POLITICS

Mountie accused of sexual harassment tries to derail disciplinary hearing

11/29/2012 04:53 EST | Updated 01/29/2013 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - A veteran Mountie accused of sexual harassment, drinking in the office and operating a police car under the influence of alcohol has lost his court bid to derail a pending disciplinary hearing against him.

A federal judge says it would be premature to rule on RCMP Sgt. Steve Black's argument that a delay of more than 10 months means the disciplinary hearing must be scrapped.

In his decision, Federal Court Justice James Russell said Black's first avenue of appeal is to the RCMP commissioner.

Details of the case surface amid concerns about harassment within the RCMP and the ability of the national police force to expeditiously deal with serious allegations against its members.

According to documents filed in Federal Court, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team began an investigation in December 2009 into a complaint about Black, a member of the RCMP detachment in Red Deer, Alta. The response team's mandate is to carry out independent probes of serious or sensitive matters arising from the alleged actions of the province's police officers.

In November 2010, following the investigation, a senior RCMP officer was told that Crown counsel had decided no criminal charges would be laid against Black, a Mountie since 1990.

That same month, the RCMP initiated formal discipline proceedings against Black, and directed an adjudication board to hear the matter.

Black stands accused of acting "in a disgraceful manner that brings discredit on the force" during the first eight months of 2009, contrary to RCMP regulations.

It is alleged that Black, officer in charge of the major crimes unit in Red Deer, engaged in "inappropriate, unprofessional and unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" with a female subordinate both within and outside of the workplace.

It's also alleged that Black drank alcohol in the workplace and permitted subordinates to do so, and operated an unmarked police vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

The 24-page notice of the disciplinary hearing cites the allegations against Black as well as potential witnesses and evidence including interview transcripts, expert opinions, photos, notebooks and lab reports, according to court records.

Black denied all of the allegations last April at an initial two-day proceeding before the adjudication board.

At that time, Black presented a preliminary motion questioning whether the board had jurisdiction to take the case given that more than 10 months had elapsed by the time he was served with the notice of a disciplinary hearing.

At issue is whether the delay violated a requirement under the RCMP Act that such notices be served "forthwith."

The board ruled that there was no violation of the requirement, noting the delay was owing to administrative issues — namely that the officer assigned to oversee the matter went on a planned special leave and a subsequent extended medical leave during the period in question.

Black then took his case to Federal Court, arguing the board erred in its decision and that it should be prohibited from proceeding with the disciplinary hearing.

He also said he was appealing directly to the court — rather than asking the RCMP commissioner to review the board's ruling — because it would mean first waiting through a lengthy, costly and potentially embarrassing disciplinary hearing.

This month, Russell dismissed Black's application, saying in his ruling that the commissioner — not the courts — should have first say on the correctness of the board's decision to proceed with a hearing.

There was no immediate word from Black's lawyers as to whether he would appeal the court ruling.

Several female RCMP officers have come forward with complaints of harassment in the last year, and a class-action lawsuit is in the works. Male Mounties have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation.

Currently, any serious disciplinary cases within the RCMP — those requiring more than a reprimand — must be referred to an adjudication board. It often means matters can take up to five years to resolve.

Under proposed new federal legislation, managers would be given more responsibility to deal with day-to-day disciplinary issues.