Politics

Bob Paulson apologizes for 'egregious behaviour,' nudity at RCMP bomb school

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologizes to victims and witnesses of "egregious behaviour" at one of the Mounties' top training facilities. The apology comes in a long-awaited internal report into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.

Report probed complaints of rampant nudity, sexual harassment and bullying at Ottawa explosives training unit

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson asked for an internal review after evidence surfaced of a dysfunctional workplace at the explosives training unit in Ottawa. Two colleagues were reportedly fond of not only posing nude on each other's desks but also allegedly simulated oral sex in the office. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is apologizing to victims and witnesses of "egregious behaviour" at one of the Mounties' top training facilities.

CBC News has learned the force has also removed Chief Supt. Marty Chesser, commanding officer of the force's national headquarters, from his post.

The apology comes in a long-awaited internal report into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct at the explosives training unit at the RCMP's Canadian Police College in Ottawa. 

The RCMP accepts all of the findings and has already drafted a plan on how it intends to implement all 28 recommendations. 

The force has committed to making more than two dozen reforms, including significant changes to how it investigates and disciplines employees, as well as a national initiative to eradicate sexual misconduct in the police agency's workplace.

The review of what happened at the college followed CBC News reports about rampant nudity, allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and other disgraceful conduct at the school for bomb technicians.

At the end of February, Paulson asked assistant commissioner Steve White to lead the review. The results, shared with CBC News, detail a historically dysfunctional workplace where employees felt they couldn't complain about mistreatment without risking retaliation and being labelled "rats."

The review team found a long string of "unacceptable" failures in the leadership of RCMP management, the disciplinary system and human resources practices.

"Specifically, the investigations and processes related to these events were fraught with missed opportunities to effectively deal with misconduct, protect the victims and witnesses and heal the workplace. It is for these reasons that the RCMP commissioner and the RCMP as an organization sincerely apologize to all who were negatively impacted," the report says.

Walked around office naked

Despite two previous investigations into disturbing behaviour at the school, this new inquiry has turned up new allegations, including "bullying, intimidation, harassment and new allegations of unwanted sexual touching."

According to the document, the first complaint was made on April 15, 2014, when one of the explosives instructors spoke to a manager about several instances where Staff Sgt. Bruno Solesme and Marco Calandrini, a civilian member of the RCMP — and also a former Canadian Forces Joint Task Force member — were nude at work during office hours.

The complaint also said Calandrini sent another instructor a photo of his bare buttocks.

White and his team learned that management decided not to immediately suspend Calandrini and Solesme because the complainant had gone on sick leave. That decision had repercussions.

"Their presence during the ongoing investigations served to raise the level of toxicity that existed at the explosives training unit (ETU). Witnesses alleged that they were bullied and intimidated by Staff Sgt. Solesme and Calandrini during this time."

The review team found that during that period in early 2014, the victims and witnesses were also not entirely forthcoming.

"Although they detailed acts of harassment, bullying and nudity, they did not reveal further allegations that would later surface, including allegations of sexual touching (…) due to embarrassment and fear of reprisals or being labelled as 'rats,'" says the report.

Lost pay, but kept jobs

In December 2014, an adjudication board docked Solesme and Calandrini pay of seven and five days, respectively, and ignored a recommendation from commanding officer Chesser that Calandrini receive professional counselling. 

Yet around the same time, the RCMP launched a second investigation after another employee alleged Calandrini had subjected him to unwanted sexual touching.

The review found that during this new inquiry, "several new allegations of misconduct came to light" against Solesme, Calandrini and another instructor. 

"Neither management, nor the commanding officer of national headquarters, ordered expanded or further investigations into these new allegations," reads the report.

As a result of this most recent review, however, all three are now subject to new and ongoing conduct investigations. CBC News has learned the third person is Sgt. Reagan Douglas, who was the RCMP's first female bomb technician.

Despite establishing that Calandrini had inappropriately touched his colleague on three separate occasions and receiving advice from a top human resources manager to fire the instructor, commanding officer Chesser decided to order the forfeiture of 15 days' pay.

That decision was never shared with the victim.

Sergeant returned, victims left

Meanwhile, in August 2015, a merger inside the RCMP meant Solesme returned back to the workplace where he had caused so much grief.

"Canadian Police College senior management did not communicate Staff Sgt. Solesme's return to the victims ahead of time and, when Staff Sgt. Solesme returned unannounced, the victims remaining in the unit immediately left on indefinite leave from the worksite," says the report.

White and his team also found historic allegations of inappropriate behaviour that predate the arrival of Solesme in 2012 and Calandrini in 2008, and caused other victims or witnesses to leave the unit.

"There appears to have been a lack of oversight of this small, specialized unit for several years," says the report before recommending a management review.

Last week, CBC News reported that the RCMP removed Chief Supt. Harold O'Connell from his post as director general of the Canadian Police College. 

The decision to remove Chesser was announced internally Wednesday. According to the transfer notice, his new job will be to co-ordinate the police force's open government initiative.

The force has also launched the process to fire Calandrini.  As for Solesme and Douglas, the review says investigations are ongoing.

Call for transparency

The RCMP has already begun to prioritize disciplinary hearings for all cases of sexual misconduct.  

And this fall, the RCMP says it will roll out a month-long education and awareness campaign that will encourage the reporting of bad behaviour while also addressing the fear of reprisals.

Among the report's other findings and recommendations:

  • Despite asking for and receiving advice from one of the RCMP's top human resources officers to fire Calandrini and Solesme, Chesser never sought to dismiss the two men. White and his team suggest top managers should explain why they decided not to follow that kind of recommendation.

  • The RCMP must immediately engage in a national initiative to eradicate sexual misconduct in the workplace.

  • When an employee is suspended or reassigned following complaints of harassment, they should not be permitted to contact potential witnesses.

  • Management must make the harassment and disciplinary process more transparent to complainants, witnesses and the public.

  • Due to confusion between managers at the college and national headquarters over who was responsible for disciplining instructors, White and his team recommend a review of the existing command structure.

About the Author

Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.