The RCMP says it’s looking into whether it can automatically fire Mounties accused in multiple sexual harassment cases and stop other alleged perpetrators from retiring early.
The force says it’s also seeking a legal opinion on whether it can fire Mounties found to have committed more than one act of harassment.
Both ideas come out of last winter’s report by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache, who was tasked with assessing claims made through a landmark sexual assault and harassment lawsuit. His scathing final report called for changes to the RCMP’s culture and discipline methods.
“Like the Catholic Church, they just move them to another parish. I have a list [of RCMP officers] who have been found guilty up to 15 times. Those people have been promoted,” he said during testimony in front of the House of Commons public safety and national security committee in November 2020.
He recommended that sanctions for RCMP members caught harassing people in the workplace be made more effective. He said those sanctions should include longer suspensions without pay, demotions, the removal of supervisory responsibilities for extended periods and bans on applying for promotions.
“A second finding of harassment should result in automatic dismissal,” Bastarache said.
Documents filed to the public safety committee and made public last week provide an update on how the RCMP is responding to the report.
In those documents, the RCMP says it already has a system to identify members who have been involved in more than one harassment file. It says it’s seeking a legal opinion on the feasibility of “automatic dismissals.”
“Blanket automatic dismissal would not be enforceable in the current legislative context; however, previous misconduct is clearly an aggravating factor that is considered by the board in dismissal cases,” says one document filed to the committee by the RCMP.
The RCMP said it’s also seeking a legal opinion about its ability to prevent members from retiring prior to the conclusion of a disciplinary process.
‘A huge slap in the face’
Labour lawyer Muneeza Sheikh, a partner at LSCS Law in Toronto, said the force could open itself up to liability if it interferes in an RCMP officer’s due process.
Sheikh also said the RCMP could do a better job of protecting its employees by sending accused officers home on paid or unpaid suspensions while the process plays out.
“It’s an extremely toxic environment when you come forward with your complaint and not only is your complaint not investigated in a timely way, but what happens is you see your perpetrator actually moving up in the ranks,” she said.
“It’s the complete opposite of having your complaint heard. And instead, it’s a huge slap in the face, because not only is the person not disciplined, not terminated, but in fact life goes on for them as normal.”
Sheikh said the RCMP should speed up its investigations of sexual misconduct claims so victims can feel protected and supported at work while the rights of the accused are respected.
“Set in place mechanisms to deal with these things swiftly,” she said.
“I think what we really need to see is a change on the ground level. And that means zero tolerance, sending people home on suspension if there’s allegations raised against them, quickly shuffling reporting structures and ensuring that where there are allegations of a serious nature raised against a senior level employee, other female subordinates are insulated from that person, and they aren’t allowed to continue to harass while the first matter is being dealt with.”
Fabrice de Dongo, a spokesperson for the National Police Federation, says the federation supports the RCMP getting a legal opinion. He said the federation is especially concerned about what would happen to RCMP officers’ pensions in such situations.
He said the union’s goal is to protect a fair process for everyone.
Conduct also being reviewed
A CBC News review of publicly available RCMP conduct board decisions found that the reasons cited for retaining an RCMP officer found to have engaged in sexual misconduct can be quite subjective. Those reasons can include evaluations of on-duty performance, past misconduct allegations or expressions of remorse.
Over the past five years, six Mounties found guilty of discreditable sexual activity by the conduct board have been let go for their actions.
Another 14 RCMP officers have been punished for sexual misconduct while being allowed to stay on; their conduct ranged from non-consensual touching to voyeurism to starting a relationship with a minor.
The RCMP said it will soon hire an external expert to assess its conduct measures.
“The RCMP Code of Conduct has been in place since 2014 and while it has enhanced the conduct and disciplinary processes, there is recognition of the need to make sure processes and sanctions are effective and meet modern expectations,” the RCMP says in the documents filed to committee.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has promised to stamp out sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the ranks.
“It must be stopped and it will not be tolerated. There is absolutely no room for sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, bullying, sexism, racism, homophobia or transphobia in the RCMP,” she said in November, 2020.
“It’s important that people know that it will not be tolerated.”