Toxic culture, harassment issues overshadow RCMP commissioner's tenure

With just six weeks left before his retirement as Canada's top cop, the issue of workplace harassment is book-ending the tenure of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

3 independent reports this week link harassment and mental health to RCMP operational effectiveness

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has said he doesn't see the need for civilian governance of the police force to deal with its entrenched workplace harassment problem. (Patrick Doyle/the Toronto Star)

With just six weeks left on the clock before his retirement as Canada's top cop, the issue of workplace harassment is book-ending the tenure of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. 

On Tuesday, Canada's auditor general issued the third report this week slamming the national police force for how it treats its employees. 

"Ultimately, members' poor mental health affects the RCMP's capacity to serve and protect Canadians," wrote Michael Ferguson in his audit on mental health support for employees.

On Monday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) and former auditor general Sheila Fraser independently released reports that tied harassment to reduced effectiveness on the front lines. Both recommended the federal government legislate civilian governance and oversight of the RCMP.

As first reported by CBC News, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale repeated this week that he's "very open" to the idea and would bring it to cabinet for consideration.

"It will obviously take very careful reflection because that is a massive change in the way the institution has operated for over 100 years," he told reporters.

Yet Paulson remains unconvinced. In a scrum with journalists Monday evening, the commissioner said he had yet to see proof there's any connection between the force's harassment problem and its governance.

"It's the linkage between the harassment issue as it's understood today for example and the wholesale governance change of the force.... I'm having trouble making that jump," he said.

Minutes later, the commissioner mentioned, as he did in 2012, that he had been bullied and had also doled it out.

"I have been the victim of harassment and I've probably engaged in activity that people probably didn't appreciate," Paulson told reporters.

Hours later, Paulson doubled down on his skepticism of the CRCC report in particular, saying he felt its conclusions are out of date and "are not, in my view, reflective of current RCMP environment, policies or processes."

Goodale politely disagreed.

"I think there is a linkage. I would take a different view," he said Tuesday.

Legal matters

In a 2012 interview, Paulson told CBC News how he felt his appointment and first year on the job had been shadowed by the issue of harassment. It has been, in many ways, his constant companion. The force has been battered by allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation.

The federal government has bailed the force out of a class-action lawsuit filed by female RCMP employees. And earlier this year, an Ontario Superior Court awarded Sgt. Pete Merrifield $141,000 for "harassment and intentional infliction of mental suffering." The RCMP has appealed, which seems to have further annoyed Goodale.

"I have not had an opportunity to directly discuss this matter with Commissioner Paulson. What I do insist upon is the fairness and integrity of legal procedures. I am not permitted as minister to comment or interfere in those procedures but I would want to ensure complete fairness and integrity in the way legal matters are dealt with," Goodale told reporters Tuesday in the foyer of the House of Commons.

In his report, CRCC chair Ian McPhail made it clear that many in the senior ranks of the RCMP are either ill-equipped or unwilling to commit to fixing the dysfunctional workplace culture, in part because their own careers thrived from it. 

He also blamed the lack of progress on a dizzying array of short-term initiatives to root out harassment that were never adequately monitored or audited for impact. For example, in 2013, Paulson committed to delivering progress reports on a Gender and Respect Action Plan every 180 days, but did so only once.

Gender and diversity champion set to retire

Earlier this year, the RCMP announced yet another initiative to come out of RCMP headquarters is GBA+ (gender-based action plus), which ensure that diversity and inclusion would form part of RCMP decision-making on all polices, programs and operational funding.

Paulson appointed Assistant Commissioner Louise Lafrance to the position and in February, she explained her job to senators serving on the national security and defence committee.

"It is not only gender. It has to do with visible minorities and Aboriginals, everything from sexual orientation to language, etcetera, and ensuring that it is integrated in every policy and everything that we do in training in the RCMP," she said.

Yet naming Lafrance to that unit is, according to CRCC legal counsel Emma Phillips, typical of the under-resourced, half-baked programs she looked at in her report into RCMP harassment.

"She was previously named as the gender and diversity champion. We interviewed her in that role and she had, at that time, no staff. Her mandate was very broad to deal with recruitment, culture, gender, diversity, harassment but she did not have a clearly defined mandate or timeline for her review," Phillips told reporters at a news conference.

"And [Lafrance] had already indicated at that point that she was intending to retire and she has since confirmed that," she added.

This month's update from the RCMP Veteran Women's Council was obtained by CBC News, and describes a recent conference call with Lafrance.

"Lafrance advised that Commissioner Paulson had asked her to form a new section to address harassment and cultural change starting from scratch. Lafrance advised she would form the section, but that she will be retiring by this summer, leaving implementation to someone else."


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