Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are grieving the tragic loss of a former colleague, Krista Carle, who suffered sexual harassment and other abuse in her workplace. Other members are struggling with post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) due to what they have experienced on-the-job, including harassment in all forms, as well as sexual violence.
The red-coated Mountie is an iconic symbol of Canada recognized around the world. The best police and security services in other countries herald the RCMP as exceptionally good at what they do in international, national, provincial, territorial and municipal policing – to keep Canadians safe and to safeguard our rights and freedoms. Canadians take great pride in the work and sacrifices made by RCMP members and their families.
In times of crisis, the skill and courage of the RCMP are critical to Canadians’ well-being.
Just recently – think of those five young officers who stopped the shooting rampage and restored safety in La Loche, Sk. Think of the Mounties who directed the evacuation of thousands of people from Fort McMurray, even as their own homes were burning down. Think of the team that intercepted a violent terrorist in Strathroy, Ontario, on his way to detonate an explosive device and cause havoc. Think of Mayerthorpe and Moncton, and so many more.
Amidst this heroism, service and sacrifice, the Force is also confronting the grim reality of internal workplace harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct. Such behaviour is entirely unacceptable. It must stop. And those suffering mental anguish as victims must have access to the help and support they need to heal.
The RCMP is a far-flung organization of some 30,000 people with 145 years of male-dominated, paramilitary heritage. Changing its culture to ensure modern, inclusive, safe and healthy workplaces is not a single event to be accomplished at one given moment in time; it is a process that must be relentlessly pursued.
The pursuit of reform was one of the core tenets of the mandate letter I issued to the new Commissioner, Brenda Lucki, this spring upon her appointment.
There are five vital elements required to make successful internal reform to the RCMP: Victims need to feel empowered to report abuse when it happens. Investigations must be expeditious, thorough and credible. Meaningful discipline must be meted out to perpetrators. Victims need proper care. And strong, ever-evolving plans need to be in place to prevent further wrong-doing.
The process of cultural change is underway.
New legislation has been enacted to empower RCMP members – for the first time ever – to be represented by a union of their own choosing and to bargain collectively. A number of groups are competing, right now, to win the right to be certified as that union and to install robust grievance procedures.
The Force has issued a formal apology to all victims of sexual abuse within its ranks and a $100-million settlement of class-action lawsuits, involving thousands of plaintiffs, is now being implemented under the watchful eye of former Supreme Court Justice Bastarache.
Two expert reports were commissioned recently by our government on structural and governance issues affecting the RCMP. We’ve made them public. Among other things and consistent with previous analyses, these reports call for greater civilian oversight in the management of the Force, strategic use of civilian talent and expertise, and independent external adjudication of harassment and sexual abuse situations.
Commissioner Lucki and the government are committed to publicly responding to these recommendations before the end of 2018.
In the recruitment and training of new RCMP members, we need to strive toward a Force that is more gender-balanced and more fully reflective of the country’s diversity. Among the complex skill-set required of modern-day police officers is an unfailing sense of respect for co-workers and everyone’s right to function in a safe and healthy working environment.
By the very nature of his/her chosen career, an RCMP officer will be called upon to confront distressing and traumatic situations. Their workplace should not be one of them.
Whenever trauma takes its toll – by whatever cause (including workplace abuse) – the Force must have the ability and capacity to recognize it and ensure that appropriate help and support are provided. That means properly diagnosing PTSIs, eliminating stigmas, making treatment and care readily available, and getting people safe and healthy again.
More extensive research is required, leading to higher calibre knowledge about post-traumatic stress among police officers. To that end, the RCMP is conducting a $10-million longitudinal study of actual on-the-job experience to learn as much as possible about the triggers and consequences of stress injuries.
The last federal budget went further – another $20-million is being invested in PTSI research pertaining to emergency workers of all kinds, plus another $10-million for help and treatment online for those functioning in remote locations. The Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment is a key participant in this work, as are the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
In addition, that last budget also allocated $23-million to fix deficiencies specifically identified by the Auditor-General in the mental health services provided by the RCMP to its members.
The road to cultural change involves all these elements and more. Useful steps have been taken. More will be required to ensure an internal operating environment that is healthy and safe, professional, competent and forthright, gender-balanced, diverse, inclusive and truly respectful.
It won’t be easy. But we owe it to those who have suffered not to relent until that new culture prevails.