New RCMP commissioner is asked how 'a lady' can 'tell the guys to behave'

New RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki addressed the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security on Monday, three weeks after officially taking over the top job.

Government has directed Brenda Lucki to modernize and reform the RCMP's culture

New RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki appears at a House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It didn't take long for new RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to come up against an awkward question regarding her gender.

Just a few minutes into her appearance before the Commons standing committee on public safety and national security today, a Liberal member of Parliament asked how Lucki — a "lady" — would be able to keep the men in line.

"It's a traditional institution," said Montarville MP Michel Picard. "So I would like to hear you about — allow me to say it that way — how will a lady tell the guys how to behave?"

"We do it all the time. It's part of our makeup. Ask my husband," Lucki responded.

Picard later walked back the question, saying he phrased it poorly.

"All women in the RCMP should command respect, especially the new commissioner," he tweeted.

Outside the committee room, Lucki let the question roll off her back.

"I've been called worse," she told reporters. "The fact that we have to identify me by my gender means that we still have some work to do. But I'm OK with it. I'm ready for the work.

"When people refer to me as the first female commissioner, it just tells me that we still have work to do because we don't often hear that the 23rd commissioner was male."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who oversees the RCMP, was quick to defend Lucki's credentials.

"She happened to be a woman but she was also the best person for the job and that was the deciding factor," he said.

After 32 years of policing, the committee appearance marked Lucki's introduction to the Ottawa circus.

Less than a month into her new job, Lucki is slowly stepping into the limelight and answering questions about what the future of the force looks like under her leadership.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale introduces New RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Her committee appearance came the same day Goodale's mandate letter to Lucki was posted online — a first for the 145-year-old institution.

In it, Goodale directs Lucki to modernize and reform the RCMP's culture, protect employees from harassment and workplace violence, and foster reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

"The RCMP must be a modern organization that reflects Canadian values and culture, and has the trust, confidence and the enthusiastic support of the people they serve," Goodale wrote.

Harassment won't be tolerated: Lucki

During her opening statement to the committee, Lucki reflected those priorities back, promising to tackle harassment within her ranks.

"I cannot and I will not accept this kind of behaviour and (I'll) do everything in my power to address it," she said. 

"We can say all we want about harassment but we need to demonstrate that behaviour and it comes from the top. If you permit something, then you're promoting it. So we have to show that we don't permit those behaviours."

She didn't offer specifics on how she would root out harassment.

Lucki is inheriting a force scarred by allegations of harassment, bullying and racial bias.

The last person to hold the job, Bob Paulson, delivered a historic apology to female officers and civilian members who were subjected to discrimination and harassment.

One of Lucki's policy priorities is to boost the force's diversity, in part through gender parity. During her testimony, she left the door open to introducing quotas.

"If for some reason we aren't getting the diversity then we need to actually, if we had to, we have to look at quotas. We need to reflect the  society that we are policing." she said.

But Lucki — whose last job was managing the RCMP's training academy in Saskatchewan — said she thinks the force is on the right path.

"Often if you watch the troops marching around the parade square they are very diverse and there's a lot of different makes and models of Mounties out there," she said.

For about an hour, Lucki fielded questions from members on a broad range of topics — mental health treatment, rural crime, labour negotiations, the force's relationship with Indigenous communities and the incoming marijuana law.

At a news conference, she was also asked about the possibility of implementing a civilian board of management for the force. It was the central recommendation of a 2007 report from a task force on governance and cultural change in the RCMP and is often cited as a way to bolster public accountability.

"It is something we definitely have to look at," she said, adding she's not sure if it would be the right fit for the organization.

​Lucki was selected earlier this year by a nine-person panel headed by former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna. She served previously at divisions in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, worked with the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia and trained police units for the UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti.

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