RCMP draft code of conduct takes aim at harassment

The RCMP's proposed new code of conduct, a set of rules meant to replace the current 25-year-old code, specifically warns members against harassment of the public, or colleagues in the workplace.
Members of the RCMP march during the Calgary Stampede parade on July 5. A proposed new code of conduct has been drafted to address harassment in the ranks and use of force among other things. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The RCMP's proposed new code of conduct, a set of rules meant to replace the current 25-year-old code, specifically warns members against harassment of the public, or colleagues in the workplace.

CBC News has obtained a draft of the proposed code, which outlines rules ranging from the use of force, uniforms and personal appearance, fitness for duty and the admonition for members to refrain from making public statements.

Under the heading "Respect and Courtesy," the proposed code says, "Members [shall] treat the public and colleagues with respect and courtesy and do not engage in acts of discrimination and harassment."

The existing code does not even mention the word harassment, although harassment is part of a separate RCMP policy that echoes Treasury Board policy, according to an FAQ sheet that accompanies the draft code. 

In the past two years the RCMP has been wracked by accusations of sexual harassment, including a lawsuit filed by former RCMP spokesperson Catherine Galliford alleging sexual harassment by four officers and an RCMP-employed doctor.  Galliford's allegations prompted several other women to step forward with similar complaints.

Couldn't fire 'bad apples'

The women’s stories of harassment led to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson complaining that he didn't have the power to fire what he called "bad apples" in the force.

Darryl Davies, who teaches criminal justice at Carleton University in Ottawa, said in an interview that the problem with the current code is that it has never been uniformly enforced.

"I think we have to apply the code, we have to make it work and have credibility, we have to ensure that people will be held accountable and that there will be meaningful sanctions and that it will be enforced for officers as well as constables," he said.

Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, who helped write a Senate report on the RCMP, recommended harassment be identified in any new conduct regulations for the force. He thinks the draft code is "a step in the right direction. But how is it going to be implemented? That comes from the culture."

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Craig MacMillan, the force's professional integrity officer, said in an interview the old code is "very lengthy" and "cumbersome." In the proposed new code, he said, "We're directly indicating that harassment and discrimination are not forms of conduct that are permissible."

A section of the proposed code advises that members "avoid making public statements that could reasonably be interpreted as having an adverse effect upon the morale, conduct, operation or perception of the force."

No public statements

Abe Townsend, a member of the RCMP's staff relations representative program, said he worries the meaning of "force morale" isn't spelled out in the draft code. "When you talk about morale it comes down to individuals' interpretations. It is not clearly defined and it'll have to be clearly defined for our members," he said.

Townsend didn't want to comment extensively on the proposed new rules because he plans consultations with members that might result in changes.

The draft code doesn't just warn against public statements from Mounties that might hurt morale, but also suggests statements be avoided "that could reasonably be considered to represent the views of the force unless expressly authorized."

Davies thinks this section is a prescription not to talk to the media, and points out the sexual harassment issue might have remained buried had women Mounties not told their stories to reporters.

"I think senior management would want to put a lid on anything and certainly this commissioner has an approach that indicates 'nobody talks to the media except me,' and that works against the interests of policing, that works against the interests of the public," he said.

Rob Creasser, a retired Mountie and spokesperson for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, a group that advises members who have grievances against the force, thinks the provision against making public statements might violate the Charter right of freedom of speech.

"The question I would ask: Who determines whether that particular speech by a member contravenes anything in the code of conduct," said Creasser. "Typically it's decided by people at higher levels of rank that may be the subject of those very comments." 

Creasser also thinks RCMP culture has to change so that people of all ranks are held to the same level of accountability. "As long as we have the old boys' or old girls' club kind of running the show, that isn't going to happen and this code of conduct does nothing to change that."

The draft code also has a section, absent from the current code, about use of force, advising that members should use force only when "necessary, proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances." This section may have resulted from the inquiry that found unjustifiable force by the RCMP was used after Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being stunned with a Taser several times at Vancouver airport in 2007. 

The proposed code indicates that failure to abide by the conduct rules can result in "remedial, corrective or formal measures, which can include dismissal."