Terry Milewski: RCMP report gives voice to harassed Mounties

The recent leak of an internal RCMP report means that voices from inside the Mounties can finally be heard on the culture of harassment and bullying threatening to tear the force apart.

Leaked report offers grim vision of life in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Sad stories about the RCMP have been a staple of Canadian news since the Mounties were bashing the heads of strikers in the '20s and '30s.

But sad stories by the RCMP are much rarer. They're not supposed to talk to outsiders about their problems, and they usually don't.

Not that the outsiders don't tell some hair-raising tales. The barn-burning of 1972. Illegal break-ins. The MacDonald Inquiry. The APEC Inquiry. On and on the list goes: Maher Arar ... the pension fund scandal ... the Braidwood report on the death of Robert Dziekanski.

But, suddenly, the most damaging tales are emerging from inside the ranks — those of desperate voices suggesting that, in the words of David Brown's 2007 scalding report on the pension fiasco, the RCMP's internal culture is, indeed, "horribly broken."

Brown's report now gathers dust with the rest. So perhaps it's inevitable that rank-and-file Mounties are speaking up. Take these comments, for example:

"The attitude is buck up, shut up or get out." 

"If you do report harassment, get ready to receive no support or backup from the RCMP. It's an Old Boys' Club." 

"I am tired of hearing some supervisors laugh at the employees who have reported harassment to the media." 

"I would never report harassment. I have seen what happens to those who have and their lives were made hell by those in management positions who have used their authority to intimidate." 

These depressing — and anonymous — quotes come from an internal RCMP report that was supposed to remain confidential. It looks at one of the RCMP's most active regions — "E" Division in B.C. — but leaked copies are causing raised eyebrows across the country because of the stark picture it paints of routine workplace harassment — and of the despair of those who complain about it, only to see their careers ruined.

'Loss of pride'

The report was filed with the "E" Division brass in April of this year and you can see at once why it was kept quiet.

First spotted two weeks ago by the Globe and Mail's Daniel Leblanc, the report is written in blunt language by the Division's "Diversity Strategist," Simmie Smith.

Smith has an M.B.A, is on the advisory board of Simon Fraser University's management school and, evidently, knows something about how not to manage a workforce.

Smith plunges in head first, in paragraph one, by reporting that most of the 426 Mounties who participated in the study expressed "their continuing loss of pride in being a member of the Force."

Bob Paulson, appointed RCMP commissioner last November, has vowed to rid the Mounties of 'bad apples.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It doesn't get better after that.

Most also said that "there is a serious issue with harassment within the RCMP" and that "harassment complaints go unreported due to the perceived negative potential impacts to complainants." They "felt helpless in trying to address it" because "there are no consequences for the harasser other than having to transfer and/or be promoted ... coming forward was not worth it."

Participants in Smith's review "identified the 'Old Boys' Club' as the underlying problem."

As if that weren't enough, Smith adds, "Many participants shared that they are embarrassed to admit they are a member of the RCMP." 

Smith stresses that the participants are not just talking about sexual harassment, but about bullying of male officers, too — so much so, the report says, that male officers began clamouring for their own report, since this one focused on women.

That focus, of course, was dictated by the bombshell dropped upon the force last November by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who told her astonishing story of unrelenting sexual harassment to the CBC's Natalie Clancy. That extracted from the incoming commissioner, Bob Paulson, a pledge to tackle the problem as a top priority.

Culture of bullying

RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford's allegations of sexual harassment in the force in a November interview with CBC News sparked the Smith report. (CBC)

But, now, a chorus of voices suggests that a culture of bullying and harassment may be so baked into the Mounties' DNA that it will be very hard to uproot. Some more examples from the Smith report:

"I am at high risk being the single female on the unit. My boss makes inappropriate comments but I know better not to say anything. I've talked to my peers about the inappropriate behaviour but was told not to say anything or I would be sidelined." 

"When I come in the office I hear colleagues say, 'here she comes...shhhhhh.'" 

"We wear a bullet-proof vest to protect ourselves from the bad guys out there but really we need to be wearing the vest to protect ourselves from the bad guys inside our own organization." 

And, inevitably, they take their problems home with them:

"After my shift, I go home and yell at my husband and kids. I am left feeling awful but I am so frustrated and have no place to go." 

To fix this, the Smith report recommends that complaints cannot be reviewed by the same officers at which they're directed. Rather, members want "a visibly independent unit outside of the everyday chain of command." Smith also suggests a new reporting system and mandatory training for officers on how to handle these issues.

By all accounts, there's a lot to learn. Still, with luck, this particular story will be written by rank-and-file Mounties themselves — and won't join all the other stories on the shelf.