Opinion: RCMP and military legal settlements ignore accountability

If you asked Canadians which institutions stand at the heart of our national identity, the list of responses would certainly include the RCMP and the Canadian Forces.

These branches of the federal government are a tremendous source of pride, and are proof of Canadians’ unwavering belief in the importance of the rule of law and justice.

No other country has a police officer as a national symbol, and few other nations can be as proud of their military’s contributions as Canada.

So it’s startling that both the RCMP and the military are mired in accusations of sexual harassment. Conditions are so desperate in the Canadian Forces that the federal government is offering $900 million to settle class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of victims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and sexual assault.

Earlier this month, it was announced similar claims by women who held non-policing roles in the RCMP will share $100 million in compensation — more if the number of legitimate claims exceeds the estimate.

It was just three years ago that the RCMP agreed to an $89-million payout to female officers who were sexually harassed on the job.

The people in charge of these national agencies are saying all the right things, but words fall short when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, to say nothing about the regrettable loss of reputation these public services have needlessly suffered.

“We hope that the settlement will help bring closure, healing, and acknowledgment to the victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination,” deputy defence minister Jody Thomas and Gen. Jonathan Vance said in a joint statement, acknowledging the “obligation to ensure a safe work environment for all women and men” in the military.

For her part, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the force has taken steps to improve the way it handles such complaints.

“Harassment and discrimination do not have a place in our organization. I deeply regret that these women were subject to inappropriate behaviour in our workplace, and apologize for the pain caused to them and their families.”

What’s missing from these costly attempts at remedy is holding the offenders responsible for their actions. If complaints were made against colleagues and superiors, the accusations should have been investigated. If the allegations were ignored, then leaders in the organizations should be held responsible for the neglect.

Granted, much of the alleged wrongdoing is years old, but those who participated in the creation of an unhealthy workplace should pay a personal price.

If accountability is a foreign concept to agencies such as the police and military, then the federal government truly has lost its bearings. Justice can involve apologies and compensation, but it most certainly entails some form of punishment, which serves as a deterrent to prevent future poor behaviour.

So far, the only punishment involves taxpayers, who will finance the hefty compensation, and the former tarnish-free reputations of the RCMP and Canadian military.

Canadians — and the institutions they cherish — deserve better treatment than that. Money, as they say, doesn’t buy everything.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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