CBC Investigates

Unofficial RCMP 'sissy' memo a sign of toxic work environment, women say

Several women involved in a sexual harassment and discrimination case against the RCMP are citing a mocking, unofficial memo left in the mailboxes of female employees.

Mounties need house-cleaning and better training, say women involved in harassment class action

Linda Gillis Davidson is one of the two representative plaintiffs who first brought the class-action lawsuit against the RCMP. She did so on behalf of all women on the force dating back to 1974, when the force first began accepting female police officers. (Dave Seglins/CBC)

Several women involved in a sexual harassment and discrimination case against the RCMP say that a mocking, unofficial memo left in the mailboxes of female employees exemplifies what they say has been a sexist, toxic culture at Canada's national police force.

The document is now being submitted as evidence by women filing claims for compensation under a RCMP harassment and discrimination class-action settled last year.

CBC News obtained a copy of the one-page "Hurt Feelings Report" left in the mailboxes of a handful of women at the RCMP a few years ago.

Using graphic language, the report asks recipients to fill out the name of the "little sissy" filing the report, as well as identify whether they are "thin skinned," a "pussy," "queer," a "cry baby" or "all of the above."

"It's disgusting. Whether it was five years ago or it's five years in the future or it's now, there is no place for this in the workforce," said Linda Gillis Davidson, one of the two representative plaintiffs who first brought the class-action lawsuit. She did so on behalf of all women on the force dating back to 1974, when the force first began accepting female police officers.

Gillis Davidson retired after 29 years, having risen to the rank of inspector serving in border enforcement, human resources and protective detail for the Prime Minister.

She said she felt "queasy" when CBC showed her the document, which she'd never seen until this week.

"I don't think it's funny and I don't think it's a joke. I don't think it should ever have been written by anyone male or female," she said.

Viewed as threat

Class-action lawyer Megan McPhee told CBC she has heard from women on the force in different provinces who received the memo during their careers. They felt it was a veiled threat from male colleagues, mocking them for speaking out.

This unofficial memo was sent to a female RCMP employee after she complained about harassment in the workplace.

"One claimant had indicated that she had experienced harassment over some time and upon sticking up for herself and resisting the harassment, she was provided with a Hurt Feelings Report," McPhee said.  

"It's one of the things that we're hoping is going to stop and will change at the RCMP."

The RCMP declined to answer questions about the Hurt Feelings Report or whether anyone on the force has ever been investigated or reprimanded for distributing it.

In a formal apology on behalf of the force in October 2016, then-Commissioner Bob Paulson conceded the RCMP's work culture was horrible for some women. The apology was part of an agreement to settle two class-action suits over gender discrimination and sexual harassment

"Instead of succeeding and thriving in a supportive and inclusive workplace, many women have suffered careers scarred by gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment," Paulson said.

Since then, the RCMP said it has launched a number of initiatives, hired more women and set up advisory bodies nationally — and at divisions across the country — on issues of "gender, sexual orientation, harassment, equity and inclusivity."

CBC asked specifically what kind of anti-sexual harassment training the RCMP had undertaken. In an emailed statement, RCMP spokesperson Harold Pfleiderer said that since 2013, more than 37,000 RCMP employees have completed an online "Respectful Workplace" training course.

In addition, the RCMP has delivered a course on workplace violence to 29,000 civilian and uniformed staff.

The RCMP said the training is typically done only once, but that it is working to "strengthen" its anti-harassment training at the RCMP Academy and in ongoing courses offered to existing employees.

Dubious training

Janet Merlo, the second plaintiff involved in the class-action suits, told CBC that before she left the force in 2010, staff seldom took mandatory training seriously.

RCMP were called to the collision scene at about 12:45 p.m. Thursday. (CBC)

She recounted times when a single low-ranking member of her detachment would be assigned to falsely complete computer-based training on behalf of the entire detachment.

"They'd pull in the new recruit off the road, whoever was the most junior person on the shift, and take them in for the night and make them take the course times 10, or times 12, and plug in different names," Merlo said.

"So everyone would get credit for having the course completed, but no one would have done it other than the junior person who was 'voluntold' to do it during the night."

Gillis Davidson shares Merlo's skepticism. Gillis Davidson has been fielding many calls this month from serving RCMP members across the country who are considering filing compensation claims before the Feb. 8 deadline. In her conversations, she said she's learning of ongoing cases of abuse and discrimination.

"There's actually been one physical assault that has taken place that I have heard about," Gillis Davidson said. "There is one complaint I just received from a young lady who is coming back off of maternity leave and told by her supervisor she has to repay the time."​

Send tips on this story to dave.seglins@cbc.ca or rachel.houlihan@cbc.ca.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said that the RCMP did not respond to a question from CBC about how many of its uniformed and civilian staff members have had anti-sexual harassment training in recent years, and whether such a program even exists. The RCMP did, in fact, answer the question in ​an email​, but it was in a part of the email that the CBC reporter didn’t initially see. The RCMP responded to the question by saying it had provided a “Respectful Workplace” online training course to 37,000 employees and an additional ​workplace ​violence course to 29,000 civilian and uniformed staff. These details are now reflected in the story.
    Feb 01, 2018 9:33 AM ET