06/03/2013 17:00 EDT | Updated 08/03/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP chief speaks about sexual harassment in the force

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is a key witness Monday before a Senate committee that is investigating the problem of sexual harassment within the RCMP.

Appointed in 2011, Paulson has said his key priority is to eliminate sexual harassment in the force.

In 2011 the issue came to a head when Catherine Galliford, an RCMP corporal and former spokeswoman for the force in B.C., told CBC News about an internal complaint she filed detailing what she says were years of sexual harassment.

"If I had a dime for every time one of my bosses asked me to sit on his knee, I'd be on a yacht in the Bahamas right now," Galliford told the CBC. She said the trouble began as soon as she left police college in 1991 and continued to the point where she went on sick leave in 2007 due to constant stress.

The government has responded by introducing Bill C-42, legislation that would modernize the RCMP and make it easier to fire members Paulson has termed "bad apples."

Galliford has launched a lawsuit against the RCMP on the ground she suffered post-traumatic stress because of harassment that spanned two decades.

Another woman, Janet Merlo, a 19-year RCMP veteran, filed suit for harassment in 2012, and hundreds of current and former female members have joined her in a class-action lawsuit.

On May 27, the Senate committee heard from Cpl. Peter Merrifield, who testified that five of his supervisors have faced serious complaints of sexual harassment. Merrifield himself is suing the RCMP for harassment and breach of his constitutional rights related to what he calls "retaliation" for seeking a Conservative nomination in Barrie, Ont., in 2005.

The Senate committee on national security and defence conducting the study on sexual harassment was until recently chaired by Senator Pamela Wallin. In May, Wallin withdrew as chair, and left the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent. She is being audited by the private firm Deloitte over travel expense claims totalling more than $300,000.

Senate investigation by RCMP underway

It's possible Paulson will be asked at the committee about an RCMP review currently underway into the expense claims of three other senators — Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb — as well as a payment of $90,000 to cover inappropriate claims given to Duffy by the prime minister's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who has since resigned.

On Monday, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told reporters he cannot say how long it will take to determine if an official criminal investigation is opened into the senators' expenses. "We're still looking into it. We still have to meet with some individuals, look at some documents, before being able to stipulate if we're going to be conducting a criminal investigation or not."

Michaud will be heading a new division announced Monday. "We're creating this new division to bring more focus to these types of investigations, so we've got resources that are solely dedicated to these types of investigations which hopefully will be done in a more timely fashion," he said.