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RCMP commanding officer vows to clamp down on sexual harassment

Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens, newly appointed Commanding Officer of RCMP "E" Division, speaks to media on Dec. 9 at a press conference at Division Headquarters.

Brett Beadle for The Globe and Mail/brett beadle The Globe and Mail

The new commanding officer for the RCMP in B.C. says he intends to ensure that he will be told "immediately" of serious incidents of sexual harassment within the organization and that concerns raised by victims will be resolved effectively and in a timely manner.

Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens, a third-generation Mountie who has served in British Columbia since joining the force in 1985, takes over as accounts of sexual harassment within the Mounties are surfacing.

Former B.C. RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Galliford was the first to speak publicly about her longstanding and unresolved allegations. Bob Paulson, who was appointed RCMP Commissioner earlier this week, promised a thorough investigation of all harassment charges.

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Assistant Commissioner Callens, in a news conference shortly after Solicitor-General Shirley Bond announced his appointment, told reporters the RCMP has policies to deal with complaints of harassment.

But he said he was not persuaded that the RCMP has responded effectively and quickly enough "to give individuals who come forward, as victims, a sense of confidence that their concerns will be addressed and the appropriate follow-up action will be taken."

"That's where the focus of my energies will be in the coming weeks," he said.

He said his job is to ensure that victims of harassment feel safe enough to come forward in a timely manner so an investigation to be conducted. In response to inappropriate behaviour, actions would be taken either to modify that behaviour or remove the offender from the organization, he said.

As the commanding officer of a force of more than 9,000 employees, Assistant Commissioner Callens said he does not need to be familiar with every incident of workplace conflict or harassment. "What I will ensure is that I am immediately made aware of outrageous incidents and of those [incidents]that demand very decisive action with respect to the ongoing participation of the offender in our organization," he said.

Assistant Commissioner Callens identified discipline and accountability as two areas where he hopes to make changes. He promised improvements in transparency and performance, but did not elaborate on measures he would take. He also told reporters that he welcomed the appointment of an independent investigation office and expressed support for expansion of integrated and regional policing.

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the new assistant commissioner has some big challenges ahead, beginning with the backlog of serious complaints about police conduct. On allegations of sexual harassment, he will have to figure out why officers are being harassed, Mr. Eby said.

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"It is clear to me they do not have a handle on what is happening at the detachment level," Mr. Eby said. "Senior management say all the right things but, clearly, all these women are having very different experiences," he said.

One of the biggest challenges will be to identify why the gap between senior management and the detachments exist and what has to be done to close it, he added.

However Mr. Eby said the association, which is an outspoken critic of the Mounties, is looking forward to working with Assistant Commissioner Callens. "I've always found him a very straight-forward guy to deal with and very frank about what was possible and what wasn't," Mr. Eby said.

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