09/04/2013 05:54 EDT | Updated 11/04/2013 05:12 EST

Give Harassed RCMP Officers Real Change, Not Lip Service

On September 5, 2013 we will be hosting a roundtable in St. John's Newfoundland about issues of harassment in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The event is the third of a series of five roundtables being held across the country, culminating with a national roundtable summit which will produce a report with findings and recommendations.

After a string of reports over 10 years, government legislation Bill C-42, and more recently a report by the Senate Defence Committee providing 14 recommendations for change, our offices continue to receive emails from RCMP staff. The emails provide a grim look into the past, and offer little hope for the future. These are individuals who have either experienced harassment, with no repercussions for the harassers, or are currently being harassed but are having difficulties navigating the cumbersome review and complaints process. They are asking us: "what's actually changed?" and more importantly, "what's next?"

From evidence collected so far, it's clear that there is a disturbing culture of sexual harassment and bullying within the organization. The evidence is underscored by first-hand accounts from RCMP staff, many of whom suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the abuse. We have also yet to see evidence that there have been any significant changes within the organization.

Government legislation, Bill C-42 was construed by the Commissioner and the Government as the solution to problems facing the organization. The Bill included four provisions: the power to fire members; the ability to investigate serious incidents; a public complaints review mechanism; and a reconfigured grievance process. However, each of those deals with problems once they have occurred, none of them proactively address the fundamental problem -- a work culture which enables harassment to occur in the first place.

In fact, Bill C-42 may actually end up making things worse for victims. The Commissioner told the Defence Committee that he needed the legislation to deal with "bad apples"; but, in public testimony before the Committee, he named and shamed three officers who have filed harassment cases. Singling out injured members in that way makes us question: who will senior leadership end up determining to be the "bad apples," the harassed or the harassers?

If C-42 was not the solution, then what is? In answering this question, the Senate defence committee's report considered the experience of the military in the 1990s; best practices from major Canadian municipal police services, and a range of testimony from various RCMP personnel. The report laid out a roadmap for reform, suggesting the creation of an Ombudsman position; recommending re-professionalization through enhanced educational requirements for the officer cadre; and implementing ongoing harassment training throughout all of its curricula.

But there is still more to be done, including: establishing a full independent police commission structure; implementing independent monitoring bodies to supervise cultural transformation; ensuring merit-based promotions; and considering an independent (union-like) police association to represent members throughout the grievance process. Allowing a range of harassment victims to present their cases could also offer first-hand solutions.

The emails we receive are from people at the end of their ropes. Reassurances from Ottawa, they tell us, have little impact on their daily lives and they are looking for real change. Those who have publicly spoken out have been chastised for doing so, but most of victims still love the organization and want to lend a hand fixing it. It is our hope that by allowing victims to be heard from in a formal way, it will help them heal and assist us with coming up with better solutions to the very serious issues still facing the organization.

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