by Daniel Lang and Romeo Dallaire
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with its iconic red serge and Stetson hat, has recently been the focus of a number of internal and external reviews regarding harassment. The force is facing lawsuits from men and women across the country who claim to have been harassed at work, including a potential class action lawsuit in British Columbia.
In November 2012, the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence was authorized to examine harassment within the RCMP and report back on its findings. Since then, the committee has heard testimony from numerous witnesses, all of whom provided valuable insight and advice.
Mr. Ian McPhail, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, noted that “although the empirical data presented to the commission did not support the widely held belief that the RCMP has a systemic issue with sexual harassment, there is no proof to the contrary.” This conclusion was supported by other witnesses who appeared before the committee. However, any incidence of harassment within our national police force must be treated with the seriousness they deserve.
In a written submission to the committee, Ms. Sherry Lee Benson Podolchuk, herself a former RCMP officer and a victim of harassment at the hands of her colleagues noted that “unresolved conflicts poison the workplace and slowly create a toxic work environment.” A study in British Columbia’s Division E noted that “frequent tales of retaliation against those who bring forward harassment complaints can also leave victims and bystanders feeling helpless to try to address the problem.”
In our committee’s report, titled Conduct Becoming: Why The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Must Transform its Culture, we offer 15 recommendations on how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police can build a more respectful workplace and address ongoing issues of harassment and discipline. Key recommendations include: ensuring meaningful cultural transformation and increased accountability; strengthening of the RCMP code of conduct; and increasing independent oversight of harassment programs and policies through the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. We have also recommended that the government implement a new position of RCMP ombudsman outside the chain of command structure, to allow for members of the lower ranks to come forward with issues of concern, without fear of retribution.
The committee believes it is important for the RCMP to take stronger actions to address harassment, including holding those responsible to account. We heard many instances of the RCMP code of conduct violations being met by less than adequate punishments, and this is simply unacceptable. The committee is seeking assurances that the RCMP will be clear in stipulating real consequences for those found to have acted in contravention of policy and regulations.
We recommend that sanctions for contraventions of the code of conduct be timely, proportionate, predictable and applied throughout the RCMP, regardless of rank and insignia; any alleged violations of the Criminal Code be sent directly to the appropriate authorities as early as possible; promotion within the RCMP take into consideration violations of the code of conduct, including past incidents of harassment, and the RCMP must not use transfer of either perpetrators or victims of harassment as a means of avoiding dealing with underlying disciplinary issues.
If the RCMP wants to address harassment in a meaningful way, then the force must undergo a cultural transformation, and this change will have to penetrate to every level of the RCMP. Each and every individual member and employee should know that they are responsible for recognizing, preventing, reporting, and stopping harassing behaviours. And they should be confident that, when they do so, they will not face retribution.
Not losing sight of the victims, the committee notes that the RCMP should take seriously its “duty to accommodate” and do more to address the needs of victims, including those still suffering from operational stress injuries. The RCMP must also ensure the confidentiality of victims is protected, as well as the confidentiality of those who report abusers.
Our committee looks forward to following the RCMP’s progress closely.
We are confident that, if adopted, our report can serve as a useful tool for the RCMP as they move forward to address issues of harassment.
Sen. Daniel Lang is chair and Sen. Romeo Dallaire is deputy chair of the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence.