According to several former employees interviewed by CBC News, female security guards at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa often face sexual harassment and racial ridicule, and their superiors either stand by or join in.
The former staff said that the white protection service staff used the N word for black colleagues, calling them slaves and comparing a woman to a chimpanzee, while another former female employee said she was often sexually harassed.
They say that sexism, harassment and racism drive them to quit their jobs and give up their dreams of entering law enforcement.
CBC News interviewed five employees who described the toxic and destructive workplace atmosphere created by management.
Four people spoke on condition of anonymity. The fifth person filed a human rights complaint and spoke publicly.
“The damage has been done,” said Joelle Hainzelin, who served as the Mint Protection Service Officer from 2011 to 2019.
“I’m not the same person I was a few years ago.”
Racist persecution and panic attacks
Last year, after raising her concerns with the President of the Mint, Hainzelin filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which triggered an external investigation.
She said that pressure, harassment, and persecution have allowed her to lose more than 60 pounds during her eight years at Crown.
Hainzelin quit the Mint in July 2019. She said that more than a year had passed before she could drive past her old workplace without panic attacks.
“I train myself just to drive by, and then reduce this physical reaction every time,” Hainzelin said.
“I did it myself because I don’t want it to win.”
Heinzelin said that when she started working in the Mint’s security department in 2011, she was the only official of color.
She said that some of her male colleagues jokingly told her not to steal from the house, asked her if she went to school in a mud house, if she had a gang tattoo, and wrote notes on the coconut. She said the team leader and supervisor participated in the harassment.
Hainzelin said that as a new employee, she was very reluctant to shy away.
“You won’t be angry with people,” Hainzelin said. “So you shut up.”
She said the “turning point” appeared in workplace conversations about Jane Goodall’s research on chimpanzees.
“I had an officer pointing at me and he said,’Chimpanzee? We work with one,'” Hainzelin said.
Watch: Former Mint employee says she is called “chimpanzee” by colleagues
The next day, Hainzelin said that she wrote an email to her colleagues, asking them to stop.
She said it was forwarded to the manager inadvertently, and the manager did not apologize, but told her that she should raise this issue with him privately.
She said she was later called to meet with the human resources department, a manager and a member of her union, and was urged to reveal the name of the insulted person.
Heinzelin said she was avoided by colleagues after the meeting.
She said: “I have never felt more lonely than that time in my life.”
Unsolicited harassment and touching
Another employee interviewed by CBC News on condition of anonymity described the workplace as a boys’ club that tolerates sexual harassment, racial discrimination and bullying.
The employee said that the black members were called the N-character, and their characteristics were ridiculed.
The employee said: “Especially in a Crown company, employee respect and integrity are the most important, and there is zero tolerance for such behavior.”
“But, unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg of this’fortress’.”
Watch: The former Mint employee explains why she felt she could not speak up after the racist incident
A third former employee said that she heard white protection services call black police officers “slaves” and said they were lazy and slow.
The former employee said that she was actively contacted and teased by staff including her supervisor.
She said that a supervisor told her that if he was not her boss, he would “flirt” with her.
She said that when she started working at the Mint, a male team leader fumbled for her while showing her the venue. She said he told her that he was trying to prove that there were no cameras in the area, and don’t get me wrong.
She said that he squeezed her thigh once, and then claimed that he just wanted to show her that a table could be raised and lowered.
She said that male officials often browse photos of female employees and potential new employees, express their opinions on whether they are “capable” and criticize their weight.
Former employees say that management “chooses to find another way”
“After leaving the Mint, my pride [and] My self-confidence is greatly affected,” the employee said.
“How can a person feel dignified in a uniform, but disrespected by his teammates/colleagues?”
Another former employee stated that the management knew what the female police officer had experienced and “choose to look differently.”
She said: “The Royal Canadian Mint and its treatment of employees have caused scars to myself and others that take a long time to overcome.”
A former employee said that male officials described women as weak and said they did not belong to the department.
She said she was told that she could not go to the satellite job site to post positions or participate in out-of-town events because the Mint paid two male officials to share a room, which was cheaper than booking a room for a woman.
Mint commits to take action on external investigations
Heinzelin said that the black officials who joined the security service during her tenure did not have the opportunity to work outside the mint because they were always told that they did not have enough experience.
“This is a systemic problem,” she said.
At the end of 2018, Hainzelin said that she had encountered two incidents of sexual harassment at a Christmas party in the workplace, and another official who eventually left the Mint was conducting a sexual harassment investigation.
Heinzelin said that she had to remove the hand of a captain from her lap and turned down another police officer who advised her.
She said that on the last day of work in July 2019, she told a manager that he would have to face sexual harassment in the workplace. She said his answer was: “‘This is why I hired a group of lesbians.'”
Before filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission last year, Hainzelin wrote an email describing her experience to Marie Lemay, president of the Mint.
“I will take some time to reflect on what I have read,” Le May said in a response to Heinzelin in June 2020. “But rest assured, when we consider specific measures to create an inclusive work environment, it will affect the way forward.”
In a statement to CBC News, the Mint confirmed that Lemay personally responded to Hainzelin’s email and hired an independent consultant to conduct a workplace assessment, which included the opinions of current and former employees.
LeMay said in the statement: “The alleged incidents cannot further violate our values ??and culture, and describe behaviors that we cannot tolerate in any form.”
All five employees interviewed by CBC stated that they were interviewed by the survey at the end of 2020 and early 2021.
The Mint is still awaiting reports from external examiners. Lemay said she plans to implement her recommendations.
Lemay said that in 2018, the Mint introduced unconscious bias and harassment prevention training for all employees, as well as a system that allows employees to anonymously report workplace problems.
Lemay stated that the Mint launched its Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan in June. She said that 90% of employees surveyed recently said they are willing to report problems.
In 2019, the Mint hired Arleen Huggins of Koskie Minsky LLP to conduct a company-wide external investigation of harassment and discrimination complaints unrelated to the complaints made by Hainzelin in an email to Lemay.
According to a report obtained by CBC News through an access information request, Huggins concluded at the time that personal allegations of discrimination and/or harassment were “unsupportable.”
The union said it didn’t know
All employees interviewed by CBC News stated that they did not file a complaint with the union because they were afraid of retaliation in the workplace.
The chairman of the union representing the Mint’s protection service officer stated that apart from the 2018 sexual harassment investigation, he is not aware of any other incidents.
Clint Crabtree, president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union 279, stated that members should feel safe at work and should report any form of discrimination.
“In order for us to be able to support them, they need to be able to let us know,” Crabtree said.
“The Mint, if this happens, it needs to make sure it doesn’t happen… they need to resolve it immediately.”
Crabtree said he has contacted the Mint’s union representative to follow up.
“If people feel that it is not safe to come to their employer or union, that is a big problem.”