There’s been little said or done to date that should give the public confidence action will be taken to root out harassment in the RCMP. In fact, the response to the ever-widening scandal has been deeply discouraging.
Bob Paulson, the Mounties’ new Commissioner, has made stern-faced avowals to get to the heart of the matter and take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment going forward. But anyone who has bullied or harassed (sexually or otherwise) a colleague up to now would appear to be off the hook.
On Friday, CBC’s the fifth estate revisited the case of RCMP Staff Sergeant Robert Blundell, who in 2001 admitted to “discreditable conduct,” in connection with allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted two female officers in the late 1990s.
The program revealed how the two women – Krista Carle and Victoria Cliffe – were devastated when an internal hearing into the charges was brought to an unexpected conclusion. What happened? A high-ranking RCMP official intervened and got the accused to admit to certain facts that the two officers say grossly understated the actual offences.
In the end, the onetime undercover cop admitted to “touching the private areas” on top of the clothing of one of the women and grabbing the breast of the other. He was ordered to take counselling and was docked a day’s pay. Staff Sgt. Blundell was subsequently promoted and still works in the force.
There are a number of things about this case that should disturb us all.
Firstly, the high-ranking Mountie who brokered the unusual and highly contentious Blundell plea deal was Peter German. (The accused had denied all charges against him at a previous hearing). Mr. German is a deputy commissioner of the RCMP and was a finalist for the commissioner’s job given to Mr. Paulson. He does not come out looking at all good in the fifth estate’s story and now he is a member of the senior management team pledging to clean this harassment mess up.
The new Commissioner, Bob Paulson, meantime told the fifth estate that he considers the Blundell matter closed – permanently.
That’s wrong. He should reopen the case immediately. Even based on the charges that Staff Sgt. Blundell agreed to – which, as mentioned, the female officers involved say vastly diminishes what happened – he should have been kicked out of the force. He still should be.
But if the Blundell matter is considered spilled milk, what does that mean for previous incidents of harassment that may come to light in the future? How can the new Commissioner allow one person to go virtually unpunished – and, in fact, be promoted – and then come down hard on others whose past behaviour is found to be wanting as a result of various reviews and investigations now under way?
There are some, including Darryl Davies, a criminology professor at Carleton University, who believe that Commissioner Paulson should temporarily step aside until bullying allegations levelled against him are cleared up. Those claims were made by Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler who wrote in Season in Hell that a senior Mountie – since identified as the new Commissioner – bullied Mr. Fowler’s wife while he was a 130-day captive of an al-Qaeda affiliate in West Africa.
Commissioner Paulson denies the allegation.
“This is a serious charge that should be investigated,” said Prof. Davies. “There were other people in the room when Mr. Paulson spoke to Fowler’s wife. What do they have to say about what happened? It shouldn’t be hard to find out.
“We have a crippled and dysfunctional organization under attack for bullying and harassment in the system and now we have a commissioner who has a cloud over his head related to this very issue of bullying and it hasn’t been cleared up.”
Meantime, Prof. Davies said, the decision by the federal government to refer the harassment controversy to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP should be of little comfort to Canadians. The CPC has little power and its recommendations can be ignored by the RCMP.
It also can’t compel anyone to testify.
“This is a horrible situation that seems to get bigger by the day,” said the professor. “And it should go to a royal commission or public inquiry. That’s the only way you’ll get to the bottom of what is going on here.”
He’s right, of course. As it is, few officers are likely to pay a price for their role in potentially one of the worst scandals to ever hit the force.