When Const. Susan Conrad became the first woman to join the K-9 unit, Halifax Regional Police publicly celebrated her promotion.
“She’s been a valued member of Halifax Regional Police for almost 13 years, serving in Patrol and Community Relations & Crime Prevention,” the police posted on Facebook in June 2020.
“This is truly a historic day for our team!”
Conrad was the subject of a profile on CTV Atlantic, telling reporter Natasha Pace she’d dreamed of the job since she first started training to be a cop.
“There’s been so many females before me, decades before me that have gone through challenges and hurdles, you know, paving the way for people like me to make it a much more welcoming environment and I’m really experiencing that,” Conrad said.
“The guys on the team right now have been incredible, they’ve been so supportive and encouraging and so for me, to be able to lay a little bit of that pavement for the girls coming behind me is just, icing on the cake.”
Chief Dan Kinsella told Pace it was “a great day for policing.”
“People need to know if their desire is to be a certain type of police officer, or work in a certain area, that that opportunity is there for them and this is a great example to show that it can be attained if it’s something you’re willing to work for,” Kinsella said.
But internally, Conrad’s colleagues were organizing against her.
Grievances against Conrad’s promotion
In a judicial review filing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court this week, Conrad’s lawyer alleges she had “longstanding complaints of deliberate, workplace, human rights discrimination and harassment.”
Conrad filed a complaint with the provincial Labour Board in March 2022. She alleged that her union, the Halifax Regional Police Association, had failed to act on her behalf. She named the association and representatives Dean Stienburg and Perry Astephen.
In a Jan. 6 decision, board vice-chair Demetrius Kachafanas ruled against her.
Per Kachafanas, Conrad “alleges that with respect to their representation of her, the Respondents acted in a manner that was arbitrary, discriminatory and in bad faith.”
Kachafanas wrote that Conrad’s complaint included “Grievances filed by other Union members concerning the Complainant being awarded the K-9 position; Issues of workplace harassment; Independent legal representation; and Payment of legal fees.”
After Conrad got the K-9 position in April 2020, Kachafanas wrote that an undisclosed number of other officers filed grievances “concerning the awarding of the position to Ms. Conrad.”
There are no details in the decision as to why the other officers complained about Conrad’s promotion.
“Ms. Conrad had a number of discussions with the Union concerning the grievances, instances of workplace bullying and harassment, discrimination and independent legal representation. No grievances were filed on behalf of Ms. Conrad by the Union,” Kachafanas wrote.
“To summarize and paraphrase her Complaint, Ms. Conrad alleges that the Union and her union representatives, Dean Steinberg [sic] and Perry Astephen, breached the duty of representation by failing to file a grievance on behalf of Ms. Conrad, failing to deal with her harassment issues, and discriminated against her by filing grievances against her award of the K-9 position while failing to represent her in respect to her issues.”
Union argues complaint is invalid
The union argued to the labour board that Conrad’s complaint should be thrown out. It argued she’s past the 90-day time limit to complain about the grievances. Conrad’s complaint about her legal fees doesn’t fall under her collective agreement, the union argued. The union claimed that in January 2022, it went to management “to attempt to address her issues of harassment,” and that process was ongoing.
Conrad never asked the union to file a grievance on her behalf, Kachafanas wrote.
He also noted Conrad filed a complaint under the Police Act, and some of the subjects “were members of the K-9 unit with whom the Complainant alleges are involved in the workplace harassment issues.”
Kachafanas wrote that the internal complaint was put on hold pending the Police Act complaint process.
“This issue is alive and the Union will continue to advocate on behalf of the Complainant with respect to these issues. Therefore, the complaint on this issue is premature,” Kachafanas wrote.
Conrad told the board, per Kachafanas, that she didn’t know she could file a grievance against her fellow officers, or against HRP for discrimination and harassment.
“The Complainant also argues that the Union has simply made an assertion that the matter is ongoing without providing any supporting evidence. Furthermore, the Complainant asserts that the Union’s interventions were too ad hoc to be considered ‘a process’ to which the Complainant had ready access in order to grieve or appeal,” Kachafanas wrote.
Kachafanas sided with the union.
“The simple fact that the Complainant did not know about the internal process including the grievance process or whether a grievance was available does not equate to being denied access to them,” Kachafanas wrote.
“The Union did not refuse to accept a grievance and there is no evidence before the Board that the Union attempted to frustrate the Complainant’s access to the grievance procedure.”
Kachafanas decided it wasn’t the board’s place to critique HRPA’s processes.
“Harassment and bullying in the workplace is a serious issue and often a complicated one if it involves other unionized employees. Many workplaces have policies that address workplace harassment and discrimination. There are various processes to deal with such incidents such as internal investigations, complaints to the Human Rights Commission, and grievances pursuant to the Collective Agreement,” Kachafanas wrote.
“It is not for the Board to critique the processes chosen to date by the Union to deal with the issue on behalf of its member.”
Cop’s lawyer asks court to quash labour board decision
Conrad’s lawyer, Blair Mitchell, applied on Monday for a judicial review of Kachafanas’s decision.
Mitchell argued the board “unreasonably interpreted and misapplied” the Trade Union Act “as excluding the inactivity or reactivity of the union in response to the Applicant’s longstanding complaints of deliberate, workplace, human rights discrimination and harassment as ‘action[s]’ or as ‘circumstances’ in reaching its opinion as to when the applicant knew or ought to have known of actions and circumstances giving rise to a complaint.”
Conrad, via Mitchell, is asking the court to quash Kachafanas’s decision.
There’s a hearing scheduled for March 28.