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RCMP watchdog urges changes to handling of harassment complaints

OTTAWA — The RCMP must take “swift and effective action” on complaints of workplace bullying and harassment to restore the shaken confidence of both members and the public, says the watchdog that oversees the national police force.

In a report Thursday, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP recommended fundamental changes to the way in which internal grievances about harassment are handled by the Mounties.

It called for a more independent process, strict timelines for responding to accusations and force-wide training on the issue.

The commission said 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 said the simple perception of a pattern of poor treatment of employees is enough to rattle public confidence and tarnish the force’s reputation.

In their own report, focusing on women in the RCMP, the Mounties said Thursday they would examine the commission’s recommendations and implement them “as appropriate.”

“Harassment has no place in the RCMP,” the force said, pledging “zero tolerance” and outlining steps taken to date.

The Mounties also signalled a desire for a broad “reconciliation campaign” to heal rifts with employees who have suffered harassment.

“I’d like to get this all behind us,” RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in an interview.

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.

 
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