Sending unsolicited dick pics to police recruits. Sexually harassing junior cops. Impersonating department brass.

Those particulars and others are contained in documents filed by Acting Police Chief Don MacLean with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The documents reveal a hyper-sexualized culture in which police officers are sending sexual comments to each other and dick pics to cadets. And when cadets report such incidents, they are brushed off.

Const. Geoffrey Sykes

That sordid picture of the inner workings of the Halifax police department come to light because of the firing of Const. Geoffrey Sykes.

After a disciplinary decision was made by Superintendent Derrick Boyd, Sykes was fired by the department on March 7, 2022.

Sykes had then been with the department for six years. He was paid nearly $163,000 in 2021.

Sykes appealed his firing to the Police Review Board, which held a hearing over four days in October 2022 and February 2023. No news media reported on the hearing. The board issued its decision on Sept. 11, 2023, overturning Sykes’ firing.

In turn, on Oct. 17, MacLean asked the Supreme Court to review the Police Review Board’s decision. As required, in his application for a review, MacLean included the Police Review Board’s findings, which detail Boyd’s investigation.

There were three allegations against Sykes regarding his communication with a police cadet the Examiner is calling Cadet 1. (There are two cadets named in the court documents, but as they are the alleged victims of sexual harassment, we are using pseudonyms for them.) The allegations are:

  1. Acting in a disorderly manner or in a manner that is reasonably likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police department 
  2. Using oppressive or abusive conduct or language towards another member 
  3. Wilfully [sic] or negligently making a false, misleading or inaccurate statement oral or written statement or signing a false, misleading or inaccurate written statement pertaining to the member’s duties 

Details of the allegations are summarized in the review board’s decision under three incidents:  

• The penis chart 
• The “you give and not take” message sent to Cadet 1 
• the phone call to Cadet 1 suggesting it was a from a senior officer 

In its decision, the Police Review Board dismissed allegations one and three against Sykes, but found Sykes guilty of the second allegation. That was in reference to communication from Sykes to Cadet 1 regarding another constable, Pierre Paul Cadieux.

Review board rules that a penis chart isn’t a dick pic

Halifax police’s investigation into Sykes started with a meme sent by Sykes to Cadet 1 in the summer of 2021. That meme included a photo of a penises in a lineup, similar to photos of suspects in a police lineup.

The incident was brought to Halifax police’s professional standards after two senior officers, Deputy Chief Reid McCoombs and Insp. Stephanie Carlisle, learned about the meme third-hand in November 2021. An unknown officer had reported the meme after learning about it from Const. Shaun Carvery, who has a personal relationship with a relative of Cadet 1.

The investigation into Sykes expanded beyond that meme to include other communications between Sykes and Cadet 1, as well as a third officer, Cadet 2.

The Police Review Board downplayed the seriousness of the communications.

“These communications were in a social context, with the single exception of a portion of approximately 6 communications made to [Cadet 1] by Cst. Sykes regarding another officer, Cst. Pierre Cadieux,” the review board’s decision said.

“The penalty of dismissal was imposed with reference not only to the allegations in this complaint, but also several previous disciplinary defaults by Cst. Sykes.”

The decision notes that Sykes didn’t deny sending the penis chart.

“However, unlike what is known within HRP as a ‘dick pic’, it was not sent anonymously, but rather as a communication between friends, (both off duty), as part of what was intended as humourous banter with sexual overtones,” the board wrote.

As we’ll see, however, the sending of unsolicited dick pics to cadets is alleged to be a widespread and common practice among Halifax police.

‘I bet you get a lot of pussy with that uniform on’

The Police Review Board’s decision goes on for several pages detailing the allegations against Sykes.

Sykes and Cadet 1 first met in the summer of 2021, when Cadet 1 was a new cadet and Sykes was working in Halifax’s bar district on Arygle Street. Cadet 1 approached Sykes to say he was training as a cadet, and the two chatted while Sykes was working.

