Bullying and harassment still major problems within RCMP, says watchdog

Civilian Review and Complaints Commission says RCMP lacks both will and capacity to address challenges that afflict its workplaces

An armed RCMP officer stands on Parliament Hill, a day after an RCMP incident involving Aaron Driver in Strathroy, Ontario, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

An armed RCMP officer stands on Parliament Hill on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – Bullying and harassment remain serious problems within the RCMP, and only major changes to the way the national police force is run will make a difference, says a national watchdog.

In a report today, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP says the force lacks both the will and the capacity to address the challenges that afflict its workplaces.

The commission urges the federal government to usher in civilian governance or oversight for the paramilitary-style police force.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale ordered the commission report to see if the RCMP had properly acted on commission recommendations made in 2013. At the time, the watchdog said the Mounties must take swift and effective action to reassure both members and the public.

The RCMP introduced new harassment policies and processes in 2014 aimed at promptly dealing with workplace conflict before it escalates.

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The latest report, however, says the vast majority of complaints under the new policies involve allegations that managers abused their authority. These included accusations of abusive language, such as “you’re dirt,” “people here don’t like you” and “nobody wants to work with you.”

Others complained of being berated in public, punitive transfers or having leave arbitrarily denied.

“Organizational dysfunction in the RCMP has been well documented, and the commission’s current investigation confirmed that the problems of workplace bullying and harassment persist,” the report says.

The commission found that while senior leaders in the RCMP have made efforts to prevent harassment – particularly at the divisional level – these initiatives have been limited and ad hoc, and have not received the necessary support from headquarters.

“There has been no effort by national headquarters to monitor their effectiveness, roll out best practices, or institutionalize reform,” the report says.

Incidents of harassment – sometimes extending over months or years – can have serious professional consequences and can cause real emotional and physical harm, the watchdog adds. In turn, this may affect the operational effectiveness of the RCMP.

The most dangerous city in Canada: Grande Prairie

RCMP in Grande Prairie, Alberta. (William Vavrek)

A key problem is that the RCMP’s definition of harassment is unduly narrow, and likely results in valid complaints being dismissed, the commission says. The policies are also overly complex and difficult to comprehend.

In addition, they place “inappropriate emphasis” on the responsibility of the complainant to confront his or her harasser, and on the duty of supervisors and managers to report harassment, the report says.

Unlike other policing organizations, the RCMP primarily appoints uniformed members to senior administrative positions like human resources and labour relations, rather than civilian experts, the report notes.

RELATED: A harassed Mountie prevails

The commission recommends hiring more civilian expertise within the force. But it also calls for basic structural change, such as:

• a model that leaves administrative and financial matters to civilians, and operational issues to RCMP commanders;

• division of responsibility between a civilian commissioner and a uniformed chief of department, like the New York police; or

• a civilian board of management that would provide general direction to the RCMP and enhance public accountability.

“While RCMP senior leadership is not absolved of the responsibility to make more sustained and meaningful efforts to address workplace harassment going forward, lasting change will only come from fundamental reforms to RCMP governance,” the report concludes.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who plans to step down at the end of next month, has grappled with the harassment issues plaguing the force throughout his tenure.

Last October, Paulson delivered an abject apology to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment dating back as long as four decades.

He also announced the settlement of two class-action lawsuits stemming from the harassment allegations that have cast a long shadow over the police force.

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