VANCOUVER – Harassment and bullying hasn’t been stamped out inside the RCMP workplace despite high-level assurances that action would be taken, says a Liberal MP who has met with dozens of Mounties.
MP Judy Sgro wants a judicial inquiry into “horrible and graphic” conduct within the country’s national police force after hearing a slew of allegations during a series of private forums across the country.
“Every one of those sessions was emotionally draining and very sad,” Sgro told those who attended a Liberal party-hosted breakfast in Vancouver on Friday.
“It continued to diminish the image we all have, and that we want to have, of the RCMP being there front and centre to protect people.”
Sgro and Senator Grant Mitchell heard from participants in Ontario, Vancouver, Newfoundland and Alberta between April and October 2013.
Some 18 to 80 people assembled for each session, including both civilian and operational members, current and former.
Participants alleged recurring incidents that happened with the direct knowledge of superiors, claiming they were dismissed as hazing, character building or “just the guys blowing off steam,” Sgro said.
They also spoke about work environments where abuse escalated to the point where some members’ careers were destroyed, and others suffered from physical and mental ailments or family breakdowns.
Sgro alleged that widespread and systemic issues prevail, even though RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told her and a House of Commons standing committee that the force is “making progress” in bringing about positive change.
In February 2013, Paulson released an action plan entitled “Gender and Respect” that included 37 items to help the force respond to harassment complaints.
“We’ve taken a big step forward,” he told the committee on the status of women, outlining reforms to combat what he described as “misuse of authority.” He said there was not “systemic” sexual harassment.
On Friday, Sgro said Paulson attempted to convince the committee “changes were really going to happen.”
“Well, what ended up happening was they ended up revictimizing many of these very people,” she said.
In particular, Sgro cited Bill C-42, which amended the RCMP Act she said threatens dismissal for members of the force who speak out in a disparaging way.
“The reason you have not heard anything more on this issue for the last six months is because it’s shut down everyone,” she said.
An RCMP spokesman in Ottawa responded to a request for comment by emailing a lengthy statement previously posted online.
“The RCMP is committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment, free of discrimination, offensive behaviour and harassment,” the statement said.
It said the force amended its internal policy last year and that employees are currently completing an online course called Respectful Workplace.
Several high-profile lawsuits have been filed by former Mounties since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public with allegations of harassment within the British Columbia division in 2011.
Last year, an RCMP watchdog investigation found 90 per cent of 718 complaints filed by employees between 2005 and 2011 alleged bullying, while four per cent concerned sexual harassment. Almost half the complaints were filed by men.
In Vancouver, a support group of about 50 male RCMP members meet quietly each month as they await the protracted grievance process to wind through, said Sgro, noting she hasn’t heard of this happening anywhere else.
“Because of the culture of the RCMP, you can’t show weakness … the minute that happens, you become a liability,” said a former B.C. RCMP senior constable attending Sgro’s talk.
Richard Jaques, who retired in 2008 after 13 years of service, said he regularly observed female officers excluded from promotion and said he believes the behaviour was driven by jealousy.
“When a lot of the young female officers would come into the RCMP, I would sit down with them and tell them ‘this is a male dominated organization,'” Jaques, who is seeking nomination to run as a Liberal candidate, in an interview.
“I would be up front and I would tell them that. And that they would have to work twice as hard, twice as long and twice as fast to get any respect.”
A report outlining the findings of the cross-country meetings will be presented after Parliament resumes in September.