Cadet 1 and Sykes met again when Sykes was asked to take two cadets for a ride-along. Sykes offered to take Cadet 1 since he already knew the cadet. During these ride-alongs, cadets are required to stay with officers at all times, but during this ride-along in the city’s bar district, Cadet 1 left to investigate a loud noise he heard. Sykes initially didn’t report this incident.

After the ride-along, Cadet 1 asked Sykes for his contact information, and the two started chatting via the social media app Snapchat. Sykes became acquainted with a friend of Cadet 1’s, Cadet 2. Sykes and Cadet 2 chatted occasionally via Snapchat as well.

As the board’s decision said, some of those commuications included sexual overtones. In one conversation, Cadet 1 said to Sykes, “I bet you get a lot of pussy with that uniform on” and “I’d like to f… that girl.” Sykes made comments with sexual overtones to Cadet 1 and Cadet 2 as well.

In its decision, the board wrote that on an unknown date, Cadet 1 was camping with his girlfriend and another friend, and contacted Sykes asking him to join them “apparently implying threesome sex, no doubt jokingly.”

“Cst. Sykes responded that he would not join them, suggesting that he would show Cadet 1 up, as he had a larger penis. In the course of that banter, Cst. Sykes forwarded that above-mentioned meme of penises, asking ‘…where are you on this chart?’ Cadet 1 responded with a number.”

During another conversation in which Sykes and Cadet 1 were off duty, Sykes “jokingly called” Cadet 1 a “two-stroke joke.” Cadet 1 responded with a video of himself and his girlfriend, both partially clad.

“In the video, [Cadet 1] instructs his girlfriend to tell Cst. Sykes that he is not a two-stroke joke, and she does,” the review board’s decision wrote.

‘That sounds like Sykesy’

Not long after that night, Cadet 1 mentioned the penis chart to Const. Carvery.

“He says that he did so out of concern,” the board decision wrote, “as he was wondering if it was intended as a sexual overture of some sort (Cst. Sykes is bisexual, but until a previous incident involving Cst. P. Cadieux, he had not come out).”

The decision said Carvery told Cadet 1 “that sounds like Sykesy” and the two laughed about it. Carvery told Cadet 1 it would be problematic if Sykes had sent a photo of his own penis. Carvery testifed at the hearing that the conversation about the penis image took place in a social setting, and that he told his partner about it.

That conversation between Cadet 1 and Carvery came to the attention of the two senior officers, McCoombs and Carlisle, in November 2021, and then still more police investigators became involved.

On Nov. 18, 2021, Carvery was interviewed by Sgt. Jonathan Jefferies and Insp. Ron Legere with Professional Standards. Carvery told them that Sykes had sent Cadet 1 a penis chart, not a dick pic, and in his own interview with Jefferies and Legere, Sykes confirmed he sent an image of a penis chart.

However, Carvery told Jefferies and Legere it was Cadet 2 who received a dick pic from Sykes, adding that Sykes was “coming onto” Cadet 2.

In an interview with Jefferies and Legere on Nov. 19, 2021, Cadet 2 said he and Sykes chatted occasionally and he visited Sykes’ home. Cadet 2 said while he had received some “weirdly sexual” text message from Sykes, he considered most of their conversations “dude talk.”

In that interview, Cadet 2 recalled a text discussion with Sykes inviting him to go to the firing range with himself and Cadet 1.

From the board’s decision about the interview with Cadet 2:

Cst. Sykes said at the conclusion of the discussion that it was “time to drain the tank.” [Cadet 2] understood that referenced masturbation. He found it a “weird” remark, but he said that it didn’t bother him, and that he hung out with him after that without any concern. He said that Cst. Sykes seemed to be a good officer, and his ride along was good. He said “it was weird, but people are allowed to be weird.” He denied ever having received a picture of a penis, or that [Cadet 1] ever mentioned seeing such an image.”

Despite being questioned several times about whether he felt pressured or harassed, he was very clear he did not.

