It is the rare individual who indicts his organization on the same day he is called to lead it. But incoming RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is right to make rooting out harassment within the RCMP his top priority, to order a comprehensive review of existing allegations, and to say, “This is not the RCMP that I joined. And this one cannot continue.” The force’s dysfunctions are legion and include bungled terror investigations and instances of brutality against innocent people – but reducing workplace harassment, so critical to morale and to the public’s trust, is an excellent place to start.
It’s good that he’s serious, because the RCMP has been less than serious about sexual harassment in the past. The 2004 settlement of a lawsuit filed by four female officers and the institution of new harassment policies that year did not stem the complaints or change the RCMP’s culture. The force’s ability to investigate itself, shown in the Robert Dziekanski and Ian Bush cases, is seriously wanting. We don’t know exactly how much harassment has gone unreported or how many officers or civilian workers have been cowed into silence – a separate review into harassment in the workplace, being conducted by the RCMP Complaints Commission, is a necessary intervention.
But Commissioner Paulson will need to follow through. The RCMP will have to welcome, not suppress, new complainants, should they step forward after being emboldened by these fact-finding efforts. It will also need to be nimble and responsive to the RCMP Complaints Commission’s inquiries and its ultimate findings. Commissioner Paulson’s pledges of full co-operation, and his willingness to make “adjustments to the process” to deal with new claims of harassment as a result of these investigations, are encouraging.
All this work will need to be done quickly, to show that new leadership is making a difference. And it needs to be done without letting the process turn into a witch hunt.
It is not just the RCMP that stands to benefit. Few large institutions – businesses, religious groups, sports teams or paramilitary organizations – have fully removed the scourge of sexual harassment from their operating DNA. Too few give alleged victims the forums and support they need to pursue their claims fairly. If the “horribly broken” RCMP can tackle sexual harassment, it can be a model for institutions around the world.