06/18/2013 04:51 EDT | Updated 08/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Senate committee calls for 'zero tolerance' on harassment within RCMP

OTTAWA - The RCMP should amend its code of conduct to explicitly define and prohibit harassment, a Senate committee recommends.

In a newly tabled report, the senators said Tuesday that spelling out the prohibition in direct language would avoid ambiguity.

"Prohibiting harassment in a regulation conveys the seriousness accorded to this issue by the RCMP's senior leadership," said the report of the Senate committee on national security and defence.

Currently the behaviour is dealt with in the code under the umbrella of disgraceful conduct.

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

While there is no concrete statistical proof of a systemic or rampant problem of harassment in the RCMP, even a few cases of harassment can "poison any work environment," said the report.

"In the end, one of the most important issues facing the RCMP is trust. Immediate, meaningful steps must be taken to enhance the public's trust in the force, and bolster members' trust in the disciplinary systems designed to protect them."

In many ways, the report echoed the findings of an earlier study by the independent watchdog over the RCMP.

The Senate committee recommended a zero tolerance policy against harassment within the national police force.

"Sanctions for contraventions of the Code of Conduct must be timely, proportionate, predictable and applied consistently throughout the RCMP regardless of rank and insignia," said the report.

The senators said promotion within the Mounties must take into consideration violations of the code, including past incidents of harassment.

The report noted there have been instances where a member "found to have engaged in repeated instances of sexual misconduct" was transferred to an unsuspecting division. Senators also heard stories of victims of harassment being removed from their units to protect them from recrimination.

"Neither of these scenarios is acceptable because neither addresses the underlying issues effectively."

The committee encouraged leaders to look to the experience of the Canadian military in grappling with similar problems in the recent past.

Legislation awaiting royal assent gives the RCMP commissioner authority to establish a new process for the investigation and resolution of harassment complaints.

The sections of the bill that apply to harassment must be implemented as soon as possible, the Senate committee report said.

It also called on the government to consider creating a position of RCMP ombudsman.