In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Senate Study of Harassment in the RCMP

Posted 5/21/2013 by Grant Mitchell


The Senate Defence Committee is currently studying the topic of harassment, including sexual harassment, in the RCMP. While harassment in the force has been a longstanding issue, it was most recently brought to prominence by the courageous efforts of current members like Catherine Galliford and Krista Carle, as well as former members who have come forward with their stories. Many of these members have sustained grievous PTSD injuries as a result of their tumultuous experiences in the force.

A few weeks ago, Liberal MP and women's critic, Judy Sgro, and I hosted a roundtable in Ottawa where two of the injured, Catherine Galliford and Jamie Hanlon, presented their stories in person; two other members, Krista Carle and Sherry Benson Podolchuk presented by video. Their presentations were extremely moving. Their testimonies highlighted the fact that there is most certainly an issue of harassment in the RCMP. However, as Minister Toews and Commissioner Paulson have rightly pointed out, the individual cases also reflect a problem with the corporate culture of the institution.

The Minister and the Commissioner have presented Bill C-42 as the critical piece in their effort to fix the problems. However, I believe that C-42 is not enough and may have little impact in getting to the root of the problem, which is a cultural problem. A few of the shortcomings of the bill include:

1. Bill C-42 will increases the Commissioner's power to fire (he can delegate this to lower level officers); allow the Commissioner to restructure the grievance process; somewhat enhance the powers of the public complaints body; and improve the third party review of serious incidents involving a RCMP member. The problem with each of these is that they all deal with problems after they occur, they do not address the cultural issues which allow the problems to occur in the first place. Moreover, there is no guarantee that increased powers to fire will actually improve the situation at all. It may simply give harassers more power to fire those who they are harassing, if they complain about it.

2. The RCMP will say that the new Respectful Workplace Program, outlined in the bill, will address the cultural problem. However, in committee, I raised concerns about the degree of the organization's commitment to the program. When asking senior staff about the budget for the program, it was not clear that they knew what it was. When asking  whether they had done a baseline audit to assess the problem now, and whether they have an audit plan to determine progress against that baseline, it was not clear they had either in place. When asked about national direction and standards for the plan, it was not clear that they have been determined.

The BC division did an extensive study which involved 462 members and revealed very powerful stories about harassment experiences. But that is just one division; why would they not do a similar study all across the organization? The experience in the military in the 1990's underlines how difficult it is to change the culture of an organization like the Canadian Armed Forces or an institution like the RCMP.  Reforming the institution is a huge task, requiring constant vigilance and strong leadership. None of the changes will happen unless there is deep and profound commitment to changing the culture.

3. As a follow-up to the observations regarding the bill and, as a follow-up to testimony submitted by expert witnesses, there are several critical steps that should be considered by the RCMP moving forward. These steps include the following: 

a. The senior staff of the RCMP should organize a conference, inviting the injured and the senior officers to hear personal stories, as we did in our own roundtable. It was a very powerful experience for us and would help raise the level of commitment to fixing the problem in the RCMP.

b. Study after study of the RCMP has recommended real, civilian, independent and non-political supervision of the RCMP. Many, if not all major city police forces in Canada have this kind of police commission. The Edmonton Police Commission, for example, has a direct role in preparing the annual policing plan and budget. This Commission hires the police chief and receives and supervises the investigation of complaints from the public. The new CRCC, the public complaints review board, proposed in Bill C-42, will only have complaints review and policy investigation powers, not direct input into policing planning etc. As a comparison, the military changes were driven by a powerful civilian monitoring board and 6 other civilian advisory boards.

c. Consider a provision for a union. Once again, major police forces across the country have unions which have demonstrated a great deal of success in ensuring the objectivity and independence from the chain of command of grievance processes.

d. Assess the services available for the PTSD injured in the RCMP. Currently, it looks as though there is very little recognition of the severity of the problem, let alone adequate health resources to care for the injured and their families. Certainly, the level of awareness and the services available do not match those in the military.

5. Almost 90% of officers in the Canadian military have post-secondary degrees while close to 50% have graduate degrees. Realizing that they had to increase the level of professionalism of their officer corps, the Canadian military made huge changes to their educational requirements and curriculum at the Royal Military College and staff Colleges, including creating a new Masters program for officers.  Perhaps this is another area where the RCMP could draw parallel examples for their own training programs. As a comparison, it is interesting to note that with two of the RCMP’s key leadership training courses, the Supervisor and Manager Development programs, far fewer than half those starting them complete them.

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