A new discipline regime is on its way to the RCMP as part of its strategy to deal with harassment claims, the force's commissioner told MPs on Tuesday.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson outlined for the public safety committee some of the actions he has taken to deal with harassment claims within the force that were reported by CBC News last fall.
Paulson, the only witness to appear at Tuesday's meeting, was also asked about recent allegations by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny that he refused a meeting with him because of interference by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews's office.
"I certainly have not been muzzled," Paulson said. He said he doesn't need approval to take meetings or issue news releases, but he said the minister's office might be advised about meetings that have been requested with him or given a "heads up" about an issue.
Paulson said the RCMP's independence is "absolutely vital" and "I defend it like a terrier."
There were a number of questions from NDP and Liberal MPs about the RCMP's communications protocol and relationship with the minister's office but Pauslon also gave several details about some of the actions he has taken since he was appointed to the job in November. He said at the time that dealing with harassment complaints was his first priority.
Paulson told MPs that part of his strategy has been to centralize all the harassment complaints under one roof in Ottawa and that has helped ensure that timelines to deal with complaints are being met and that complainants are better informed about progress on their cases.
Paulson also said he has taken action to address the "core behaviours" that give rise to complaints in the first place, including holding meetings with senior RCMP officials where "pointed conversations" were had on leadership and accountability. He also convened a meeting of all commanding officers from across the country and had a "frank discussion" with them about his expectations, he told the committee.
"We recognized that there was opportunities to improve upon how we manage discipline and conduct in the organization so we've taken some steps towards moving to improve that process," Paulson said.
The RCMP is looking at a "revamped conduct regime," Paulson explained, that will place more emphasis on discipline being corrective.
"We're going to be pushing down informal discipline, redefining our discipline scheme and describing it as a conduct regime," he said.
Discipline process is "cumbersome"
The current disciplinary process and the protocol for investigating harassment complaints are "cumbersome" and in "dire need" of an overhaul, the commissioner said.
Paulson said he also met with Status of Women staff and said the RCMP is conducting a gender-audit of the department.
The target to recruit more women into senior roles has also been raised from 30 per cent of the workforce to 35 per cent, he said.
Paulson's appearance at the committee comes a day after the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP called for public submissions for its investigation into the harassment claims.
The commission is conducting a public interest probe into the conduct of RCMP members in handling allegations of harassment within the workplace. It is looking at whether policies were followed, if they are adequate to deal with the allegations and whether investigations were done impartially.
Submissions are being accepted until March 30. The investigation was initiated at Paulson's request.
Paulson told the committee that there are about 90 harassment-related cases that are under review.
Unlike his predecessor William Elliott, a civilian, Paulson has a long history with the RCMP. He joined the force about 25 years ago and spent most of his career in British Columbia before moving to RCMP headquarters in Ottawa in 2005.