Canada's auditor general has found the RCMP is not meeting the mental health needs of its officers. Despite introducing a mental health strategy three years ago, Michael Ferguson says it was never fully implemented and top brass starved it of staff and resources.
The findings are included in his independent audit of RCMP mental health support, which found many Mounties remain reluctant to seek help for mental health problems because they're scared of being ridiculed and isolated at work.
"The RCMP is only as strong as its members. If the organization does not effectively manage members' mental health and fulfil its responsibilities to support their return to work, members struggle to carry out their duties, their confidence in the RCMP may be undermined and the RCMP's effectiveness may be reduced," reads the report.
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Ferguson found the RCMP has not consistently implemented its programs and strategies across the country.
For example, last year the Mounties introduced a national early intervention program meant to identify issues affecting employees' wellness and work performance. But after 10 months, "many supervisors did not act when notified that interventions with members were required."
The office of the auditor general also found inconsistencies in how the RCMP determines whether its employees are fit for duty.
"We found that the RCMP lacked clear guidelines to support these interpretations. This lack of clarity created a risk that a member could be assessed as fit for duty in one division, but assessed as unfit in another. Therefore, how fitness of duty is interpreted could have significant consequences for the member's career path," reads the report.
Off sick and ignored
The auditor general also expressed concern for how, in many cases, RCMP supervisors ignored and neglected to support members on sick leave for long periods of time.
"We found that inadequate oversight of cases, poor communication with members and incomplete information in case files prevented the RCMP from providing effective support to members on off-duty sick leave who were receiving mental health services. We also found that supervisors did not always accommodate members' return to work as required," the report says.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ferguson said the RCMP can't even provide an accurate list of people off on sick leave or their contact information.
"Supervisors were supposed to be in regular contact with members who are on off-duty sick leave for mental health issues and they weren't doing that when they were supposed to," he said.
Going forward, the office of the auditor general recommends the RCMP follow and implement its own programs. It also wants the force to track and measure outcomes. The RCMP has agreed with each and every recommendation.
Call for independent review
Tuesday's audit follows two other reports released Monday on the scale of workplace harassment in the RCMP. In their work, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and former auditor general Sheila Fraser both recommended civilian governance and/or oversight of the national police force.
Fraser recommended an external, independent review on the RCMP's health services branch as "it is apparent that significant improvements are needed."
The commission also recommended that uniformed Mounties be removed from non-policing and mostly administrative jobs that could be performed better by professional civilians.
When Ferguson was asked for his thoughts on that recommendation as it pertains to his own audit of the RCMP's mental health support, he said it's clear to him that the Mounties need help.