Bob Paulson said Wednesday he is proud and privileged to be named the new RCMP commissioner as he pledged to help transform the police force, and deal with claims of harassment and bullying.
Paulson, 52, was promoted from deputy commissioner of federal policing to the top job at the RCMP Wednesday morning following a 25-year career with the force.
Paulson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews both acknowledged that changes need to be made at the RCMP to restore morale within the force and trust with Canadians.
"I recognize that I have a lot of work to do, a lot of work ahead as we continue to transform the RCMP," Paulson told reporters on Parliament Hill soon after Toews introduced him. "Accountability and leadership will be areas of focus for me and my team as we go forward."
Paulson said that his first order of business is to deal with the recent allegations of sexual harassment within the force and he and Toews announced they have agreed to ask the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP to investigate.
"These allegations do not represent the force that I joined and this condition cannot stand. I will sort this out in a way that Canadians can have trust and faith in the RCMP and just as importantly, that employees of the RCMP can thrive in a healthy, productive and harassment-free environment," said Paulson.
He said the behaviours of RCMP officers are mostly exemplary, but that if there is a higher level of leadership, accountability and productivity, then the culture within the force will improve.
Calling the RCMP a "key Canadian institution," Toews said Paulson embodies its values of integrity, justice and heroism.
"Mr. Paulson embodies these ideals and will stand at the centre of a continuing renewal of the RCMP, ensuring that the force is a world class policing organization," the public safety minister said. "His leadership skills, experience in policing knowledge, will be instrumental in helping him successfully manage an organization as large, complex and diverse as the RCMP." Toews said the national police force has pursued an ambitious course of change in recent years and that Paulson will have to continue to navigate that change.
"One of the many things that makes this commissioner the right person for the job is that he recognizes that change is necessary," said Toews, the minister responsible for the RCMP.
Allegations of bullying
The new commissioner was also asked about allegations of bullying.
Robert Fowler, the former Canadian diplomat who was held hostage in Niger by al-Qaeda, has said in recent interviews to promote his book about his ordeal that his wife was bullied by senior RCMP officers while he was in captivity.
Fowler says that during a meeting with his wife, a senior RCMP officer said "not one red cent will be paid for the release of these high mucky mucks."
Paulson was asked if he knew who that officer was and whether the comment was appropriate. "As for whether I know who that person is, I'm going to be cute and say no, because I think he's talking about me and I didn't say that," the commissioner said.
Paulson said if those comments were made by someone, they would qualify as bullying. He said the RCMP worked shoulder to shoulder with the Department of Foreign Affairs to help get Fowler released. He also said the meeting he had with Fowler's wife was documented as a "very professional, cordial and respectful engagement."
Fowler's wife, Mary Fowler, said she stands by her husband's account of her meeting.
"I was deeply offended by Mr. Paulson's remarks in the meeting at DFAIT in February 2009 when he referred to Bob and Louis as muckity-mucks," she told CBC News on Wednesday.
"If the comments attributed to [Paulson] today have been correctly reported, he has offended me again. My husband's account of this meeting as written in his book is accurate."
New commissioner replaces civilian head
An official swearing-in ceremony for Paulson will take place at a later date.
He replaces William Elliott, the first civilian to lead the RCMP. Elliott announced nine months ago he was stepping down to try something new. He begins a new job with Interpol at the United Nations on Monday.
Paulson has a long history with the RCMP. He joined the force 25 years ago, and before that served with the Canadian Forces. He spent most of his policing career in British Columbia and now works at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.
Do you have confidence in the RCMP? Take our survey.
Paulson is widely regarded as an excellent major crimes investigator and biker gang expert who is popular with frontline officers. He is viewed as someone who respects and rewards hard work, and as someone who gets things done without getting mired in internal or external politics.
Paulson is not a stranger, however, to Parliament Hill. He has testified before several parliamentary committees, including one in 2008 that was investigating then Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's careless handling of sensitive documents.
He came to Ottawa in 2005 and was promoted to the rank of assistant commissioner and oversaw national security criminal investigations, as well as contract and aboriginal policing. In November 2010, Paulson benefited from disharmony in the upper echelons of the RCMP when Elliott turfed Raf Souccar as deputy commissioner overseeing federal policing and hand-picked Paulson to take his place.
On top of the sexual harassment allegations, Paulson will also have to oversee a growing rift over the possible unionization of the force, deal with calls for a more transparent and accountable internal disciplinary system, and recruitment challenges.
The official Opposition NDP welcomed the announcement of Paulson's appointment.
"He has great challenges in front of him and we wish him luck," the NDP's interim leader, Nycole Turmel said. "He has our full support," she added, referring to his pledge to investigate the sexual harassment claims.