External body needed to probe RCMP workplace complaints, senior Mountie says

A senior Mountie who was tasked with implementing the RCMP's action plan on gender and respect in the workplace says it is time for an independent body to investigate allegations of bullying and harassment inside Canada's national police force.

Chief superintendent echoes view of 2013 report that called for independent investigations of harassment

Chief Supt. Angela Workman-Stark was the senior manager in charge of implementing the RCMP's Gender and Respect Action Plan back in 2013. She says some of the stories she heard about workplace harassment will mark her forever. (CBC)

There are calls for an independent body to investigate allegations of bullying and harassment inside Canada's national police force in the wake of CBC News reports about misconduct at the RCMP-run Canadian Police College.

The chair of the civilian complaints and review commission recommended three years ago that an outside body carry out a probe. Now, a senior Mountie says she feels it's a necessary step that would rebuild trust.

Chief Supt. Angela Workman-Stark said senior leaders at the RCMP always believe the problems can be fixed internally. But when it comes to persistent allegations inside the national police force about workplace harassment, bullying and intimidation, she said it's time Mounties had a place outside the RCMP to take their grievances.

"No one wants to admit that we may not be able to do this on our own.... But I do think it's probably an important step to allow that mechanism. It's part of the healing process if you will. It's part of moving forward to have some sort of mechanism so people can trust and feel comfortable that their allegations may be adjudicated appropriately," she told CBC News.

She admitted her candid views on the challenge the RCMP faces in changing its culture may well ruffle a few feathers. "Might there be some concern in terms of maybe a couple of the things I've said? Potentially."

Commissioner Bob Paulson told the Commons public safety and national security committee last month that the RCMP's culture must change. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Workman-Stark was the senior manager in charge of implementing the RCMP's Gender and Respect Action Plan back in 2013. She said some of the stories she heard about workplace harassment will stay with her forever. 

"I know there is a concern about actually bringing the allegations forward for fear of reprisals," she said.

That was certainly the case among a group of staff and instructors who taught bomb technicians at the Canadian Police College explosives training unit. They told CBC News they waited years before bringing forth their allegations about rampant nudity, unwanted sexual touching and intimidation at work.

In light of fresh allegations of misconduct, the RCMP has suspended two employees with pay while it conducts a code of conduct investigation. Commissioner Bob Paulson has also launched a review of everything that happened at the explosives training unit, from behaviour and discipline to how managers contributed to a toxic workplace. The inquiry is being overseen by a widely respected independent observer

Focus on culture, Paulson says

Speaking to MPs at a parliamentary committee last week, Paulson didn't shy away from the challenges ahead. "It's the culture of bullying and intimidation and general harassment that I think needs everybody's focus and attention," he said.

Ian McPhail studied that culture in-depth in 2013. The chair of the civilian complaints and review commission for the Mounties issued a report on RCMP workplace harassment and recommended independent investigations of harassment complaints.

Ian McPhail, chair of the civilian complaints and review commission for the RCMP, issued a report on RCMP workplace harassment in 2013 that recommended independent investigations of harassment complaints. (CBC)

"It appeared to us that bringing the issue of internal harassment into the arena of being independently investigated was not revolutionary, but simply the next logical step."

Paulson doesn't agree. While there may be serious, individual cases that would merit independent investigation, overall he said he sees no need for an external body to handle the vast majority of harassment complaints. 

McPhail is eager to see how well the RCMP is dealing with allegations of harassment. He said he asked Paulson for an update four months ago on how the Mounties have implemented his recommendations but never heard back. Last month, the minister of public safety asked the commission to conduct a followup review. 

Unlike his first report, McPhail said next time he'll be blunt about recommending external investigations of workplace harassment complaints.

"We weren't specific … because our sense was that it was up to the commissioner and senior leadership how to implement the recommendation. I believe that in this report we may end up being more prescriptive," McPhail said.


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