A former lieutenant with the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, Joshua Kawapit, has been found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced earlier this month after a two-year trial concluded in August. His victim was Linda Masty, a fellow employee at the Whapmagoostui detachment.
When Masty began working as an Administrative Assistant for the EEPF in August 2012, she says had never before felt unsafe in the workplace. That sense of security quickly faded when Kawapit, her supervisor, started harassing Masty during her very first week on the job.
According to Masty, things began with the lieutenant making lewd sexual comments and rubbing her shoulders as she sat at her desk.
“It made me really uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to do or say,” said Masty. “I was dreading going into work every day.”
After Kawapit told Masty that he planned to teach her how to perform a full-body search, she decided to consult her superiors. She spoke with Captain Shawn Coonishish about Kawapit’s office conduct, and he assured her that he would speak with the officer. It remains unclear whether a formal complaint was ever filed.
On September 13, days after she spoke with Coonishish about Kawapit’s misconduct, Masty was sexually assaulted inside the Whapmagoostui police detachment. She had been working there for less than a month.
“After it happened, I didn’t know whether I should leave work or if I should stay or report what happened,” said Masty. “I was devastated – I was hurt and humiliated. I was ashamed and I couldn’t believe that something like that could happen in a police station where I was supposed to be protected and safe.”
After the assault took place that day, Masty reported it to the Kativik Police and the Sûreté du Québec took over the investigation. She pressed charges against Kawapit, who was suspended from his duties without pay. Almost two year later, he was convicted and on November 3, he was sentenced to five months house arrest and a subsequent one-year probation term. With court proceedings concluded, the EEPF plans to proceed with their internal employee disciplinary process.
In an email statement to the Nation, Captain Coonishish admitted that the incident should never have taken place.
“The EEPF strongly believes that all citizens have the right to personal security and are entitled to a safe environment free of harassment or threats,” wrote Coonishish. “The disposition of this case shows that no one is above the law. If you aggress someone, you will have to answer for your actions.”
After being given a month off work following the assault, Masty returned to the Whapmagoostui detachment. She says that all her coworkers treated her respectfully and professionally thereafter. However, she believes that she didn’t get the support she deserved from the EEPF or the Cree Nation Government.
“I had flashbacks to that day, playing what happened over and over in my head,” said Masty. “I heard from Human Resources to see if I was okay, but they only gave me a hotline phone number to call for support.” Masty also reports that she did not receive an apology from the EEPF, although she did ask for one after Kawapit was convicted in August.
“What really bothers me is that I told someone I was uncomfortable in the workplace and I feel like I wasn’t taken seriously. There was a three-day gap between when I told the captain and when I was assaulted.”
A 2014 study found that approximately 460,000 sexual assaults occur in Canada every year. For every 1000 cases of sexual assault, only three result in convictions against the assailants, and only 33 are even reported. Masty hopes that her decision to come forward with her story can encourage other victims to do the same, particularly those in small northern communities where doing so can be incredibly difficult. She also hopes that improvements will be made to help victims of sexual assault in the Cree Nation.
In September, Masty decided to leave her position at the EEPF to pursue a new opportunity in the health sector. She finally received an apology from EEPF Chief Reggie Bobbish in early November after the Nation began asking the force to comment on the case.