Sheila Fraser to advise government on RCMP's handling of harassment complaints

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has appointed former auditor general Sheila Fraser as a special adviser to look at how the RCMP has handled complaints of harassment in the force, CBC News has learned.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale appoints former auditor general as special adviser

Former auditor general Sheila Fraser has been appointed a special adviser to the government to assess how the RCMP has reacted to harassment allegations and how complainants are treated. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has appointed former auditor general Sheila Fraser as a special adviser to look at how the RCMP has handled complaints of harassment in the force, CBC News has learned.

"This is a critical part of my mandate from the prime minister to deal with the harassment issues and the risk of sexual violence and make sure that the RCMP is a safe workplace," said Goodale in an interview with CBC News.

Specifically, Goodale made reference to a letter sent by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, Cpl. Susan Gastaldo, Const. Alice Fox and Atoya Montague, a civilian employee, who said they were suffering from post-traumatic stress after incidents of alleged harassment during their years with the RCMP.

The women have taken legal action against the RCMP and two were facing dismissal from the force.

"We're asking your government to be the one that ends the abuse once and for all," they wrote in the letter to MPs and senators.

Const. Alice Fox is one of four female RCMP employees who have asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop the force from firing them before their lawsuits alleging harassment are heard in court. (CBC)

Also in the letter, the women asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop the RCMP commissioner from firing alleged victims of harassment before their lawsuits are settled in court and to provide equal funding to alleged victims who have sued the RCMP.​

Fox, who claims she was subjected to years of humiliating comments and behaviour from a higher ranking officer, said Fraser's appointment "brings hope."

The constable said she's relieved someone from outside the organization is going to look at their cases. 

"People come forward with their complaints and, you know, nothing is being done. There's a lot to be done to sometimes discredit the victim, which is quite concerning," she said.

"It is 2016. There's absolutely no reason wny we can't work side by side, do great work. If something happens that is unethical, report it without reprisal and you know, move on."

History of harassment 

The RCMP has long struggled to address workplace bullying and harassment inside the force.

Civilian psychologists inside the federal witness protection program alleged they were undermined and harassed by their boss, and complaints about unwanted sexual touching, harassment and bullying were made at the Canadian Police College's explosives training unit.

The chair of the civilian complaints and review commission has long been calling for an independent body to investigate allegations of bullying and harassment inside Canada's national police force. It's a call backed up Chief Supt. Angela Workman-Stark, the senior manager in charge of implementing the RCMP's Gender and Respect Action Plan back in 2013.

Goodale said Fraser will concentrate on the four women's cases because they are of "particular importance," but added he's looking at the other cases of alleged harassment. Former RCMP watchdog Paul Kennedy is reviewing the misconduct at the Canadian Police College explosives training unit in Ottawa.

Goodale said he's open to revising the way the RCMP investigates allegations against its own members, but wouldn't commit to a third-party body taking over investigations.

On Thursday, the RCMP said it welcomes Fraser's appointment.

"The review by Ms. Fraser will provide valuable insight into the process surrounding these and similar lawsuits and litigants. We look forward to her findings and recommendations," Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon, the RCMP's spokeswoman, said in an email.

"The RCMP is committed to providing employees with a safe and respectful work environment, free of harassment and discrimination."

Goodale said he hopes to hear back from Fraser by next spring.

No-nonsense reputation

During her term as auditor general Fraser had a reputation as a tough investigator who wasn't scared to speak truth to power.

She made headlines for suggesting Canada was ill-prepared for a terrorist attack and estimating the Canadian Firearms Registry would cost the government 500 times the original cost.

But she may be best known for helping expose the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

Her office found up to $100 million of the $250 million available in the federal sponsorship program was given to Crown corporations and advertising firms for little or no work.

Fraser's stinging report led to the establishment of the Gomery Commission, which investigated the legal ramifications of the scandal.

"Ms. Fraser, I think, is an excellent choice for this task," said Goodale. "Her reputation for thoroughness and independence and for toughness when toughness is required I think will equip her very, very well to examine this issue and to offer to me and to the government the very best possible advice."