RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki apologized on Thursday to members of her force, after the release of an independent report said the police service routinely tolerated misogyny and homophobia within its ranks.
The report Broken Dreams, Broken Lives, by retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, described the RCMP’s work culture as toxic and called for an in-depth, external review of the force.
The report stems from the Merlo Davidson Settlement, which arose in the wake of two class-action lawsuits alleging that female members of the RCMP had been victims of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.
The first action, undertaken by Janet Merlo in British Columbia in 2012, and a second in Ontario by Linda Gillis Davidson in 2015 alleged that the RCMP had failed to exercise its responsibilities to ensure employees could work in an environment free of discrimination, intimidation and harassment.
“To all the women who experienced this type of behaviour in the RCMP, I am so very sorry,” Commissioner Lucki said during a teleconference.
Harassment of any kind is unacceptable and it is against the RCMP’s code of conduct, the Commissioner added.
“The facts are, despite all the reports, recommendations, and changes over the last three decades, this behaviour continues to surface,” she said. “It must be stopped. It will not be tolerated.”
She also cited steps the RCMP are taking, including working with experts to develop a model for an independent harassment regime outside of the chain of command and an Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution to begin operation next summer.
In his report, Mr. Bastarache said the accounts submitted by claimants demonstrated repeatedly how the RCMP’s values of honesty, integrity, professionalism, compassion, accountability and respect were undermined by the force’s “toxic culture which tolerates misogyny and homophobia by its members and its leaders.”
“This culture has resulted in incalculable damage to female members of the RCMP as well as those working for the public service,” he wrote. “A change in the culture of the RCMP is essential.”
The report also contains a number of recommendations, including changes to recruitment, training at the RCMP depot in Regina and postings for members.
No amount of financial compensation can undo the harm, Mr. Bastarache said in his findings, noting if real action is not taken, the RCMP will find itself in the same place again in a few years.
“In recent years, there has been an increasing number of complaints about how the traditional, paramilitary, male-dominated culture of the RCMP has given rise to too many incidents of harassment, bullying and an apparent refusal to acknowledge the realities of a diverse society and work force,” he said.
Mr. Bastarache also said fixing and addressing the negative culture that has taken root in the force will take immense effort and the goodwill of its leaders and members.
“Most of these individuals are invested in the status quo and will not likely want to make the necessary changes to eradicate this toxic culture,” he wrote.
Mr. Bastarache also said the level of violence and sexual assault that was reported was shocking. More than 130 claimants disclosed penetrative sexual assaults.
“I am so angry with things in this report,” Commissioner Lucki said when asked about the figure. “I feel so bad for what has happened. ... Shame on us.”
The report said the government was required to pay $125.4-million under the claims settlement. Eighty-five per cent of that amount went to claimants, while 15 per cent was paid to the two law firms that acted as class counsel.
Assessors under the settlement agreement examined claims for compensation by women who had experienced sexual harassment or “gender or sexual orientation based discrimination” while working for the RCMP as a regular member, civilian or a public-service employee.
The amount of compensation awarded was determined based on six levels of injury, with the sixth being the most extreme.
Claimants whose claims were preliminarily assessed at Level 3 or higher were interviewed by one of the assessors. In all, 3,086 claims were received, 644 interviews were conducted and 2,304 claimants were awarded compensation. Claims were received from all provinces and territories and across all ranks and ages.
Brian Sauvé, the president of the National Police Federation, said his organization, which represents approximately 20,000 front-line RCMP members, welcomes the end of the legal chapter for the survivors whose claims have now been settled.
“The report contains details of unacceptable and unbearable actions and attitudes, and those responsible should be held accountable,” he said.
Speaking in Ottawa on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is much work required to move forward and reform the RCMP.
“If an organization cannot keep its own members safe from harassment and discrimination, how can Canadians have confidence in them to keep them safe as they enforce the law?” he said.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also said the report describes systemic patterns of abusive behaviour that are repulsive and unacceptable, adding no one should have to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The behaviour not only ruins careers but also creates lasting and significant effects for those targeted, he said.
Mr. Blair said he spoke with the Commissioner and emphasized these unacceptable patterns of behaviour must end and a comprehensive plan must be implemented to address the findings.
Jag Sahota, the Conservative critic for women and gender equity, said the report is heartbreaking and called on the federal government to take immediate action to address the findings.
NDP public-safety critic Jack Harris said Thursday a debt is owed to Ms. Merlo and Ms. Davidson for their courage and persistence to come forward, adding it has not been an easy road for them.
Mr. Harris urged Mr. Blair to take responsibility to ensure the issues and recommendations included in the report are addressed, adding they cannot be simply given to the Commissioner, which would amount to passing the buck.
“He has to ensure [to] the public himself that he will be on top of this on an ongoing basis and have someone reporting directly to him, aside from the Commissioner, on the implementation of these matters.”
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