Ottawa has moved to contain allegations of systemic sexual harassment of women in the RCMP, but Commissioner Bob Paulson said the national police force must still tackle the "cultural dysfunction" that leads to bullying and workplace abuses of power.
A report by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has concluded that the force is not in the grips of a systemic harassment crisis. At the same time, the RCMP has won the government's support for its plans to modernize and speed up the system to deal with harassment complaints inside the force.
However, critics said the moves are designed to hide the reality of workplace abuses inside the RCMP.
"These reports ignore the obvious, that 200 women have brought a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP for sexual harassment, so obviously there's a systemic problem to deal with," NDP MP Randall Garrison said.
Lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff, speaking Thursday for hundreds of female Mounties signed up for the class-action suit related to harassment complaints, said there are many cases that are solely "horrific" bullying and workplace harassment without sexual harassment.
But he disagreed with the suggestion there was no sexual harassment on a systemic basis. "We have found quite the opposite of that, and we have found that is systemic from coast to coast from Newfoundland to Vancouver," said Mr. Zaitzeff, based in Thunder Bay, Ont. "It's a terrible thing what they do on a daily basis to the women officers and women employees, what they think they can get away with in terms of jokes and low-life, washroom humour at the expense of a person."
He said the situation was such that a federal inquiry is necessary so women can tell their stories publicly as a parallel process to lawsuits. "It's the only way to root it out and get it before the public eye," he said.
Since becoming the top Mountie in 2011, Commissioner Paulson has repeatedly said his priority was the eradication of sexual misconduct and all forms of abuse in the force. At the time, the media reported a series of complaints by current and former Mounties who described a system in which they faced abuse from their superiors and colleagues, and then continued to suffer from reprisals as a slow and dysfunctional mechanism examined their complaints.
However, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has just finished an investigation into 718 complaints of mistreatment by Mounties between 2005 and 2011, finding that only 4 per cent of them contained allegations of sexual harassment.
The numbers were in line with other comparable organizations, according to the watchdog. In a statement, commission chair Ian McPhail said the report found that the data do "not support the assumption that the RCMP is experiencing a systemic problem with workplace harassment, including sexual harassment."
Commissioner Paulson said he was happy with the finding that "sexual harassment was not the big problem that had been identified at the start."
In an interview with CTV News, however, he added that the force continues to be plagued by a hierarchical management system that is ripe for abuse. "The problem that is wider … is the cultural dysfunction that we have all acknowledged that exists within the organization, and that we are working on and that, frankly, we're improving," he said.
The RCMP has agreed to modernize its procedures to deal with harassment complaints inside the force, setting out a 37-point action plan than includes training and a centralized process to deal with all complaints. The RCMP must clearly define what constitutes harassment and make sure that all cases are now documented.
Key goals for the RCMP are ensuring that women members stay in the force as long as their male counterparts, that women have as easy an access to promotions as men, and that all Mounties have the ability to balance their work and their home lives.
However, the report also acknowledges that the RCMP is more than a decade away from attaining its goal to boost the proportion of women inside the force, which currently stands at 20 percent. By 2025, according to the report, the number will reach 30 percent if the RCMP manages to attract and train more female cadets every year.
In a statement, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he is pleased to see that the RCMP has finally tackled the issue of harassment. "Now is the time for action and I'm satisfied with the plan the RCMP has brought forward," Mr. Toews said.