harassment  - by Rebecca Holton, Staff Lawyer – Grey-Bruce Community Legal Clinic

Theresa Vince, a human resources training administrator from Chatham, Ontario, believed her career would end with her upcoming retirement. Tragically, it ended with her murder.

Although she was only 56 years old in the spring of 1996, Vince had recently made the decision to retire early from her job at a Sears Canada store. She might have worked for longer, but she felt that retirement was the only option left to her. For years she had been enduring a campaign of relentless sexual harassment by her supervisor, Russell Davis, and she could think of no other way to make it stop.

Davis’s harassment of Vince began with showers of unwelcome compliments. From there, it escalated to sending her unwanted gifts, calling her dozens of times a day, finding excuses to make her stay late at the office, and even going so far as to remove his clothes in front of her.

Vince attempted to stop the harassment through the proper channels. In early 1995, sixteen months before her decision to retire, an increasingly desperate Vince filed a sexual harassment complaint against Davis. The regional supervisor to whom she made the complaint offered her three choices: she could speak to Davis personally and ask him to leave her alone, she could write him a letter, or she could have the supervisor speak to him. Vince opted to speak with Davis directly, but to no avail: his dogged pursuit of her only intensified from that point forward. The situation eventually became so intolerable that Vince felt she had no choice but to retire from Sears in order to escape Davis and his behaviour.

But on June 2, 1996, less than a month before Vince’s planned retirement, Davis entered the store’s administrative office with two guns concealed in a fast-food bag. He shot Vince to death, then turned his weapon on himself.

Vince’s family was understandably devastated by her murder. Not only had they been robbed of their wife, mother and grandmother in a vicious, brutal way, but it had happened at her place of employment at the hands of someone she should have been able to trust – her supervisor.

Commendably, members of the Vince family were able to use their grief as a springboard to lobby for lasting change. By combining their efforts with those of others, including human rights lawyers, Members of Provincial Parliament, a local sexual assault crisis centre, and the family of another sexual harassment victim murdered on the job (Windsor nurse Lori Dupont, who was stabbed to death at work by her colleague/former partner, Dr. Marc Daniel) the Vince family was able to help bring about Bill 168 – An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters.1

In addition to the above, the government of Ontario has honoured Vince’s memory by declaring June 1 -7 to be Sexual Harassment Awareness Week. This week was specifically chosen to commemorate the anniversary of Vince’s death. The objective of Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, as set out by former MPP Pat Hoy, is “to raise and increase public awareness, to foster change in societal attitudes and behaviour surrounding sexual harassment and to prevent another tragedy [like Theresa Vince’s murder] from occurring.”2

This Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, we encourage you to learn about sexual harassment in the workplace, the frequency with which it occurs, the various forms it can take, and what you can do to help stop it. Knowledge leads to prevention, and prevention leads to harassment-free workplaces that are physically and emotionally safe for all.

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and would like to know what to do next, the Grey-Bruce Community Legal Clinic can provide you with free, confidential legal advice. You can reach us by calling 519-370-2200. (If the harassment you are experiencing involves unwanted touching or causes you to fear for your safety, contact the police right away.)

1 This Act is now known as the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace), 2009, S.O. 2009, c. 23 - Bill 168.
2 Bill 207, Sexual Harassment Awareness Week Act, 2005


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