For decades, women and LGBTQ community members working for the RCMP have faced a toxic culture, shocking and brutal violence, and sexual assaults and harassment, said a newly released independent report.
And despite facing a class action lawsuit lawsuit that led to the compensation of more than 2,000 women, the culture at the RCMP continues to promote, or at the very least tolerate, “misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes” at all levels and in all provinces, former Supreme Court justice Michael Bastarache wrote in the report Broken Dreams, Broken Lives published Thursday.
Bastarache was the independent assessor who oversaw providing compensation as part of the Merlo Davidson lawsuit.
His team assessed more than 3,000 claims, including 130 that involved penetrative sexual assaults, and conducted 644 interviews that revealed the extent of the problems within Canada’s largest police force up to 2017. The government has paid out $137.5 million.
“This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon,” Bastarache wrote.
“Bright, well-educated women said that they joined the RCMP seeking to help others, sometimes because they themselves had needed help as a young person. They told the assessors of the brutal treatment they experienced which ground them down, broke their confidence, and shattered their trust in their fellow officers. The full tragedy and suffering of what the RCMP’s failure to provide a safe workplace has done to these women is overwhelming.”
Some members of the LGBTQ community were ostracized, outed without their consent and subjected to sexual assaults and disapproving comments, the report said. Many of the women interviewed had been diagnosed with psychological injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, self-harm and substance dependence.
“Self-blame is common, even after blatant sexual assaults,” the report said. “We heard stories of women who sat with their service revolvers in their mouths and were only stopped from killing themselves when they thought of their children or their pets.
“One claimant committed suicide during the claims process.”
The RCMP has had 30 years to fix the problem, facing repeated litigation and reports, but has not succeeded, Bastarache said. Change won’t happen without external pressure. He is calling for an in-depth, independent review of the entire organization.
Bastarache made more than 50 recommendations addressing systemic barriers in recruitment, training and promotions. He called for an independent body for RCMP employees to report sexual harassment or misconduct, and more support for mental health.
“The RCMP must address the problem of reprisals for making harassment complaints,” the report said. “The isolation of complainants, refusals to provide them with backup, and other forms of punishment such as the refusal of training or transfers must be eliminated.”
In response to the report, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said that while she supports the recommendations, the police force is already on the right track and an immediate external review isn’t necessary. However, if officials think otherwise, Lucki said the RCMP welcomes any additional oversight.
“There is no place in my organization for discrimination, sexual assault, harassment, bullying, racism, homophobia, transphobia. It will not be tolerated,” said RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki at a news conference following the release of the report. “We have made significant changes under my command. Many of the recommendations (in the report) we’ve already completed. It validates some of our actions and motivates us to do better.”
Lucki said she herself has experienced discrimination in her career and the RCMP has to do better. She pointed to her work to create more gender parity and diversity at leadership levels and within the ranks, and bring advocacy groups in to help with officer training in how to meet the needs of vulnerable people.
“While I cannot fix the past, I can definitely make a different future for the women in my organizations and those who seek to join it. You have my personal commitment to do everything in my power to make sure you’re safe,” Lucki said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters he hired Lucki with the explicit and clear mandate to change the culture of the RCMP, and supports making reforms.
“If an organization cannot keep its own members safe from harassment and discrimination, how can Canadians have confidence they can keep them safe as they enforce the law?” Trudeau said. “There is a need for a lot of work moving forward to improve the RCMP and that’s exactly what we will continue to focus on.”
With files from the Canadian Press.