A new report by the RCMP’s watchdog is calling for “swift" changes to how the force responds to allegations of workplace harassment brought by both male and female officers.

The report by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP outlines 11 steps to address workplace harassment complaints and to promote transparency in the investigation of those complaints.

It calls for a more independent process for investigating complaints, strict timelines for responding to accusations, and more training throughout the force on workplace harassment.

The commission examined more than 700 harassment complaints filed between 2005 and 2011, and did not find a systemic problem of sexual harassment within the police force, despite intense publicity about difficulties and grievances.

“The Commission determined that the complaints were for the most part dealt with in accordance with the RCMP’s harassment policy. However, the manner in which the process could be applied in accordance with policy varied widely,” the report said.

As well, it said the simple perception of “systemic poor treatment of employees” is in itself enough to hurt the force and to erode public confidence in its effectiveness.

"The most important task is changing the perception of many employees and segments of the public that the organization is complicit in the problem and as a result incapable of adequately addressing it," Ian McPhail, the interim chair of the commission said in a statement.

Several female Mounties have filed lawsuits in the past year claiming they have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted on the job, including one who is attempting to launch a class-action case in B.C.

The most well-known example involves Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was once a spokeswoman for the RCMP on cases including serial killer Robert Pickton and the 1985 Air India bombing.

Several men have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation.

In an interview with CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said the CPC’s report is a “comprehensive, complete examination of our workplace practices” that will serve as a guide to improving the culture of the police force.

“We have a problem with how we manage power, also understood as perhaps bullying,” Paulson said. “We’ve done a lot of things in this last year to put systems in place, the commission has made some sound recommendations. I look forward to reporting on those recommendations, many of which we’ve already implemented.”

But former Mountie Krista Carle, who sued the RCMP years ago over sexual harassment allegations, said there could be many more officers and employees who never came forward with their tales of abuse at work.

“There’s an awful lot of members that are simply terrified to come forward,” she told CTV’s Power Play Thursday.

“If you speak up about harassment, you’re shunned by your co-workers and you are labelled a troublemaker,” she said.

Paulson said he doesn’t think instances of harassment within the RCMP have been underreported. What’s become clear, he said, is that the force has been dealing with the wider problem of “cultural dysfunction that we’ve all acknowledged…and frankly, we’re improving.”

Paulson said the RCMP will combat that dysfunction by addressing “underlying behaviours” that lead to bullying and harassment.

He said he’s better equipped to tackle the issue because all the commanding officers report directly to him now and RCMP employees are “engaged” in the efforts to make a cultural change.

While each harassment case will be dealt with individually, Paulson said some RCMP members will be disciplined and, “perhaps, in the most protracted and outrageous cases, there will be dismissals.”

However, legislation that would give the RCMP commissioner more power to discipline or fire dishonourable members of the force has yet to pass in the House of Commons.

In its own report, titledGender and Respect, the RCMP listed some of the steps it’s taking toward changing the way it addresses harassment, including:

  • Centralized administration of oversight and administration of cases
  • Increased nationwide harassment training
  • Efforts to meet Treasury Board Secretariat timeline standards of 12 months from receipt of a complaint to determination of whether it is founded.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had called on Paulson last November to deliver a “detailed plan” to him by Dec. 11, 2012, that included specific and measurable goals.

The report was delivered by that deadline, but has been kept under wraps until Thursday.

Toews also directed the RCMP to draft a work plan for recruiting and retaining more women to the force. That plan was also submitted on Dec. 11, but has not yet been released either publicly or to the commission.

With files from The Canadian Press