Fiona Stewart: Her Fight for Human Rights

Fiona Stewart actively fought for human rights on several fronts and her primary concern was for those in who live on the margins of society: victims of sexual assault and of police abuse, prostitutes and homeless people. She also brought about significant changes to the Ontario legal system through her participation in the Junger/Whitehead Inquiry.

Being a prostitute is not a "sexual identity," but sex work does involve sexual conduct between consenting adults, conduct that is criminalized in Canada. Based on the fact that this conduct is a crime and therefore morally condemned, sex workers are stigmatized, marginalized and oppressed.

Laws regarding sex work are used by the criminal justice system to justify violations of the basic human rights of prostitutes. Social workers discriminate against prostitutes by making them jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops, by denying them services to which they are entitled or by declaring them unfit parents and seizing their children. Members of residents associations routinely harass and threaten prostitutes who are their neighbours.

Prostitutes, because of their occupation, are too often the target of horrendous violence, sometimes even at the hands of police officers. Fiona Stewart was the victim of one such officer, Sgt. Brian Whitehead of the Metropolitan Toronto Police.

Fiona's immense courage in reporting Whitehead to his fellow officers, and to later in coming forward to give testimony in a public hearing regarding police misconduct in the Toronto Police force, is best described in The Fiona Stewart/Jane Doe Story.What follows is an analysis of Fiona Stewart's impact on the civilian review of policing in Toronto.

Junger/Whitehead Inquiry Report

In April of 1990, the Toronto Star exposed a secret deal between the Metro Toronto Police Force and Gordon Junger, a police officer who was operating an escort service with his girlfriend Roma Langford and working as a prostitute. This scandal led the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (a provincial body which oversees all policing in Ontario) to launch a public inquiry.

The Junger/Whitehead Inquiry produced a report which has significance in terms of policing and the rights of victims of police misconduct. It was an admission of failure by the criminal justice system and a condemnation of actions taken by the Toronto Police. The report opens Section 8, "Professional Standards and Deterrence," with this admonition to the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board, which oversees the Force:

"Officers who go astray -- whether they become involved in criminal activity or misconduct of a disciplinary nature -- must know that they will be caught and prosecuted by a police force that is vigilant in maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. All of the officers who are a credit to their force and to the community deserve that assurance. So does the community which depends on and pays for policing services."

The report was scathing in pointing out all the ways in which the Metro Force had failed to follow this objective, and listed 24 recommendations to remedy the problems.

Other cases involving sexual assaults were brought to the Inquiry's attention, but none except the Whitehead matter had the benefit of sworn testimony. Fiona's testimony, given under the pseudonym Jane Doe, contributed evidence to almost all of the conclusions and recommendations of the Inquiry. In particular, Section 9, "The Treatment of Victims," and its four specific recommendations would not have been part of the report had she not testified. These four recommendations were:

Recommendation 17
The Attorney General of Ontario should appoint a task force to develop practical mechanisms and measures to support victims so as to encourage their cooperation in testifying against perpetrators of sexual crimes. The findings of the task force should help police to prosecute more sexual assaults successfully. The task force should not be limited to cases where the accused is a member of a police force, but it should give special consideration to that aspect of the issue.

Recommendation 18
Based on the work of the task force, all Police Services Boards in Ontario should develop strategies to support victims of sexual assault and encourage their cooperation in prosecutions. Special consideration should be given to support for victims in cases where the accused is a police officer. Once these strategies are in place, all Police Services Boards should develop policies committing their police forces to the vigorous prosecution of all sexual assaults.

Recommendation 19
The Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board should adopt policies on the support for and involvement of complainants against police. Victims should be assured that they will be advised of the progress of disciplinary proceedings and will be able to participate. Victims should also be assured they will have the right to request anonymity and a closed hearing, at the discretion of the hearing officer, in cases involving sexual crimes.

