Saskatchewan

Potential changes to RCMP structure 'monumental,' says former Mountie

A former Mountie who experienced sexual harassment and bullying is calling potential changes to the structure of the RCMP "monumental."

Spokesperson for federal minister says response to reviews coming 'in near future'

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been dealing with harassment and bullying issues and the class action lawsuits that have followed. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

A former Mountie who experienced sexual harassment and bullying is calling potential changes to the structure of the RCMP "monumental." 

A Globe and Mail story this week said Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale will soon announce structural changes to the RCMP, including a civilian board and a external process to deal with sexual harassment and bullying.

CBC could not confirm the Globe and Mail story, which cites unnamed federal officials.

Sherry Benson-Podolchuk worked as a RCMP officer for 20 years. She trained at depot in Regina and started her career in Tisdale, Sask., where she says she experienced sexual harassment and bullying.

"This is a huge step," Benson-Podolchuk said from Winnipeg.

"It will be the beginning of rebuilding the integrity of the RCMP because having investigators investigate themselves or their friends or their co-workers on serious complaints like sexual harassment, violence and bullying is almost impossible to remain impartial."

Benson-Podlochuk said the culture change at the RCMP should start in training cadets in Regina.

She said she was called demeaning and sexualised names while working in Tisdale. She said at one point the women's washroom at the detachment was booby trapped, which resulted in her suffering a concussion. She also says once a chicken dripping with blood was placed in her gun locker. She said the detachment commander at the time thought it was funny.

Sherry Benson-Podolchuk is a former RCMP officer who experienced harassment in the force. (Sherry Benson-Podolchuk )

Benson-Podlochuk said the potential for a system of independent external reviews of sexual harassment and bullying would have made a big difference in her career.

"I think my 20 years would have been so different. It's been a broken system for a long time," she said. 

Reviews called for changes

In 2017, results of two reports on harassment within the RCMP were released. Both called for for greater civilian oversight in the management of the Force and independent external adjudication of harassment and sexual abuse situations.

Goodale's office sent a statement to CBC in response to the Globe and Mail story. It did not confirm the details but his office said the minister would respond "in the near future" to the these 2017 reports.

Goodale has called publicly for a "new culture" within the force, one free of "workplace harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct."

"Those suffering mental anguish as victims must have access to the help and support they need to heal," he wrote in a blog post this past summer.

Upon taking her role as the new RCMP commissioner, Brenda Lucki said the force would respond in a comprehensive way to the issues raised in the reviews.

And she said she would prioritize making the RCMP "free from bullying, harassment, and sexual violence."

Class-action lawsuits

In 2016, Bob Paulson, then the RCMP commissioner, delivered a historic apology to female officers and civilian members as part of a settlement in two class-action lawsuits.

The settlement covers all women who were harassed while working for the RCMP during and after September 1974.
Each victim is eligible for a payout of between $10,000 and $220,000.

The government expected 1,000 people to submit claims but as of November 2018, more than 3,000 had been received.

In 2018, lawyers for two veteran male RCMP officers filed a $1.1 billion class-action claim in federal court that seeks compensation for thousands of past and present employees for what they claim is widespread "bullying, harassment and intimidation."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 13 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from CBC's Catharine Tunney and Austin Grabish

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