The RCMP's disciplinary process is so bureaucratic and out of date that "bad apples" end up staying on the force long after they should be thrown out, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a remarkably frank open letter to Canadians on Monday.
Paulson, who has held the top job at the force for six months, pledged to work on modernizing the disciplinary process, which can now take years to resolve a case.
"I am trying to run a modern police force with a discipline system that was current 25 years ago," he writes. "Right now, this framework limits my ability to ensure our members' conduct is properly managed and corrected or, when necessary, to see to it that the bad apples are sent packing." The RCMP's current disciplinary process is enshrined in the RCMP Act.
Paulson's comments come as public confidence in the force has been badly shaken by damaging reports of disgraceful conduct by some officers — conduct that often went unpunished.
Six months ago, a CBC News investigation revealed allegations of a widespread culture of sexual harassment that allowed unacceptable behaviour to continue within the RCMP. Several current and former female officers in the force have since made similar allegations .
Last week, it was revealed that an RCMP Sgt. Don Ray in Edmonton was demoted and will be transferred to B.C. after he admitted to having sex with subordinates, drinking with them at work and sexually harassing them over a three-year period. Some wondered why the officer wasn't fired.
Paulson noted that "sometimes, [unacceptable] behaviour is met with punishment that just does not cut it."
More cases to come
In his open letter, Paulson says Canadians can expect to hear about more cases of unacceptable behaviour. "They are the inheritance of past behaviours and attitudes," he says.
Paulson also decried what he called the "administratively burdensome and bureaucratic decision-making process" that can see discipline cases tied up for years.
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"It's unsatisfactory that we have to continue spending your tax dollars to pay individuals that don't deserve to be in the RCMP."
Paulson says he's started working on changing attitudes and behaviour at the force. "Since my appointment, I've clarified my expectations to my senior managers and all RCMP employees, and I have taken steps to address situations where I had the authority to do so."
But he acknowledges that "legislation alone is not enough to keep your trust," saying reforms must be guided by a commitment at each level of the RCMP to foster a respectful workplace.
"The challenges facing the RCMP are significant, but we will create a modern and even stronger organization that continues to make you proud," he pledges.
"The men and women of the RCMP are up to this challenge, and those you encounter deserve your respect and support."
Separate letter sent to RCMP members
Paulson also wrote to Mounties directly, specifically mentioning the disgraced Mountie Ray and calling his behaviour "outrageous."
An internal disciplinary board found Ray guilty of serial misconduct involving sexual harassment and drinking on the job. His punishment included losing a rank and 10 days pay and a transfer from Alberta to British Columbia.
"It is a sad stain on our reputation, and I understand the province of British Columbia’s concerns about his transfer," Paulson wrote.
The commissioner says all future disciplinary transfers will be reviewed.
Paulson also warns Mounties that "if you, as a member, cannot conduct yourself professionally — as the professional police officer who has been entrusted with special powers over your fellow citizens — then I need you to leave this organization. I feel as though the organization is under threat right now, and my primary duty is to protect Canadians and to protect the RCMP."
In his letter, Paulson notes: "The media are seeking and have obtained several records of decision in a number of recent and historical cases, as is their right. I expect salacious and troubling details of member misconduct to surface and be the source of much criticism of the force. Hang in there and try not to let these stories interfere with the tremendous work you do every day on behalf of Canadians.
"Some of these stories are historical, some are recent, and sadly some are not yet widely known."