Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale opened the door to permanent civilian management in the RCMP after two external reviews concluded the national police force failed to deal with long-standing workplace-harassment problems.
In scenarios being considered, the RCMP would work under a new civilian board of management, or see all administrative and financial functions placed under a civilian boss. Either way, the commissioner of the RCMP would remain in charge of police operations, but would have to forsake other responsibilities that have traditionally been in the hands of uniformed officers.
The government already needs to name a new commissioner of the RCMP, given that top Mountie Bob Paulson will retire in June. The two reports, which were released on Monday by the RCMP's civilian watchdog and by special adviser Sheila Fraser, raise pressure on the government to use the occasion to revamp the organization's structure.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Goodale said he is getting ready to bring his formal recommendation for the future of the RCMP to cabinet, while offering support for increased civilian management.
"I'm open to that idea," he said. "This is an issue that I intend to bring forward for a government decision very, very quickly. We've taken a number of other steps, but this one is fundamental and it needs to have very strong support behind it, not just at the political level but publicly among Canadians."
Mr. Goodale said there is no doubt that the RCMP needs reforms, but refused to lay out his preferred option in public at this point.
"This institution has to get it right, and I am determined to make sure that happens," he said.
On the other hand, Commissioner Paulson said the RCMP's culture was showing clear signs of improvement after a number of policy changes in recent years.
He acknowledged that any case of harassment was "one too many," but he disagreed with the calls for increased civilian oversight of the force.
"It's not up to me to make that decision," Commissioner Paulson told reporters. "If someone asked my advice, I'd tell them to act on the basis of clear evidence … In my view, we have to give time to the systems that are in place and see how they are working."
The negative headlines continue to pile up for the RCMP, which recently offered an apology and compensation package to female victims of sexual harassment. On Tuesday, another hard-hitting report is expected to be tabled by the Auditor-General, this time into the force's mental-health programs.
In its report on workplace harassment, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) said the national police force suffers from a "culture of dysfunction." In a separate report, Ms. Fraser, who is a former auditor-general, slammed the RCMP for its "insular" nature after she reviewed the case of four members who sued the force over workplace harassment.
According to the two reports, the current leadership at the RCMP, mostly groomed from police recruits, has failed to adapt to the modern needs of its members.
"While the RCMP is currently engaged in a conscientious effort to deal with harassment, I am of the view that revised policies and procedures and training will not adequately deal with the problem. It will take a long time to fix and will require a vastly different approach," Ms. Fraser said.
After studying the issue of workplace harassment, the RCMP's civilian watchdog said there was widespread abuse of authority in the RCMP, including many cases of reprisal against those who formally and informally raised harassment concerns. The reprisals went as far as failing to offer police backup during police operations, which endangered the safety of members on duty, the report said.
"In the view of the Commission, the RCMP lacks both the will and the capacity to make the changes necessary to address the problems that afflict its workplaces. Responsibility now lies with the federal government to effect substantive change by modernizing and civilianizing key aspects of the RCMP's administrative management and oversight," the report said.
The CRCC looked at 264 formal harassment complaints that were filed between 2013 and 2016, in addition to conducting confidential interviews with dozens of RCMP members. Pointing out that the issue has been studied in 15 different reviews in the past decade, the report said harassment remains a pervasive and underreported problem in the RCMP.
The CRCC offered different management models for consideration. For example, the Canadian Forces and the New York Police Department have dual management structures in which civilians are in charge of administrative and financial matters, while uniformed officers are in charge of operations. Under another option, the government could create a civilian board of management to provide overall direction to the RCMP and enhance public accountability.
"The RCMP is a very insular organization. Most members join at entry level, train at Depot and advance through the ranks. Few senior officials are not police officers. This has led to a strong culture and sense of pride, valuable in many regards, but which may lead to resistance to change," Ms. Fraser's report said.