Nov 10 2011 VANCOUVER - A female British Columbia Mountie who was the force's public face for some of its most high-profile cases says the RCMP is accountable to no one for the treatment of its employees and a union or similar organization is needed to protect them from a culture that is badly broken.
Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was the spokeswoman on the Air India and Robert Pickton investigations, has come forward in recent days to detail shocking allegations of persistent sexual harassment during her 20 years on the force.
Galliford says in an interview that she experienced six to 10 incidents of harassment or sexual harassment, including one occasion in which a superior showed her his genitals.
She says a union-like organization would give RCMP officers who come into conflict with their superiors some support in pursuing complaints.
"You've reached your breaking point. You're being harassed to death. There has to be a group, a body to go to,'' Galliford said in a telephone interview.
"You can call it a union, you can call it whatever you want, but it cannot be an old boys club.''
Most municipal forces have unions, but the RCMP was prevented by statute from organizing one.
Galliford has spent four years off the force, battling demons that have included post-traumatic stress disorder and for a while, a drinking problem. She has now filed a 115-page internal complaint.
She said the harassment started almost from the beginning, when she was training at the RCMP depot in Regina and escalated to an incident when a superior showed her his penis to show her a mole. She said the pair were in a car and had pulled off of Highway 99.
Galliford said a supervisor on one case she worked on would take her on road trips that included efforts to get her to have sex with him.
"There wasn't a lot that went through my mind because I think that female police officers start to normalize that type of thing within the workplace,'' she said.
"It almost becomes normal and I don't know what a shrink would say about that but I just started to normalize the harassment.''
The RCMP has not responded directly to Galliford's internal complaint, but said in a statement earlier this week that sexual harassment is not tolerated in any way.
The RCMP said of the 6,000 Mounties in British Columbia, there are 225 members who have been off the job for more than 30 days. While most of those are off for physical or psychologic reasons not related to workplace conflict, 48 of those are off for some form of workplace conflict.
Mike Webster, a former RCMP psychologist who now runs a private practice, said he has several RCMP officers in his group who have been on paid leave for four years.
"The record in the country is 13 years, the record in this division, E-Division (British Columbia), is 11 years. Eleven years off work, being paid, it's crazy.''
The harassment policy and complaint procedure isn't working for RCMP employees, Webster said.
"Females don't have anywhere to go, so they end up turning to a lawyer and they can't go back to the workplace because that's where this abuse took place, so what do they do, they flee into this unlimited sick time,'' he said.
"This ridiculous thing that the RCMP has enshrined in the RCMP Act, where they have unlimited paid sick time.''
Webster said other similar organizations such as city police and fire have unions that act for the complainant, whose rights are protected by a collective agreement. Sometimes, he said, the complaint can be completed in days to the agreement for everyone.
In July, the RCMP Commissioner acknowledged there is a systemic problem with the Mounties grievance process, including the length of time it takes and the impact it has on members and morale.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said there are half a dozen safeguards within union processes that create levels of accountability.
He said there are few cases that would ever last as long as Galliford's.
"We just don't have sick plans that allow for someone to be off as a fully paid employee for that period of time,'' he said. "It doesn't make sense.''
Stamatakis doesn't know Galliford, but, as the president of the Vancouver Police Union, he's worked on harassment cases in the past.
He said it's unfortunate that she felt that there wasn't anywhere where she could get some help.
"Because, unfortunately with issues related to workplace harassment, sexual harassment, usually if there's not an intervention right away the longer things go on unresolved then the more difficult they are to deal with, but also to recover from.''
A section of the RCMP Act prevents allowing the RCMP to have a unionized force, but that was struck down by an Ontario court in 2009. The Ontario Court of Appeal granted the federal government a temporary stay on the ruling and the court will review the decision in a few weeks.
Before the last federal election, the government tabled a bill that would give Mounties the right to form a union, but it wasn't passed before the election was called.
There's no word on if the legislation will be revived.
"The RCMP is very concerned with the health and welfare of its employees and ensuring safe and timely return to work,'' said Supt. Kevin DeBruyckere in an RCMP statement.
He said employees have access to comprehensive care and the RCMP has a proactive peer-based member/employees assistance program of trained employees for support.
"The RCMP is clear in its approach to harassment. It is not tolerated.''
Webster said he is already seeing the impact of Galliford's bravery.
He's had members and retired female members phoning his office who have gone through similar circumstances and would like to support Galliford.
"Catherine is very courageous to step out and do what she's done here.''
But Galliford said she wouldn't recommend any woman opt for a career in the RCMP.
"Don't even think about it. No. Run like your hair is on fire. There are other police departments out there. You can join Calgary. You can join Edmonton. You can join Toronto. You can join Port Moody. But do not join the RCMP.''