Recommendation 20
The Attorney General should consult with his federal and provincial counterparts on the feasibility of protecting the identity of victims of sexual assault immediately on the laying of a charge.

Recommendations do not always result in concrete changes, but in this case they have.

The Inquiry report was published in August 1992 and gave the Police Services Board until February 1993 to report back on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations. The Board, chaired by Susan Eng, began the process of negotiating the implementation with then Metro Toronto Chief of Police William McCormack.

Soon after, Chief McCormack claimed that 17 of the 24 recommendations had been resolved or acted upon. He was never clear which 17. It was clear, however, which four had not yet been addressed.

Dissatisfied community groups applied pressure to the Police Services Board, who in turn pressured Chief McCormack to address the treatment of victims of sexual abuse as well as police misconduct. The Board established the following mechanisms and procedures in order to support victims of sexual assault, especially where the alleged assailant is a police officer:

  • All investigations of sexual offences were to be conducted by an officer specially trained to investigate sexual assaults.

  • Support was to be provided to persons complaining of sexual offences.

  • Mechanisms were put in place whereby victims and/or complainants, whether or not they had participated in the hearing of the allegation against the police officer, could have input into any sentence passed by the Trials Officer by means of a Victim Impact Statement. (A Victim Impact Statement can attempt to influence the sentence by describing the effects the assaults had on the victim's life.)

The report also states that "how this standard is implemented is also of concern to the Board," and includes this directive: "Complainants, especially those alleging sexual assault by an officer, shall be given all necessary guidance, support and protection, including confidentiality when requested by the complainant." Further, the report also directs the Chief to "report fully to the Board on all cases involving alleged wrongdoing by members of the Force, where such wrongdoing may affect the integrity of the Force or the public interest." Such matters were to include "all cases which concern allegations of violence, sexual harassment, misuse of force or racial or gender bias by members of the Force."

As a result of the Inquiry, the Board was also to concern itself with the degree of sensitivity to sexual assault issues on the part of trial judges in Police Services Act hearings.

Members of the police force suspected of wrongdoing are investigated by the Force's Internal Affairs Unit and may face charges under the Police Services Act. One of the powers of the police chief is to appoint trial judges in Police Act hearings. Candidates are selected from among the senior ranks of the force.

A letter from Susan Eng, dated February 19, 1993, requested that Chief McCormack report to the Board on the selection criteria he used to appoint trial judges for Police Services Act hearings, the training they received and his plans for implementing gender sensitivity training. The letter also outlined gender sensitivity training provided to provincial and federal court judges.

As a result of the Junger/Whitehead Inquiry and of Fiona's testimony the Metro Toronto Police Force restructured its handling of police misconduct. It is hard to measure how much the conduct of individual officers improved as a result. Regardless, the Inquiry also spurred many community-based projects. Activists, community organizers and reporters were inspired by the courage of Jane Doe. Fiona's story kept public attention focused on the need for independent civilian review of police.

The Junger/Whitehead Inquiry took place between April 1990 and August 1992, on the cusp of an era in Ontario. The gay and lesbian liberation movement, antiracism activists, and lawyers in Toronto had worked hard to further the goal of civilian review of police. A new Police Services Act (1991) and the creation of the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner finalized the civilian review of police in Ontario. (Some of this is documented in an essay by Susan Watt, Police Complaints Commissioner for Ontario, "The Future of Civilian Oversight of Policing," October, 1991.)

The Toronto Police Force had begun to implement changes that included community policing initiatives, the creation of a sexual assault squad, and attempts to cooperate more with community groups. Unprecedented coalitions grew among newly funded community-based services in Toronto, such as rape crisis centres, AIDS education organizations and anti-violence groups like Women Against Police Violence Against Women and the Metro Coalition for Police Reform.