That same day, Jefferies and Legere also interviewed Cadet 1, who recalled he received the penis chart image, as well as other messages between himself and Sykes, as well as with Cadet 2.

Const. Pierre Cadieux

A white man wearing a dark mask, a dark suit with a red poppy on it, and a blue shirt with blue tie.
Const. Pierre Cadieux at a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry hearing on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Credit: Zane Woodford

In that interview, Cadet 1 gave Jefferies and Legere copies of a conversation about Const. Cadieux, who had previously been criminally charged with sexually assaulting another member or cadet with HRP. Sykes was a Crown witness in that case, but ultimately the charge was stayed.

According to the board’s decision, someone leaked details of that charge and case to Frank Magazine, who then named Sykes as the boyfriend of the alleged victim.

“This was very upsetting to Sykes,” the board decision wrote, “as that point, he had not ‘come out’ as bisexual; he suspected Cst. Cadieux of leaking the information.”

As reported by Cassidy Chisholm at CBC in July 2020, Cadieux returned to work after the sexual assault charges against him were stayed. That article said the alleged sexual assault took place against another Halifax police officer in 2016. Cadieux was training at the Atlantic Police Academy at the time.

The CBC article reported that “at the time of his arrest, police said the alleged incident was not random and Cadieux and the complainant knew one another. Police would not reveal the gender of the complainant or whether that person was also an officer.”

Cadieux was charged with sexual assault in 2018 when he was employed with Halifax Regional Police. He was suspended with pay.

Chisholm at CBC wrote:

Crown prosecution determined a conviction against Const. Pierre Paul Cadieux was unlikely.

“At this time and as the case evolved, it was clear to us that there was no realistic prospect of conviction,” Chris Hansen, spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service, said Wednesday.

A stayed charge means the Crown can reinstate the charge within one year.

And as the Halifax Examiner reported, in November 2020, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission found that Cadieux was one of two Halifax cops who “discriminated against a Black man when they watched him, followed him into his workplace and ticketed him for jaywalking.”

Cadieux still is employed with Halifax Regional Police.

According to the Police Review Board’s decision in the Sykes case, Cadet 1 learned in the fall of 2021, that Cadieux was to be his field training officer (FTO). Before that training began, Cadieux gave Cadet 1 an information package that included details about the training, what he could expect, as well as personal details about Cadieux, including that he was gay and had a husband and a child.

Cadieux contacted Sykes to find out more about Cadet 1. Cadieux had heard about the incident during the ride-along during which Cadet 1 had gone off on his own to investigate a loud noise. Sykes said that Cadet 1 would be fine and that Cadieux would just need to “just set boundaries.”

Cadet 1 also contacted Sykes, to ask him about Cadieux. According to the board’s decision, it appeared Cadet 1 already knew about the previous sexual assault charges against Cadieux.

“In his November 19th statement to Professional Standards, [Cadet 1] said that ‘…obviously, you know, people are no strangers to him being in the media, and things like that,'” the board decision said.

Sykes told Cadet 1 to look for more information on Cadieux in a Google search, which Cadet 1 did. Cadet 1 contacted Sykes again, and then met at Sykes’ home bringing along the information package Cadieux gave him.

He said that Cst. Sykes provided more detail, and joked about Cst. Cadieux’s sexual preference — using the term ‘don’t drop the soap…” etc. Later, Cst. Sykes messaged [Cadet 1]:

Sykes: I told Paul last night you give, not take and he said cool with him. He also said his BF is away next week drop over with some beer and a hot tub with him”

[Cadet 1]: LMAO. Doing all the talking for me. Too kind (followed by a happy face emoji)

Sykes: Clearing the air for you

The decision said that in Sykes’ testimony to the board, one of the reasons Cadet 1 contacted him about Cadieux was that Cadet 1 heard Cadieux was very strict, and he was worried about meeting Cadieux’s high standards. In that testimony, Sykes denied having said anything about the previous sexual assault issue, but said he did tell Cadet 1 “don’t go to his house, don’t drink with him.”

