and to not to take it the wrong way.
She said he also squeezed her thigh on one occasion, then claimed that he was just trying to show her that a desk could be raised and lowered.
Male officers would often look through photos of female employees and potential new hires, voicing opinions on whether they were “f***able” and criticizing their body weight, she said.
Management ‘choose to look the other way,’ says ex-staffer
“After leaving the Mint, my self-esteem [and] my self-confidence were extremely affected,” the employee said.
“How can one feel dignified to wear the uniform while being disrespected by your own teammates/colleagues?”
Another former employee said management knows what female officers have been through and “choose to look the other way.”
“The Royal Canadian Mint and its treatment of its employees has scarred myself and others in ways that will take a long time to overcome,” she said.
One former employee said male officers described women as weak and said they do not belong in the department.
She said she was told she couldn’t go to a posting at a satellite job site or attend an out-of-town event because it was cheaper for the Mint to pay for two male officers to share a room, rather than booking a single room for a woman.
Mint promises to act on external investigation
Hainzelin said none of the Black officers who joined the security department while she was there were given opportunities to work outside of the Mint because they were always told they didn’t have enough experience.
“There is a systemic issue,” she said.
At the end of 2018, Hainzelin said she experienced two incidents of sexual harassment at a workplace Christmas party while a sexual harassment investigation was underway involving another officer, who eventually left the Mint.
Hainzelin said she had to remove the hand of a team leader from her thigh and rebuff another officer who propositioned her.
On her last day of work in July 2019, she said, she told a manager that he would have to confront the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. She said his response was: “‘That’s why I hired a bunch of lesbians.'”
Hainzelin wrote an email describing her experiences to Mint president Marie Lemay last year before she filed a Canadian Human Rights Commission complaint.
“I will take a bit of time to reflect on what I have read,” Lemay said in her June 2020 reply to Hainzelin. “But rest assured, it will influence the way forward as we look at concrete measures to create an inclusive work environment.”
In a statement to CBC News, the Mint confirmed Lemay personally responded to Hainzelin’s email and hired an independent consultant to conduct a workplace assessment, which included input from current and former employees.
“The alleged incidents could not be further opposed to our values and culture and describe behaviour that we do not tolerate in any form,” Lemay said in the statement.
All five employees CBC spoke to said they were interviewed for the investigation in late 2020 and early 2021.
The Mint is still awaiting the report from the external reviewer. Lemay said she plans to implement its recommendations.
In 2018, said Lemay, the Mint introduced unconscious bias and harassment prevention training for all employees, along with a system that allows employees to report workplace concerns anonymously.
Lemay said the Mint initiated a diversity and inclusion action plan in June. She said 90 per cent of employees recently surveyed indicated they would feel comfortable reporting a concern.
In 2019, the Mint hired Arleen Huggins of the law firm Koskie Minsky LLP to conduct a corporation-wide external investigation into a complaint of harassment and discrimination unrelated to the one Hainzelin made in her email to Lemay.
Huggins concluded at the time that individual allegations of discrimination and/or harassment were “unsupportable,” according to her report, which was obtained by CBC News through an access to information request.
Union says it wasn’t aware
All the employees who spoke to CBC News said they didn’t file union grievances because they feared workplace retribution.
The president of the union representing the Mint’s protective services officers said he was not aware of any incidents apart from the 2018 sexual harassment investigation.
Clint Crabtree, president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union 279, said members should feel safe at work and should report any form of discrimination.
“For us to be able to support them, they need to be able to let us know,” Crabtree said.
“The Mint, if that is happening, needs to make sure that it’s not happening … They need to address it immediately.”
Crabtree said he’s reached out to the Mint’s union representative to follow up.
“If people don’t feel safe coming to their employer or their union, that’s a big problem.”