OTTAWA – The male-dominated, paramilitary culture within the RCMP helped create an environment within the force in which sexual harassment became a conceivable and not-uncommon occurrence, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in an exclusive interview Sunday.
“I think we’ve struggled,” he said during an appearance on the Global News program The West Block with Tom Clark. “We haven’t kept up-to-date with society, and it’s caught up to us.”
As Paulson was taking the reins of the Mounties almost one year ago, a sexual harassment scandal within the national police force began unfolding, adding fuel to the fire that was already beating up the force’s reputation.
The stream of allegations from female officers, including one class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of about 200 current and former officers, has troubled Paulson and the RCMP for much of his first year as commissioner.
Handling the issue has proved to be one of his top challenges, he said.
“I think that has been the biggest challenge … trying to bring change to the organization while reacting to a number of things that have come upon us,” he said.
The concern with harassment in the force runs deeper than sexual harassment, Paulson said, noting that cases of sexual harassment account for only about three per cent of all harassment cases.
“So while any sexual harassment case is unacceptable, the problem is the harassment issue, the respectful workplace issue,” he said.
Compounding that problem is the fact that many female Mounties fear reporting allegations of sexual harassment and bullying on the job, primarily because they lack confidence the accusations will be taken seriously and worry that complaints could result in negative consequences to their career, an internal RCMP report recently found.
The conclusion of that report didn’t come as a surprise to Paulson.
It can often be very difficult for people who find themselves in a “workplace that is toxic or bully-prone” to raise issues with their bosses, he said.
“That’s why I’ve engaged on this,” he said. “I’ve taken on this engagement of every employee, trying to make sure that the people understand that the systems that we have in place are available to everyone.”
Paulson says the bad apples in the force are a minority. But since they exist, the situation must be dealt with.
Part of his response comes in the form of legislation he helped persuade the government to introduce.
The proposed legislation, introduced last June, would update RCMP accountability laws which in turn would enable Paulson to more easily discharge officers causing problems.
The bill would streamline the complaint process for sexual harassment allegations involving an RCMP officer and form an independent civilian complaints commission, among other measures.
Another part of his response includes moving the force away from “the negative aspects of a paramilitary organization.”
Paulson’s confidence in the members of his force is unwavering. But in order for the RCMP to thrive and benefit from Canadians’ trust, the relationships between different levels in the force need to be nurtured, he said.
“The young men and women that deliver policing services on behalf of the RCMP to Canadians … are very capable. They’re very smart,” he said. “And they need to be able to reach into management and share ideas.”
For example, changing costs of policing are proving to be another challenge to the force, requiring officers to adapt and change the way they deliver their policing services, Paulson said.
“We’re only going to get (the change) if our frontline men and women feel absolutely empowered to participate in the idea,” he said.
The focus on the RCMP’s operations will, Paulson predicts, help strengthen the force’s reputation among Canadians – a reputation that was taking hits even before the sexual harassment scandal started making headlines.
“The RCMP is Canada’s national police force and it is very important to Canadians. So it’s always under incredible scrutiny,” he said.
And that is why Canadians expect a lot from their Mounties.
“Canadians only want to hear a couple of things from us – who we caught lately and how much safer it is out there,” he said. “And if we do that and we do it consistently, then the reputation is safe.”
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