“It seemed to be of the view that Cst. Cadieux might make sexual overtures to [Cadet 1], based on what he knew about Cst. Cadieux,” wrote the board in its decision.

According to the board’s decision, in his statement to Sgt. Jefferies, Cadet 1 said “he was relatively unconcerned about any sex related comments by Cst. Sykes; he saw it as ‘dude talk.'”

However, under repeated questioning from Sgt. Jefferies and Insp. Legere, [Cadet 1] eventually told them that if he had been a sworn officer, rather than a Cadet, he would have told Cst. Sykes to stop the sexual references, but he said he wished to remain friends with Cst. Sykes. In his testimony before the Board, [Cadet 1] (now Cst.) … said that the messages ‘seemed odd… but he (Sykes) has a playful personality… took me aback, but not uncomfortable.’ He testified that he did not feel harassed, although he suggested that there was a ‘power imbalance.’

On Nov. 23, Sgt. Jefferies contacted Cadet 1 to let him know a decision was made to file a formal allegation against Sykes and Cadieux. At that point, according to the review board’s decision, Sykes didn’t know about the investigation or that Cadet 1 had spoken to two senior officers and provided a recorded statement, nor that Cadet 2 also provided a statement.

Sykes learned about the investigation by Professional Standards on Nov. 25.

“Notwithstanding that the matter had already been quite extensively investigated by senior staff and Professional Standards, Insp. Boyd’s notice to the NS Police Complaints Commissioner states ‘I believe the matter needs to be investigated,'” the board decision said.

Unsolicited dick pics sent to cadets

During a “fall in” (a military and police term meaning “take one’s place in a line or formation”) with members on Nov. 24, Sgt. Phil Power said a woman constable told him that some cadets were receiving anonymous, unsolicited dick pics from sworn members of the Halifax police.

She said that this was ‘very much a thing’ and that she had received them in the past, herself, more than once. These were being sent from all different shifts and levels. She did not want to file a formal complaint, as she had said that she had previously reported this to a supervisor who told her to ‘just wait, you are pretty, people will move onto the next group.'(It seems this is not a unique event.) She was concerned because a new group of cadets was about to begin, and she didn’t want it to happen again.

Power said during that fall in, he said if he found out anyone was sending dick pics, he would send it to professional standards for investigation.

In its decision, the board wrote that Power testified in Sykes’ appeal of his termination, that Power “confirmed, that in his opinion, the penis meme in the Sykes case was not a ‘dick pic’ and had nothing to do with the dick pic issue. We agree.”

The Police Review Board does not appear to have made any other comments or recommendations about the alleged widespread practice of sending unsolicited dick pics to police recruits.

Impersonating a police officer

Sykes was part of that fall in, while Cadet 1 was not. Afterward, Sykes called Cadet 1 and introduced himself as a detective with professional standards. Cadet 1 replied with, “yes, sir!”

According to Sykes, very soon into that phone conversation, Cadet 1 said, “f… off, Sykes, this is you,” however, Cadet 1 testified he remembered the conversation going on much longer before Sykes identified himself.

Sykes testified that it’s not unusal for officers to joke about being another officer or more senior officers with their colleagues.

The board noted that at the time of this phone call, Sykes didn’t know he was being investigated by professional standards for the penis chart meme, or that Cadet 1 had already spoken with senior officers and professional standards.

The phone call was the final alleged disciplinary action against Sykes.

The review board’s decision

Regarding the penis chart image, the board ruled that that image was “simply an off-duty exchange between friends” and that previous conversations with sexual overtones between Cadet 1 and Sykes were initiated by Cadet 1, not Sykes. That included the conversation during Cadet 1’s camping trip with his girlfriend.

Furthermore, the board ruled that incident wasn’t connected at all to the incidents of unsolicited anonymous dick pics being sent to cadets that were mentioned in the fall in with Sgt. Power.

