The RCMP says it is taking the steps to reduce workplace harassment that are required as part of a settlement agreement with female members who were bullied, discriminated against and even sexually assaulted – but a full transition will not happen quickly.
“It’s important to recognize that some of these things are going to take time,” Assistant Commissioner Kevin Jones said in a recent telephone interview. “To make the changes that we are looking for, and to address complex systemic issues like gender inequality, requires a long-term approach.”
The agreement, which was signed in October of 2016 and approved by a judge last year, includes a list of 20 “change initiatives” the RCMP must undertake to improve the working environment for the women it employs.
“One of the things that we’re trying not to do is to treat this as a checkbox exercise,” Assistant Commissioner Jones said of the required actions. “We want to make sure that any ongoing or new initiatives to eliminate discrimination, bullying or harassment are followed through on.”
As of late Friday, there were more than 2,550 registered plaintiffs in the class-action settlement signed with women who were sexually harassed while working for the RCMP over the past 40 years. Many hundreds more are expected to sign on before the May deadline.
Sometimes female Mounties have made allegations that go far beyond bullying and intimidation.
Two separate investigations are under way – one in Halifax and one in Toronto – into allegations that doctors sexually assaulted RCMP officers and recruits. The total number of complainants in those two cases has topped 130.
The government recently appointed Brenda Lucki to the force’s top job, the first permanent female commissioner. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is part of her mandate to promote gender equality in the force.
But the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) said in a report released last year that the Mounties have struggled with the problem of sexual harassment for decades and concluded that the force lacked the will and the capacity to make changes.
Noting the appointment of Commissioner Lucki, the CRCC said in an e-mail this week that it will “continue to monitor how the RCMP addresses these long-standing issues.”
Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner Jones said each of the 20 change initiatives required by the settlement agreement has been assigned to a specific area within the force and each has an action plan.
The force has created 17 new gender and harassment advisory committees. And cadets are receiving extensive training about harassment and sexual harassment, he said.
“We want them to be able to deal with a power imbalance,” he said, “which is a challenge in an organization that has a hierarchy and could be considered paramilitary.”
But some measures in the agreement may come more slowly.
For instance, the force is required to ensure that at least 30 per cent of its regular members are female by 2025. Women now account for just 21.6 per cent of the regular members, up only slightly from 20.7 per cent over the past five years.
Megan McPhee, a Toronto lawyer who represents one of two former RCMP officers who launched the class action, says her clients recognized sustainable change will take time, given the size of the RCMP organization.
“They have indicated that, with this recent appointment of the female commissioner, they are very optimistic,” Ms. McPhee said. “The statements that she made upon her appointment indicate that she really means well. But she is going to need the funding to support the initiatives that she has expressed that she intends to pursue.”
David Klein, another of the lawyers in the class-action case, said his clients who recently left the force or are still there say they have seen no concrete changes to reduce the climate of harassment.
“They report, however, that some women are now more willing to report harassment,” Mr. Klein said. “We attribute this to the #MeToo movement. The women feel less isolated as a result of the general public awareness that gender harassment is a problem in many work environments.”