Allegations of sexual touching, bullying investigated at police college run by RCMP

The RCMP is scrambling to contain the fallout from bungled internal investigations into allegations of unwanted sexual touching, bullying and rampant nudity in the workplace at the explosives training unit of the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.

Two former bomb technician instructors face investigations after more complaints from former college staff

Investigating allegations at police college

7 years ago
Duration 2:45
Former RCMP instructors face allegations of bullying and harassment by former staff at Canadian Police College in Ottawa

The RCMP is scrambling to contain the fallout from bungled internal investigations into allegations of unwanted sexual touching, bullying and rampant nudity in the workplace at the explosives training unit of the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.

Top brass have hurriedly ordered new code of conduct investigations and a review of previous inquiries and have suspended two employees with pay after receiving what they say is new information about alleged harassment at the school.

Yet CBC News has spoken to four complainants, all former employees of the RCMP's explosives training unit, who maintain the information is not new at all. The men say they tried to share accounts of other disturbing behaviour at the school in 2014 and 2015, but RCMP investigators didn't want to hear it.

One of the officers suspended Wednesday is RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruno Solesme, who used to be the unit manager. Solesme had already been disciplined for nudity in the workplace, specifically one instance where he was seen lying naked across the desk of a colleague. He was suspended with pay for several months in 2014 before an internal adjudication board formally issued a reprimand and docked him seven days' pay.

The other man suspended this week is a civilian member of the RCMP and a former Canadian Forces Joint Task Force member, Marco Calandrini. He was docked five days' pay for walking around the office stark naked on a regular basis.

The Mounties docked Calandrini another 15 days' pay after the force investigated allegations he had inappropriately touched a former colleague.

Given the nature of the allegations and fear of reprisals, CBC News has agreed to protect the complainants' identities.

One, a former bomb technician and instructor, says he became aware of the new investigation late last week.

"I get this (inspector) guy calling me on Friday and asking the same questions as you, going, 'How come this didn't come out?' Like we're all lying now! It did all come out. Your investigators didn't want to pay notice to it!" said the former instructor.

Like other former staff, he described a poisoned work environment where Solesme played favourites with Calandrini.

'No humour'

Good friends, the two men were reportedly fond of not only posing completely nude on each other's desks in a purported effort to shock each other but also allegedly simulated oral sex in the office.

All four former staff members told CBC about similar instances where Calandrini appeared naked in the corridors or announced he had just shaved his genitals before dumping the contents of his electric razor onto the table they all shared at mealtimes.

"There's no humour to be found doing these kinds of lewd acts in a federal office. We're police officers!" one complainant told CBC News.

Another said he was most affected by how Calandrini was never disciplined when Solesme observed Calandrini allegedly touching the former instructor inappropriately at work.

"Initially I tried to rationalize it. Explain it to minimize it."

A former instructor alleged Solesme tried to bully him into leaving the RCMP by repeatedly dropping retirement papers onto his desk and telling him to fill them out now.

"So, he would walk away and come back a couple of days later and again, throw these retirement papers on my desk. So that happened, I don't know...three, four, five times until I lost it. I told him you better stop doing this because I can't handle it anymore. I'm the one who is going to decide when I'm going to retire, not you."

Another alleged Solesme regularly threatened to not renew his contract at the college and that Calandrini jumped nude and uninvited into a single-person shower stall while he was showering.

CBC News made several attempts to get in touch with Solesme and Calandrini for this story but did not receive responses.

Suspended over nudity

Calandrini and Solesme were first suspended in 2014 after one of the course instructors lodged a complaint before walking out, pledging never to return.

In the three-week lag between the complaint and the start of the investigation, former staff say Calandrini and Solesme tried to talk them out of making statements.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruno Solesme and Marco Calandrini were suspended and docked pay following an initial internal investigation, but the complainants say other allegations were not acted upon. (CBC News)

"That I didn't see anything, hear anything, that they were never naked in the office," one said. "[That] they never did anything wrong and we were basically all liars."

According to those who talked to CBC News about providing sworn statements, the RCMP investigators who conducted the inquiry were narrowly focussed on the complaint about office nudity and some alleged bullying.

"We could only testify on what was specifically alleged. We could not go beyond that. We were told that if we did go (there), it could not be investigated," one former staffer said, before adding, "And that made me angry, but what made me angrier was that they were sitting at home with full pay and benefits."

Solesme and Calandrini were suspended with pay. In the spring of 2015 an adjudication board formally reprimanded Calandrini and Solesme for disgraceful conduct relating to the nudity.

It said Solesme's conduct was meant as a joke but "displayed a lack of professionalism and respect, which is highly inappropriate in today's workplace."

With Solesme suspended, the RCMP searched for a replacement. Ultimately, the Mounties selected Staff Sgt. Ron Matthews for the job. A curious choice, considering he too has been disciplined for disgraceful conduct at work.

In 2011 an RCMP adjudication board reprimanded Matthews for, among other things, downloading and viewing pornography at work and using a laptop in the office to record a striptease video, in which he was seen "exposing his genitals and performing sexual acts."

The appointment was not welcomed by the three complainants who still worked at the office.

One said he experienced a severe emotional crisis over Matthews' behaviour at the unit and walked out.

After his suspension on the first matter, Calandrini was reassigned to the RCMP's Technical and Protective Operations Facility, which eventually amalgamated with the explosives training unit.

Solesme, meanwhile, was assigned administrative duties at the Canadian Police College. But at the end of last summer, he was sprung from his desk job.

The RCMP assigned him right back to the explosives training unit as an instructor.

That caused two of the instructors, demoralized to see their alleged tormentor back in the office, to walk out.

New review ordered

For those who experienced it, the alleged bullying and harassment at the explosives training unit seemed completely at odds with the priority RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson put on addressing allegations of sexual harassment inside the force as well as promised reforms to what was seen as a flabby, slow and ineffective disciplinary system.

Late last week, one of those former instructors wrote to Paulson for an explanation.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel this week ordered new investigations and suspended Solesme and Calandrini. (CBC News)

Paulson passed the file to Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel, who is responsible for the college.

In an interview with CBC News, Henschel said that despite the men's claims RCMP investigators didn't want to hear details outside the scope of the earlier investigation, he is confident after reading interview transcripts the Mounties gave all the men several opportunities to elaborate.

Nevertheless, Henschel said he immediately ordered a review. On Wednesday, he ordered Calandrini and Solesme suspended yet again and launched two new investigations.

"When this came to our attention, we were appalled at what the allegations were. I found it hard to believe that in this day and age that this kind of behaviour would take place in our organization or anywhere else," Henschel said. "It is completely unacceptable behaviour. It's abhorrent. The kind of behaviour that was alleged is completely in opposition to our core values."

Even so, there are considerable doubts the RCMP will get it right this time, especially among those who recall trying to tell their stories two years ago.

"I have no faith in the system, so I'm not expecting anything," said one of the four men.

Send anonymous tips directly to reporter Alison Crawford  using securedrop.cbc.ca. She can also be reached at alison.crawford@cbc.ca.


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