Almost four months after an independent review found that senior RCMP officials mishandled employee complaints about alleged mole Cameron Ortis, the police force said Wednesday it was working on a “management action plan” in response.
Breaking its silence on the matter, the RCMP confirmed that Alphonse MacNeil had been brought in to review events at the National Intelligence Coordination Centre (NICC), where Ortis was director-general from 2016 to 2019.
Global News revealed Monday the review was ordered after Ortis was charged for allegedly stealing and selling operational police information, including to an as-yet-unnamed foreign entity.
Before submitting his report in May, MacNeil conducted almost 60 interviews, including with current and former senior managers, and looked at “policies and procedures” to determine if they were adequate and management actions were proper, the RCMP said.
“His mandate was to conduct an internal review of how the organization handled formal and informal human resource-related complaints made by employees,” Catherine Fortin, an RCMP spokesperson, told Global News.
“The RCMP is currently developing a management action plan to address Mr. MacNeil’s findings,” Fortin said in a statement.
Asked to elaborate, the RCMP provided a second statement.
“Since receiving Mr. MacNeil’s report, the RCMP has been working with various internal business lines to establish a way forward that is aligned with existing initiatives. This will be finalized with timelines in a Management Action Plan.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was “following up” on the matter. His office said Wednesday that the RCMP was “creating a Management Action Plan to address concerns.”
But neither the RCMP nor Blair’s office would explain exactly what was being done in response to the MacNeil report, which allegedly concluded there had been a failure of leadership at all levels of senior management in dealing with complaints about Ortis.
Three former NICC employees have alleged in a civil action that the RCMP ignored repeated complaints about Ortis’s behaviour for more than two years before his arrest.
Although the RCMP employees said staff began to complain to senior management in January 2017, no proper action was taken. The independent review was not ordered until three months after Ortis was arrested.
A Nova Scotia-based consultant and former RCMP assistant commissioner, MacNeil previously conducted the review of the June 4, 2014 Moncton shootings that left three RCMP officers dead and two wounded.
He submitted his report on the NICC to the deputy commissioner on May 11, 2020.
A redacted version given to employees on June 26 concluded that “a failure in leadership occurred at all levels of senior management in the handling of the concerns and complaints against Mr. Ortis,” the lawsuit alleged.
MacNeil found that “senior management failed to act despite being made aware of Mr. Ortis’s treatment of NICC employees,” it said.
The review also concluded that senior management “sought to avoid the situation, rather than act,” better screening of those occupying leadership positions was needed, and the RCMP’s harassment complaint system “is significantly flawed,” according to the lawsuit.
Further, MacNeil found the RCMP internal grievance system “is broken” and “creates a feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence in the organization,” the employees’ case alleges.
The employees said in their statement of claim that the RCMP deputy commissioner had indicated in August that “he had begun to consider next steps to address the findings of the MacNeil report but offered no specific or projected timeline.”
Prof. Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said the case raised questions about whether Ortis could have been caught earlier.
“I think there’s an issue here for the national security and intelligence community generally that if this harassment had been addressed sooner, would it have been possible to actually catch Cameron Ortis sooner?”
The three civilian employees alleged that Ortis was attempting to sabotage the NICC by bullying and undermining staff so he could “replace them with individuals over whom he had a greater level of personal control.”
Nearly half NICC analysts had left the unit by 2017, according to the lawsuit.
“These individuals had been replaced by new employees who were friendly with or personally indebted or grateful to Mr. Ortis,” the lawsuit claims.
Investigators have told the employees the alleged abusive behaviour was part of Ortis’s scheme, according to the lawsuit, which seeks $1.9 million each in damages from the government for failing to act on their complaints.
“The plaintiffs have been advised by investigators connected with the RCMP’s internal investigation that the RCMP now believes that Mr. Ortis systematically targeted them and attacked their careers as part of his larger plan to misappropriate their work and use it for personal gain,” it said.
The allegations, filed Aug. 27 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, have not been tested in court. Ortis has not yet gone to trial.
The RCMP declined to comment on the lawsuit by its staff, but said “there is no room for harassment in the RCMP.”
Blair’s spokesperson Craig MacBride said that “Canada’s intelligence and security agencies work tirelessly to protect the safety of Canadians, and all employees deserve to be treated with respect.”