The year 2020 hasn’t been good for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Between its questionable handling of a mass murder in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead, and a devastating report on the abuse of female officers, the moment may have arrived for Ottawa to reorganize the RCMP and bring it into the 21st century.
That was the conclusion reached by a former Supreme Court justice in his report on sexual harassment in the RCMP released in October.
Michel Bastarache was hired to assess more than 3,000 claims of harassment and discrimination filed in the wake of an agreement reached between the RCMP and two class-action claimants.
Broken Dreams, Broken Lives, Mr. Bastarache’s report on the claims assessment process, is a nightmarish journey into a culture of misogyny, homophobia and racism. All told, more than 2,300 female Mounties are being compensated for incidents since September, 1974 – everything from sleazy sexual innuendo to penetrative sexual assault, from demeaning treatment to brutal intimidation.
The assessors concluded that 131 women were the victims of “outright rape.” Some were sodomized, some were assaulted by multiple men. For some recruits, it was their first sexual experience.
As well, two male doctors were widely known to sexually abuse female recruits. “Vulnerable women, applying to the RCMP, their dream career, were subjected to ‘prostate’ rectal exams; their breasts were felt in a lingering and unprofessional manner; they were subjected to unnecessary and gratuitous vaginal ‘exams,’” the report said.
The report details how male officers exposed their genitals to their female colleagues; how they sometimes forced the women to touch their exposed parts or rubbed them against those unwilling to co-operate.
Women who complained were denied training needed to advance through the ranks, and were bullied and threatened. A few were falsely charged with crimes, or were subject to trumped-up complaints filed by members of the public at the encouragement of RCMP officers. Some women were denied backup on dangerous missions.
Constables who got pregnant could be as badly treated as those who complained of sexual assault. They were screamed at by superiors, who accused them of failing their detachment. Some women hid their pregnancies just to keep the peace, putting their unborn children at risk during violent arrests.
“LGBTQ2S+ women or women of Indigenous or racialized heritage were often treated even more poorly,” the report also says.
As for the offending male officers – men at every level of seniority – they were rarely held accountable. “Like the Catholic Church, they just move them to another parish,” Mr. Bastarache told a parliamentary committee. “I have a list [of RCMP officers] who have been found guilty up to 15 times. Those people have been promoted.”
The claimants said not all the men in the RCMP behaved badly; many were “gentlemen” who did their best to protect women from predatory officers.
But Mr. Bastarache dismisses the RCMP’s claim that the problems were rare and isolated, and could be resolved by firing the worst offenders, putting in a better complaints system or updating the force’s code of conduct. “These aren’t a few bad apples. These are hundreds of bad apples.”
He said the RCMP’s leadership has created an indelible toxic culture that “promotes, or at the very least tolerates, misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes among many members of the RCMP.”
And, he added, “Culture eats Policy every time.” More than 30 years of lawsuits and damning reports have not changed a culture that, he says, is still harming female officers today.
If there are bad apples in the RCMP, the problem is not the fruit itself but the soil in which it grows. At the very least, pressure from Ottawa will be required to bring real change at the RCMP, Mr. Bastarache concludes. And he raises the question, as do many of the claimants, of whether that can be done without reforming the RCMP from top to bottom.
The findings of the Bastarache report alone should be enough to prompt a formal governmental review of the Mounties. But there are other reasons, best exemplified by the mass shooting in Nova Scotia. More on this tomorrow.
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