British Columbia

Sheila Fraser's review of RCMP lawsuits shows existing process 'inefficient and bureaucratic'

The women who were the subject of Sheila Fraser's review of four lawsuits launched in British Columbia about harassment and sexual harassment hope the the federal government and the RCMP will apply all of the recommendations and bring about actual change within the police force.

Force is facing 85 civil action claims costing 'hundreds of thousands' every year

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser interviewed Susan Gastaldo, Catherine Galliford, Alice Fox and Atoya Montague for her report after they joined forces to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help in RCMP harassment cases. (CBC)

The women who were the subject of Sheila Fraser's review of four lawsuits launched in British Columbia about harassment and sexual harassment hope the the federal government and the RCMP will apply all of the recommendations and bring about actual change within the police force. 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asked the former Auditor General to conduct the review after the women contacted him in November 2015, asking for help.

They said they had no confidence in the RCMP's internal mechanisms to deal with harassment.

Sheila Fraser agrees.

She says the four cases illustrate the existing grievance process is "inefficient and bureaucratic" and calls for a panel of outside experts — not police — to oversee harassment complaints and measures to prevent reprisals against those who complain of harassment, and also for health services to be "delivered by an independent external party or parties."

Report released

Fraser reviewed how the RCMP handled the sexual harassment cases of Catherine Galliford, Atoya Montague and Susan Gastaldo and the harassment case of Alice Fox. 

Her long-awaited report was released earlier this week, along with the report of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission headed by Ian McPhail. 

Goodale said the government was "strongly committed to whatever action is necessary to help RCMP members, trainees and employees feel safe and respected among their colleagues and supervisors." 

Commissioner Bob Paulson, who started his tenure soon after former B.C. spokesperson Cpl. Catherine Galliford spoke to CBC and brought the issue of harassment to the forefront, said the RCMP cooperated fully in the investigations.

However, he said the RCMP had already made changes based on other reports and recommendations and that cultural change takes time. 

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser reviewed the RCMP's handling of harassment complaints and concludes outside oversight of the process is needed. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

All four women have been off work, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The RCMP settled with Galliford in 2016, four years after she launched her lawsuit. The other three cases are still pending.

Fraser's report says there are currently 85 civil action claims against the RCMP by employees, half of them about harassment. 

She also says "many hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent every year to defend the RCMP against claims by its employees."

Critically, Fraser said the actions of the RCMP thus far have been to protect its image rather than deal with the abuse and the abusers. 

Lack of accountability continues

She also said there has been a trend to lead harassers towards resignation or early retirement and no one has been dismissed for unacceptable behaviour. 

"It lacks the closure that victims need...there has been no accountability...the message is that harassment is not taken seriously by senior management," Fraser said.

She urges the commissioner of the RCMP not to accept resignation or retirement in severe cases. 

Outside oversight needed

Both Fraser and McPhail say more needs to be done and recommend outside expertise to oversee aspects of the RCMP — including harassment resolution, health services and human resources — which are now managed in-house. 

Catherine Galliford says "there is still tremendous lack of trust" and people are scared to complain after seeing what happened to her and others. 

Mediation not litigation

Susan Gastaldo's lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said the women are hopeful the report will lead to settlements and "real and substantive change in the RCMP". 

"The RCMP goes kicking and screaming as far down the litigation process that they can instead of addressing and dealing with the problem."

He points to the Fraser report, which says mediation — not litigation — is the preferred route.

Alice Fox told the CBC she agrees with Fraser that the force needs independent oversight. "We talk about transparency...but this isn't working, let's make the change we need."

"There are so many good members in the police force, they deserve this. I did too but my ship has sailed. I'm in the process of being fired."

Civilian employee Atoya Montague says she is pleased with both reports and is hopeful about the government's commitment, but worries Fraser's report was buried to minimize its reach and impact. 

She also pointed to Fraser's concern that there is no attempt to resolve outstanding lawsuits. "Action is taken to dismiss the victims. This one in particular applies to me as they are proceeding with my discharge later this month."

With files from Natalie Clancy