When Catherine Galliford thinks about what Justin Trudeau’s government has — or hasn’t — done to tackle widespread sexual harassment and bullying within the RCMP, she thinks of the women who still light up her phone with on-the-job stories more horrific than her own.
She also thinks of Krista Carle.
Carle, who had been a longtime friend of Galliford’s since their days at training depot in 1991 and was an outspoken advocate for addressing sexual harassment, took her own life in July 2018. There is no way to know what Carle — a 19-year veteran of the force who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of harassment and sexual assault — was thinking at the end, Galliford told reporters shortly after her death, but comments made by RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki certainly didn’t help.
In May 2018, Lucki pushed back in an interview with the Canadian Press over a question about how she would fix the RCMP’s sexual harassment problems, specifically because she didn’t think the force was necessarily broken.
“People don’t come to work and say they’re going to bully somebody or harass somebody. It’s not that black and white,” she said. “We have to figure out what the root causes are and try to get to that.”
For Carle to hear that after having pushed so hard for reform would have been really difficult, Galliford said. Janet Merlo, one of the lead plaintiffs in the Merlo-Davidson sexual harassment class action, summarized it as a “kick in the teeth.”
Still, amid the outpouring of grief after Carle died, there was a statement from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, saying, “The process of cultural change is underway. … It won’t be easy. But we owe it to those who have suffered not to relent until that new culture prevails.”
Fast forward to now, and Galliford is one of many Mounties still waiting for that process to start.
“If you look at how many reviews have been done and how many reports have been written and how many recommendations have been made … there’s been nothing,” she says.
“The (new) advisory board is another smoke-and-mirrors show, that’s all it is.”
Back in 2015, when Liberal Leader Trudeau named Goodale minister of public safety, he gave him a clear mandate to “take action” to make the RCMP a harassment- and sexual violence-free workplace.
Goodale’s appointment came as the national police force was publicly grappling with the Merlo-Davidson sexual harassment class-action lawsuit, which would be settled for $100 million shortly thereafter.
In 2017, the force’s own Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) released a report calling out the RCMP’s “culture of dysfunction.” It reiterated many of the concerns of prior reports: that promotions are more about who you know than your skill and that, fearing repercussions, Mounties won’t speak up.
The CRCC’s calls for substantial reform were echoed in a second report by former auditor general Sheila Fraser. To this, Goodale released a statement reiterating that both he and Trudeau were committed to “whatever action is necessary” to address harassment.
Two years later, that statement makes Mounties like Galliford and the experts who support them scoff, especially now that the government’s promised solution appears to them to be a civilian advisory board with no teeth (a Ministry of Public Safety spokesperson has said the board will not have the power to make binding decisions).
“This new board is going to be an advisory board only. They’re not going to have any clout,” says Galliford, one of the first women to go public with allegations of sexual harassment against the force in 2011. She settled her own lawsuit against the RCMP in 2016.
“Perpetrators are still going to continue to move forward in their careers and get promoted. No one is being held accountable.”
Emails from Mounties past and present and their supporters have been zinging back and forth this election as they try to snag the attention of MPs and those vying to become MPs.
In one email, a member writes about being “thrilled” to hear Lucki had become the first permanent woman commissioner: “I was hoping you could see through this bulls–t and deal with this mess. Please do something. You can’t ignore this anymore.”
In another, a retired member addressed his concerns “to any of you that care” and signed off with: “Time to get rid of the RCMP.”
So far, the requests seem to be ignored, says Darryl Davies, a criminology professor at Carleton University who is outspoken on the need for reform.
Davies added his own incensed email to the fray earlier this month, demanding Goodale and Trudeau be held to account for “their failure to address this issue and the irreparable damage that they have caused not only to the reputation of our iconic police force but to the members and families of the RCMP who have been so adversely and tragically affected by their deplorable inaction.”
While Davies understands that the general public doesn’t seem to care — the RCMP falling somewhere below health care and climate change on the priority list — he isn’t OK with that, especially considering the criticism levelled at the force during high-profile, volatile situations like the 2014 Moncton shooting.
“If you want to know why you’re not getting quality police service, look no further,” he says.
“You can criticize the RCMP, but how do you expect a force to function effectively if the morale is zero? If they’re fighting their own demons within the organization?”
