06/03/2013 04:47 EDT | Updated 08/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Paulson says he's tackling RCMP harassment, but some members 'not on board'

OTTAWA - Canada's top Mountie is fighting back against high-profile claims of harassment within the RCMP, saying some members won't "get on board" with his effort to rid the police force of abusive behaviour.

The force is changing its management style and making real gains, Bob Paulson said Monday before a Senate committee looking into harassment and bullying.

But the RCMP commissioner levelled pointed criticism at members of the force who have publicly aired their complaints.

"We are progressing, honourable senators, believe me. But like any workforce or workplace, we have people who, for one reason or another, will not get on board with the mission of the organization and are looking for easy street," Paulson said.

"I can't be continually defending against outlandish claims that have not been tested or established, but yet are being put forward as though they are gospel and representative of the modern workplace experience of the RCMP, because they are not."

He questioned the point of a recent lawsuit by Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell, who alleges she suffered cruel treatment — including hazing rituals — while a member of the force's famed Musical Ride in the 1980s.

Paulson said he met with O'Farrell before she filed the suit to see what he could do, but she wasn't open to discussion.

"I asked what I, what we, what anyone could do to help her," Paulson said.

"She didn't want our help. She would only hand me her statement of claim ahead of it being filed, while telling me that if these matters about the Musical Ride ever made it into the public it would sure be embarrassing for the RCMP. And she sure was right."

Paulson also took aim at Cpl. Roland Beaulieu, a British Columbia Mountie on stress leave who wanted to testify before the same group of senators. A separate committee is now looking into whether the RCMP tried to muzzle him.

The Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, which represents many regular and civilian Mounties, says the RCMP recently told Beaulieu if he was well enough to go to Ottawa to testify, he should be fit enough to work.

Paulson said Beaulieu, who works with the association as secretary, holds down the position "without any difficulty." He directly accused Beaulieu of seeking money from the RCMP to go away quietly.

"Just last week he sent me a request for $700,000, or alternatively $500,000 tax-free, as he put it, a couple of promotions, some extended pension benefits. In exchange he says he'll leave the force. The implicit message I get from this is: Or else."

Paulson also accused another outspoken Mountie, Cpl. Pete Merrifield, of being upset because the police force "took issue with him running for Parliament."

Liberal Sen. Grant Mitchell expressed disappointment that Paulson would single out members for criticism. "What sort of leadership from the top is that?" he asked.

Paulson said he mentioned some officers by name because "there are people who cannot be reached."

"And I don't want those people to define the problem."

Several RCMP officers have complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public in 2011 with allegations of harassment.

The watchdog that oversees the RCMP said in February the force must take "swift and effective action" on complaints of workplace bullying and harassment to restore the shaken confidence of both members and the public.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP recommended basic changes to the way in which internal grievances about harassment are handled by the Mounties.

It called for a more independent process, strict timelines for responding to accusations and force-wide training.

Paulson said he's implementing modern, leading-edge strategies to ensure a respectful, collegial workplace but also an effective, productive police force.

"Let's face it: some people's ambitions exceed their abilities," he said. "I cannot lead a force that accommodates and seeks to compensate people for those unachieved ambitions.

"Policing is a very tough job. It's very rewarding but it's also very demanding. Frankly, it's not for everyone."

The commissioner said the force works with members suffering from post-traumatic stress to help them through their difficulties.

"But the vast majority of my members and employees are out there every day, every night, all the time, busting their humps at delivering a safe Canada for Canadians because they love the work and they love this country," Paulson said.

"These are the people I'm beholden to. And these are the people that deserve a respectful, supportive and enabling workplace."

Legislation before Parliament would give the RCMP commissioner authority to establish a process for the investigation and resolution of harassment complaints.

The bill introduced last year by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would also arm a revamped public complaints commission with powers to monitor how the force is dealing with harassment.