On November 22, 1990, representatives of Maggie's (the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project) met with Parkdale Community Legal Services to discuss three specific problems with police: reporting assaults, sweeps and police harassment. That meeting identified four long-term objectives whose purpose was to begin dealing with these problems: a prostitutes' legal primer (which later became a six-booklet set called Trials of the Sex Trade: A survival guide to Canada's legal jungle); a system for collecting anecdotes; a process for helping prostitutes file affidavits; and a process of taking complaints to the Police Commission. This was one of the earliest events to contribute to the formation of the Anonymous Police Complaints Project, a coalition of street agencies operated under the auspices of Parkdale Community Legal Services.

At the time the Junger/Whitehead report was released, I was working at Maggie's producing educational material and doing outreach. In a response from Maggie's to the Police Services Board regarding the Inquiry report (September 1992), I wrote:

"This submission does not deal with the entire content of the recommendations of the Report but deals with points which are most within the interests of prostitutes. The prostitute community of Toronto admires and respects Roma Langford and in particular Jane Doe, who at great personal loss and in fear for their lives came forward in the name of justice. Without either of them as witnesses the Report of the Inquiry would never have surfaced. We are grateful. Jane Doe, you are a heroine for prostitutes' rights in Canada."

All through the Whitehead affair and inquiry police continually questioned Jane Doe's competence as a witness. She was a prostitute and she was emotional about the sexual assault. Because Fiona had requested that her name be kept confidential, Internal Affairs determined that she could not pursue a criminal trial against Whitehead.

Fiona wanted to remain anonymous because she did not want to be exposed as a street prostitute. She did not want her painful experiences brought into her other life, where she was respected for her boardroom savvy, courage, wit and bureaucratic skill. Fiona was always concerned about professionalism.

Aside from being Jane Doe the sometime street prostitute, Fiona Stewart was a highly respected and courageous housing activist. She was a founding member and driving force in the creation of the Robin Gardener-Voce Non-Profit Homes (named after a woman who died under mysterious circumstances after she had complained to police that she had been raped by two officers in their cruiser in an underground garage). She served on a number of boards of directors including those of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, Metro Tenants Legal Services, The Harbourfront Community Centre and the Harbour Channel Housing Co-operative, where she lived. For a short time she was a manager in a co-op for people living with HIV.

Ironically, many activists inspired by Jane Doe founded and built organizations while working closely with Fiona, unaware of the connection between the two. No one knows the whole story of Jane Doe, but we all know little parts, each a bit different from the rest.

Fiona first contacted Maggie's at a booth at International Women's Day in 1992. She picked up Issue 1 of the Maggie's Newsletter (December 1991) and saw an article called "The Junger Report: 'Who would you believe, a police chief or a prostitute?'" (The title was taken from a direct quote by Chief McCormack). She came up to the table and complained about some detail in the article, but found it interesting to her because it was a chronology of sorts. She proceeded to reveal to the staff at the booth, "I'm Jane Doe, from the Junger Inquiry." Then she disappeared into the crowd.

A couple of weeks later, Fiona phoned Maggie's at about 3 a.m. I answered the phone. (I had been working at Maggie's barely a month.) She said she couldn't take it anymore; she was going to kill herself, drown herself in the lake. I told her to get in a cab and come to Maggie's right away. She said she had no money. I told her I'd pay for the cab when she got there.

From Maggie's I took her home to my studio on Bathurst Street. I spent the rest of the night listening to a whirlwind account of her story. She told me about the harassment, the beatings, the threatening phone calls, the letters slipped under her door composed of scraps torn from newspapers. Intermittently she would threaten to leave, saying, "I'm fine now. I should just go home." In the morning we went back to her apartment to get some of her things. Then I took her to Chris Bearchell's place -- 97 Walnut -- a safe house of sorts. (Chris was a friend and the administrator of Maggie's). That is where she met Konnie Reich.


More about Jane Doe... [Fiona Stewart] [the Walnuts] [Whore Heroes]

Created: January 29, 1997
Last modified: January 3, 2000

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