One of the force’s top priorities is to provide “employees with a safe and respectful work environment, free from harassment,” said a spokesperson in an emailed statement. That spokesperson highlighted mandatory training for employees about harassment and a respectful workplace, as well as training for supervisors “to assist them in the identification of behaviours related to harassment and sexual harassment and how to address them.”
In his email blast and in conversation, Davies goes back to Carle. Her death, he wrote, “is a direct consequence of the government’s lack of action on this issue.”
For Carle’s brother, Kevin Carle, this issue is also about a lack of proper leadership within the force. Being the top Mountie means having “the power and the obligation to do the right thing and to make changes,” says Carle, a retired navy captain.
To him, there is a fundamental difference between being a manager and being a leader. He doesn’t see the commissioner going across Canada directly dealing with Mounties and leading them.
“You can’t just sit in Ottawa and be a bureaucrat,” Carle says, “but that’s what the commissioner of the RCMP has become: a bureaucrat as opposed to a leader of a storied and highly-respected force.”
The force knows it “can be better,” said a spokesperson, and is modernizing in line with the commissioner’s mandate so that the force can “renew, refresh and modernize” before its 150th anniversary in 2023. The civilian advisory board will help with that, the spokesperson said.
No party platforms put forth in this election mention RCMP oversight.
Both the Liberal Party and Conservative Party platforms include promises of additional resources for the RCMP as well as pledges to turn the force’s heritage centre in Regina into a national museum. The Liberals are also promising funds to help Mountie families who need to move for work, a national employment and training support service and affordable housing specifically geared toward veterans and Mounties using emergency shelters.
The Green Party is promising a repeal of legislation that denies pensions to surviving Mountie spouses who married after the age of 60, as well as an overhaul of services for struggling Mounties and army veterans. The NDP is promising to make sure the RCMP is a harassment-free work environment in addition to supporting “innovative models of community policing.”
When asked specifically how each party would address persistent harassment and sexual harassment within the RCMP, their spokespeople had this to say:
- Conservatives: Nothing. The party’s campaign spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
- Greens: “The Green Party would not give up one inch of the rights that women have earned. We would ensure that there are policies and training in place to ensure that the RCMP and other federal institutions are workplaces that are safe and respectful and provide equal opportunity to women.”
- NDP: “New Democrats want to build on the work that is ongoing to reform the culture of the RCMP. We recognize that we will need to work with the RCMP, victims and their families and civilian oversight to make sure that necessary changes take place. We will work towards supporting and providing resources so that these changes can happen…”
When asked specifically why the Liberals felt the advisory board was enough — even though experts have critiqued it, saying actual oversight is required as recommended in many reports in the last 20 years — a spokesperson for the party said the following:
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police plays a central role in keeping Canadians safe, and a healthy work environment is paramount to enabling the RCMP to fulfil its role. The journey to develop a more modern, healthy and inclusive RCMP, trusted by Canadians for policing excellence, is not a quick one — but Liberals are proud of the work accomplished so far and determined to keep moving forward.”
But Galliford is done with nice words.
“One of the things that is extremely apparent for the people that are following this is that the RCMP is very good at putting really nice-looking words on paper,” she says.
“They talk about a respectful work plan and they talk about whatever new thing that they’re putting in place. … But realistically, what the governments of the day have been doing is throwing hush money at the survivors of harassment in the workplace because they don’t want us to come forward with our stories.”
A spokesperson for the force said that settlements are “one way to demonstrate a commitment to making right what we can and move forward.” In cases where those settlements include a signed non-disclosure agreement, she said, that is to “protect the privacy of individuals.”
That’s an issue Dr. Greg Passey, a psychiatrist who has worked with Mounties for two decades, has raised previously in interviews with Global News: the RCMP apologizes and pays victims, yet their settlements often come with non-disclosure agreements, and no information is released about what happens to the harassers.
At the time, a spokesperson said the force “does not have the authority to provide information on specific conduct files to the public and media” due to privacy legislation but that employees are “expected to conduct themselves in a manner that meets the rightfully high expectations of Canadians.”
That reassurance doesn’t work anymore, Galliford says.
“I look at these young new people coming in, and they’re so eager and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I try so hard to encourage them because policing is actually a very good job,” she says.
And yet, she worries that without real, open change, they will become “bitter and cheated” or they will survive the RCMP’s paramilitary system by becoming bullies themselves.
Either way, Galliford says, “I feel sorry for them.”
— With files from The Canadian Press