RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson talks to reporters before the start of the Commons committee to discuss main estimates, Monday, May 15, 2017, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Bullying, harassment thrive in RCMP: watchdog

Force lacks both the will, capacity to address the challenges that afflict its workplace

OTTAWA — Bullying and harassment remain serious problems within the RCMP and only major changes to the way the police force is run will make a difference, says a national watchdog.

In a toughly worded report Monday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP said the force lacks both the will and the capacity to address the challenges that afflict its workplaces.

The commission urged the government to usher in civilian governance or oversight for the paramilitary-style police force.

A second federal report released Monday, a review by former auditor general Sheila Fraser of four harassment lawsuits from female members, also called for substantial reforms.

In a statement, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said both reports describe “similar serious and long-standing concerns” and will “inform further action” to ensure that the RCMP is a healthy and respectful employer.

He later told reporters “it is absolutely critical that you approach issues in relation to the RCMP in a thorough, thoughtful, careful way.”

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said the reports contain some good recommendations, but he stressed that changing the culture of the Mounties will take considerable time.

“I’ve characterized it as generational,” he said. “As long as we can continue to demonstrate progress, I think we should give these things time.”

Goodale ordered the complaints commission report to see if the RCMP had properly acted on commission recommendations made in 2013. At the time, the watchdog said the Mounties must take swift and effective action to reassure both members and the public.

The RCMP introduced new harassment policies and processes in 2014 aimed at promptly dealing with workplace conflict before it escalates.

The latest report, however, said the vast majority of complaints under the new policies involved allegations that managers abused their authority. These included accusations of abusive language, such as “you’re dirt,” “people here don’t like you” and “nobody wants to work with you.”

Others complained of being berated in public, punitive transfers or having leave arbitrarily denied.

“Organizational dysfunction in the RCMP has been well documented and the commission’s current investigation confirmed that the problems of workplace bullying and harassment persist,” the report said.

The commission found that while senior leaders in the RCMP have made efforts to prevent harassment —particularly at the divisional level — these initiatives have been limited and ad hoc and have not received the necessary support from headquarters.

“There has been no effort by national headquarters to monitor their effectiveness, roll out best practices, or institutionalize reform,” the report said.

Incidents of harassment — sometimes extending over months or years — can have serious professional consequences and can cause real emotional and physical harm, the watchdog added. In turn, this may affect the operational effectiveness of the RCMP.

“Dealing with harassment is a complicated and nuanced activity,” commission counsel Emma Phillips told a news conference Monday. “It requires a nuanced approach.”

A key problem is that the RCMP’s definition of harassment is unduly narrow and likely results in valid complaints being dismissed, the commission said. The policies are also overly complex and difficult to comprehend.

In addition, they place “inappropriate emphasis” on the responsibility of the complainant to confront his or her harasser and on the duty of supervisors and managers to report harassment, the report said.

Unlike other policing organizations, the RCMP primarily appoints uniformed members to senior administrative positions like human resources and labour relations, rather than civilian experts, the report noted.

The commission recommends hiring more civilian expertise within the force. But it also calls for basic structural change, such as:

— A model that leaves administrative and financial matters to civilians and operational issues to RCMP commanders;

— Division of responsibility between a civilian commissioner and a uniformed chief of department, like the New York police; or

— A civilian board of management that would provide general direction to the RCMP and enhance public accountability.

“While RCMP senior leadership is not absolved of the responsibility to make more sustained and meaningful efforts to address workplace harassment going forward, lasting change will only come from fundamental reforms to RCMP governance,” the report concluded.

Paulson, who plans to step down at the end of next month, has grappled with the harassment issues plaguing the force throughout his tenure.

Last October, he delivered an abject apology to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment dating back as long as four decades.

Paulson also announced the settlement of two class-action lawsuits stemming from the harassment allegations that have cast a long shadow over the police force.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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