04/23/2012 06:26 EDT | Updated 06/23/2012 05:12 EDT

RCMP Sexual Harassment Hearings Expansion Tabled By Federal Liberals


OTTAWA - The federal Liberals want to give victims of sexual harassment at the RCMP a public venue to air their grievances.

MP Judy Sgro used the appearance of Commissioner Bob Paulson before the House of Commons committee on the status of women to table a motion that would, if passed, allow for further witnesses and hearings into allegations that have rocked the force.

A decision on whether to proceed was put off until Wednesday.

Sgro said the invitation to speak would be open to all women who believe they've been harassed, not just those taking part in a class-action lawsuit that was filed last month.

"I can say by talking to many, many very committed women in the RCMP, who very much want their careers to continue, but most importantly require changes to be made," she said.

"My intent today, and I hope the intent of our committee, is to help that along by providing an opportunity for some of these individuals. I think it's imperative we provide that opportunity for women in a non-confrontational way to be able to come to the committee and speak to us about some of those issues."

Allegations of widespread sexual harassment within the national police force surfaced last November.

A high-profile, 20-year member, Cpl. Catherine Galliford, ignited the controversy by speaking publicly about her internal allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by former male colleagues.

The complaints sent the force reeling and prompted an investigation by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, which has asked for public input into how the Mounties dealt with the allegations.

The watchdog's probe is examining whether the RCMP followed laws and policies when investigating claims of workplace harassment. It is also considering whether existing force guidelines for dealing with such allegations are adequate.

Paulson outlined and defended to the committee on Monday the steps he's taken to change the culture of the force, which he admits has not kept up with the times and public expectations of equality.

"Our policies and practises are being reviewed so we can establish that sense of fairness," he said.

The RCMP is currently conducting a nation-wide gender-base audit, which will examine policies as they relate to how engaged women are throughout the force and how they affect their advancement.

"We're going to put some science behind that," Paulson testified.

One of the central points under examination is how women are disadvantaged when it comes to promotion and transfer.

The audit builds on an informal review conducted by the RCMP's commanding officer in B.C., who instructed that 400 female members of the force in the province be interviewed in focus groups. Among the recommendations presented to Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens was the development of a reporting system to ensure confidentiality for the complainants.

He also training up 100 officers to investigate internal sexual harassment complaints — something Sgro applauded.

"I'd like to see more of that," she told Paulson. "I do worry that you're saying very sincerely all of the right things, but whether any action will really happen" remains to be seen.

The national audit is expected to be on the commissioner's desk by August.