The RCMP has a bullying problem that needs to be countered by better training and record-keeping, the force's watchdog says in a long-awaited report released today.
The RCMP public complaints commission launched its investigation in November 2011 in reaction to widespread reports from female Mounties about systemic sexual harassment.
The report released Thursday looks at 718 harassment complaints filed between 2005 and 2011, representing about 2.5 per cent of all employees at the RCMP.
Commission chairman Ian McPhail said about 90 per cent of the complaints involved bullying. Only four per cent of the complaints dealt with sexual harassment.
"Overwhelmingly the problem was abuse of authority, bullying," McPhail told CBC News.
"It wasn't sexual in nature, although certainly that's significant."
In the highest-profile cases of sexual harassment, he said the commission found no bias or negligence.
McPhail's recommendations include that the RCMP:
- Improve its record-keeping by tracking all complaints.
- Improve its definition of harassment.
- Provide specialized training to investigators and managers.
- Set deadlines for the treatment of allegations about workplace conflict.
The commission says its investigation didn't point to a systemic problem of sexual harassment within the police force, despite intense publicity about difficulties and grievances.
However, the report said the simple perception of a pattern of poor treatment of employees is enough to rattle public confidence and tarnish the force's reputation.
Commission ignored advice: former Mountie
Former RCMP officer Krista Carle said McPhail's investigation ignored her advice. Carle and three other women Mounties left the force after they complained about their boss.
"He still wears a badge and carries a gun," Carle said. "He sexually assaulted four female members."
Carle said she advised the commission to put stricter rules in place to deal with harassment. If an officer is accused of sexual harassment, they should be immediately suspended, she said.
Janet Merlot, another former RCMP officer, said it doesn't make sense that only four per cent of the complaints McPhail heard were about sexual harassment. She's the lead plaintiff in a group lawsuit filed against the RCMP that includes 300 Mounties.
Merlot said Mounties who complain about sexual harassment, or take leave to cope with it, are at risk.
CBC News has obtained a letter advising several Mounties on sick leave, who complained about harassment, that they are "not considered employable," and that the force "will initiate your administrative discharge."
"What they are labelling as bad apples aren't the people who are committing the harassment and the bullying," Merlot said.
"They are looking at it as the people who are off duty sick for a long time, and they are labelling them as poor performers."
RCMP head unveils changes in Ottawa
McPhail's report says the RCMP should continue to investigate internal sexual harassment complaints, with a centralized senior RCMP executive — someone outside the chain of command — overseeing the process.
In Ottawa, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson revealed his action plan to rid the RCMP of sexual harassment.
Paulson's plan includes: the creation of a confidential complaint process, updated anti-harassment training and boosting female membership in the force by 20 to 30 per cent.
Paulson declined an interview request from the CBC, but said in an email the RCMP is making progress in transforming the workplace for female officers.
Public complaints from officers
Several female RCMP officers have come forward with complaints since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public in 2011 with allegations of harassment. Male officers have also cited abusive behaviour and intimidation.
The commission found the complex system for dealing with complaints meant some took as long as four years to process.
"That's clearly unacceptable," McPhail said. "No one can fairly be expected to have their lives and their careers on hold for up to four years while a complaint is resolved. People see that sort of thing happening, and even if they have a legitimate complaint, they're not going to step forward."
Also Thursday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced a "gender and respect" action plan that sets out 37 measures he says will improve the culture and the composition of the force.
The report comes a day after the RCMP in British Columbia was accused of abusive acts, including rape, against aboriginal women. The accusations, which include police threats, torture and sexual assault, were detailed by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which called on the federal government to launch a national inquiry.
The complaints commission report dealt solely with complaints within the RCMP, not those involving civilians.