The board also wrote that in their interviews with Cadet 1, Sgt. Jefferies, and Insp. Legere “clearly have a tone of pressing [Cadet 1] that he was unhappy with the Sykes communication but didn’t feel comfortable about asking Cst. Sykes to back off.”

The board decision continued:

To their credit, they seem to be attempting to protect [Cadet 1] from what they saw as almost predatorial behaviour towards a vulnerable individual. Although [Cadet 1] eventually went along with the implicit suggestions from Sgt. Jefferies that the communications were unwelcome and he wanted them to stop, and also that he would have asked Cst. Sykes to stop making such comments, but for the so called ‘power imbalance’ this is not consistent with the evidence.

In fact, [Cadet 1] continued to take part in a friendly relationship with Cst. Sykes. He initiated many conversations with Cst. Sykes. He, on more than one occasion, had invited Cst. Sykes to join him and his friends drinking on Argyle Street (declined by Cst. Sykes).

Regarding the allegation that Sykes impersonated a police officer, the board ruled it was satisfied that the phone call Sykes made to Cadet 1 didn’t fall under the definition of “willful impersonation of an officer.”

Although he did briefly describe himself as a Sergeant, it was not done with any expectation of actually deceiving [Cadet 1], and it did not do so. [Sykes] was not on a “fishing expedition” to find out about an investigation into his own conduct. He would not have connected the penis chart sent jokingly to [Cadet 1] several months ago, with ‘dick pics’ bring [sic] anonymously sent to female members of the cadet class. He was completely unaware he was under investigation, that the investigation had been effectively completed, and the allegation had actually been sent to the NSPC the day before.

While the Police Review Board dismissed allegations one and three against Sykes, the board did find an exception regarding the second allegation, using oppressive or abusive conduct or language towards another member:

The Board finds that the message to [Cadet 1] being invited over to Cst. Cadieux’s home was misconstrued, and not intended to reflect that [Cadet 1] was the invitee (confirmed by Cst. Sykes snapchat saved messages). However, the board finds that the further comments regarding Cst. Cadieux being a ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ or ‘don’t drop the soap’ (although sent and received in jest), went beyond a reasonable response to [Cadet 1]’s inquiries about Cst. Cadieux. It falls within the category of oppressive or abusive conduct towards another member. It also demonstrates an insensitivity to the impact on another individual. It tends to suggest a rookie culture that would mock the sexual preferences of others.

A Black man with short hair and goatee wearing a black police uniform smiles and looks to the left of the frame.
Acting Halifax Regional Police Chief Don MacLean at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting in Dartmouth on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

Acting Police Chief Don MacLean is requesting the court review the Police Review Board’s decision on the grounds that:
• the board “made unreasonable findings of fact that were not supported by the evidence at the hearing and which render the decision unreasonable”;
• “the Board erred in law by failing to conduct an analysis or offer any explanation as to why” Sykes’ conduct didn’t amount to breaches;
• the board “failed to maintain an internally coherent and rational chain of analysis” of “dishonest” statements made by Sykes;
• the board “failed to recognize the ‘sexualized banter’ and other conduct displayed by Geoffrey Sykes is inconsistent with modern policing, with the good order and morale of the Halifax Regional Police”;
• and the board “erred in law by fixating on the subjective contemporaneous reactions of the Cadet to the conduct in question instead of reviewing the conduct of an objective standard.”

MacLean is requesting an order to set aside or quash the decision of the Police Review Board and restore the discipline on Const. Sykes — that is, his firing. Or, alternatively, to remit the matter to another board of panel members for reconsideration.

No date for a hearing has been set for the judicial review.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. .. and these are the people who we are supposed to trust?
    You have got to be kidding me. As for that review board, their decision says so much. It speaks to their acceptance and tolerance of the abhorrent behaviour by police officers.
    I echo Eric W. … WOW!!! Just wow.