Allegations of bullying, harassment emerge in RCMP's witness protection program

An internal RCMP report about the witness protection unit recommends an immediate investigation into long-standing allegations of bullying and harassment within the group.

Psychologists in RCMP unit say supervisor was rude, abusive and made demeaning and belittling comments

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has acknowledged the Mounties have a bullying problem and has said action is being taken to improve the culture. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

This story has been updated following the release of a statement by the RCMP after publication.

The RCMP is facing more allegations of workplace harassment, this time in the unit that oversees the federal witness protection program at the force's national headquarters in Ottawa.

An internal report about the unit recommends an immediate investigation into long-standing allegations of bullying and harassment.

CBC News obtained the document through the Access to Information Act after learning three female psychologists complained to Assistant Commissioner Todd Shean about the behaviour of the RCMP officer in charge of the unit.

Among the allegations are that over a period of months last year, the superintendent subjected employees to demeaning and belittling comments in front of other staff, that he interfered in people's work, questioned their professional abilities, and contributed to a rude, abusive and poisoned work atmosphere. 

The psychologists worked on the intake and assessment of people who could be eligible for witness protection. One of them has since been seconded to another government department, while another was assigned to prolonged language training.

CBC News cannot identify any of the employees as doing so could put those in the witness protection program at risk.

The RCMP initially refused to answer any questions from CBC News about the program.

In a statement released to the public Friday, after publication of this story, the RCMP said Shean first learned of the alleged harassment in October and ordered a working environment/wellness review in November. CBC had reported the first complaints were made last summer and that the review was initiated in December.

Investigator lacked authority

The report's author made it clear in his report that he did not have the mandate to investigate allegations of harassment. He wrote he had been asked to "assess the level of satisfaction of the employees within their working environment."

Several pertinent sections of the Feb. 23, 2016, report were redacted, such as part of the introductory remarks: "It will confirm that the overall level of satisfaction is good but will also suggest that (redacted)."  

CBC News has been able to fill in most of the holes in the report.

The current working relationship between some individuals has deteriorated to the point where immediate action has to be considered.- RCMP internal report

Among the recommendations in the report, it was suggested Shean initiate, without delay, an investigation into harassment within the unit. Shean was also advised to clarify the roles of staff as it appeared the superintendent of the unit may have been overstepping his authority. 

"The current working relationship between some individuals has deteriorated to the point where immediate action has to be considered," the report says. 

The risk managers team (RMT) was singled out as an area of concern.

"Of the five positions on the organizational chart, only one person does the bulk of the work for assessing clients and risk managing the files.... The time pressure (7 days) for producing a document, combined with the workload being imposed (and travel requirements) on the lone assessor on the RMT side, has a huge impact on the individual. This is not sustainable and puts the program at risk," reads the report.

It also suggests the RCMP make a priority of filling all vacancies on the team, ensure supervisors review the "toolkit for managers on mental health" and that all employees complete "respectful workplace" and "violence prevention in the workplace" training. 

No one from the RCMP would comment on anything that had been redacted from the report or answer specific questions. The report didn't state whether Shean had launched a code of conduct harassment investigation. All the RCMP would say in an email is that over the last year, the witness protection program unit has undergone change and that work is underway to implement an action plan.

In Friday's statement from the RCMP, the force said Shean initiated a harassment investigation on March 16 and that the work is being done by "representatives independent of the witness protection program and federal policing." It also says Shean "engaged labour relations" in October, 2015.

As for the report, the RCMP said, "it was important to gauge employee satisfaction and morale. As part of its due diligence, the RCMP regularly reviews its programs to determine whether current practices remain relevant and effective."

Much has changed with the federal witness protection program since the passage of the Safer Witness Act in 2014. It has been centralized within headquarters and became completely independent from RCMP investigations.

Oversight committee praised psychologists

In its first annual report in April 2015, the witness protection program advisory committee, a civilian group that provides support and oversight, praised many of the changes.

"The committee fully supports this important shift to a psycho-social approach, ie: early assessments, use of psychologists and the implementation of the individual case management model within the program."

Entirely by coincidence, CBC News interviewed Shean about those enhancements to the program on April 7, 2016. CBC News only obtained the wellness report last week.

CBC asked Shean for an interview about the harassment allegations on May 16 but he refused. In its statement Friday, the RCMP wrongly accuses CBC of not offering Shean the opportunity to give his side of the story.

In February, while appearing before a committee of MPs, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was asked about another case of bullying, harassment and bad behaviour at the Canadian Police College, which is run by the Mounties.

"Yeah, we had a bullying problem, there is no question about that, and we are working on that, and recent events notwithstanding, I am here to tell you we are doing better at it," he said.


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