Feb 14 2013
OTTAWA - The RCMP must take "swift and effective action'' on complaints of workplace harassment to restore the shaken confidence of both members and the public, says the watchdog that oversees the national police force.
In a new report, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP recommends fundamental changes to the way in which internal grievances about bullying and harassment are handled by the Mounties.
It calls for a more independent process, strict timelines for responding to accusations, and force-wide training on the issue.
The commission says its investigation did not point to a systemic problem of sexual harassment within the police force, despite intense publicity about difficulties and grievances.
However, the report released Thursday says the simple perception of a pattern of poor treatment of employees is enough to rattle public confidence and tarnish the force's reputation.
The commission's investigation - which included a statistical review, interviews with members and public submissions - found the RCMP was "probably no better nor no worse than most other large organizations'' on the issue of harassment, said Ian McPhail, interim chairman of the complaints body.
"The fact is, of course, that - as our national police force - it's got to be better,'' he said in an interview. "And harassment of any sort is just not acceptable.''
Several female RCMP officers have come forward with complaints since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public in 2011 with allegations of harassment within the force in British Columbia.
Men have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation.
The investigation found that from February 2005 through mid-November 2011, 718 harassment complaints were filed by employees, representing 2.5 per cent of all staff.
Ninety per cent of the complaints involved allegations of bullying, while four per cent concerned sexual harassment.
Just under half of complainants were male, 44 per cent female and seven per cent unknown.
But the report cautions that it was difficult to measure the scope of the issue and recommends the RCMP implement a national system of data collection to capture all incidences of workplace conflict, including harassment.
The complaints commission says harassment can have profound effects on the victimized employee, from feelings of fear and humiliation to mental breakdown and even post-traumatic stress.
"I felt completely alone and I felt like a failure,'' one unnamed RCMP officer told the complaints commission.
"I could not believe that my RCMP was treating me in such a callous and disrespectful manner when I had always worked so hard to do my duty and to better the organization.''
Said another: "My launching a complaint against a commissioned officer of the RCMP has met with devastating results for me and my career in the RCMP.''
McPhail said his "heart goes out'' to RCMP members who pay such a heavy price.
"People who join the RCMP by and large do so out of a strong sense of idealism, and to do something for the country,'' he said. "And it's tragic when that's the result.''
The commission found the complex system for dealing with complaints meant some took as long as four years to process.
"That's clearly unacceptable. No one can fairly be expected to have their lives and their careers on hold for up to four years while a complaint is resolved,'' McPhail said.
"People see that sort of thing happening and even if they have a legitimate complaint, they're not going to step forward.''
Many told the commission the current process for handling harassment complaints within the RCMP lacked independence, with some charging that the final decision-maker displayed bias or a conflict of interest in that they were "protecting their own.''
The commission recommends centralized monitoring and co-ordination of all RCMP decisions with respect to harassment to ensure consistency. It also says those responsible for dealing with harassment allegations should report directly to a senior executive - such as the RCMP's professional integrity officer - outside the force's divisional chain-of-command structures.
In addition, there should be "clearly defined'' standards for those who investigate harassment complaints, appropriate training, and greater input from both the complainant and the respondent.
Finally, the commission recommends that an outside body hear appeals from dissatisfied complainants.
Legislation before Parliament would also give the RCMP commissioner authority to establish a process for the investigation and resolution of harassment complaints. It would also arm a revamped public complaints commission with powers to monitor how the force is dealing with harassment.
McPhail said the bill introduced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would allow the commissioner to adopt the blueprint outlined by the complaints commission.
"Legislation does not in and of itself solve problems,'' he said. "But it enables the people involved to solve those problems. And certainly the minister and the commissioner have made it quite clear that this is an important priority for both of them.''