The federal government is planning to overhaul the RCMP this year by putting the national police force under a civilian board of management and creating an external process to deal with sexual harassment and bullying complaints, federal officials say.
The changes are coming in response to years of complaints that the force has a broken workplace culture, as well as repeated calls from outside inquiries for civilian oversight of management functions that are still under the purview of uniformed officers.
In addition, the RCMP could soon be unionized, which stands to transform labour relations in the coming months. And, many senior officers have recently retired or announced plans to leave the force, which will bring fresh blood into the upper ranks of the organization.
The coming changes to the RCMP are expected to be announced during the week of Jan. 7 by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale when he unveils Ottawa’s response to separate 2017 reports by former auditor-general Sheila Fraser and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC).
The structural moves will be put in place through a gradual process that will be overseen by Mr. Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said three federal officials who were granted anonymity by The Globe and Mail because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The government is planning to begin the work to amend the RCMP Act to create a permanent management board, in line with existing civilian bodies that oversee the work of police services across Canada. While the CRCC is an independent civilian watchdog agency that examines public complaints against RCMP members, there is currently no body exercising oversight of the force’s management decisions.
The first step under the new moves will be putting in place a temporary board of management, operating under current legislation, that will offer advice to the RCMP on issues such as human resources and information technology. This is being done in a bid to bring more professional management experience to the police force.
However, gun-wearing, uniformed RCMP officers will keep full responsibility over police operations at the RCMP, the officials say.
Later this year, the government will also create a process under which the RCMP will adopt an external mechanism to review complaints of harassment and bullying, according to the officials. But the final formula has yet to be decided.
In March of last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moved to renew the force with the appointment of Commissioner Lucki. She had never been posted to headquarters in Ottawa, and she moved up two ranks when she left the RCMP training academy in Saskatchewan to lead the police agency.
Two of the top four contenders for the commissioner’s job have since decided to retire: Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau and Assistant Commissioner Joanne Crampton. In addition, other senior officers have recently announced retirement plans, including assistant commissioners James Malizia and Byron Boucher, as well as senior general counsel Liliana Longo.
In her report, Ms. Fraser, who reviewed the case of four members who sued the force over workplace harassment, said the RCMP suffered from an “insular” approach to workplace problems.
“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.
In its report on workplace harassment, the CRCC said the national police force still featured a “culture of dysfunction.”
“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," the report said. "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 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.
Mr. Goodale announced at the time that he was open to bringing in greater civilian oversight at the RCMP.
“This is an issue that I intend to bring forward for a government decision very, very quickly," Mr. Goodale said in 2017. “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.”