'It shook me': Report details 'toxic' and hateful culture within RCMP
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The federal government and RCMP have admitted that “a lot of work” is needed to address the systemic problems within Canada’s national police force, after a scathing new report details a “toxic” culture and tolerance of misogyny, racism, and homophobia amongst its members and leaders.
These findings were part of a report prepared by an independent assessor, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache, in relation to the implementation of the Merlo Davidson settlement agreement.
He is calling for external help and an independent study of all aspects of the RCMP to identify and remove the systemic barriers that are preventing women from succeeding within the force, as well as an in-depth examination of the future of the RCMP as a federal policing organization.
Bastarache said the RCMP has had years to fix these issues and said he has strong reasons to doubt the force's capacity to make the changes needed under the current organizational structure.
“What I learned in reviewing claims and speaking to claimants has led me to conclude that the RCMP has a toxic culture which has proved intractable to change despite numerous reports and substantial litigation costs. This culture promotes, or at the very least tolerates, misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes among many members of the RCMP. Such attitudes cause harm and are inconsistent with the Charter values of equality. They must not be allowed to persist,” he writes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the report on Thursday, saying that when his government appointed RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, she was tasked specifically with changing the culture inside the police force, saying “for far too long,” people showed up to work in a place they did not feel safe.
“If an organization cannot keep its own members safe from harassment and discrimination, how can Canadians have confidence in them, to keep them safe as they enforce the law? There is a need for a lot of work, moving forward to improve and reform the RCMP,” Trudeau said.
As part of that class action lawsuit related to sexual harassment of women within the RCMP, 2,304 women received compensation out of a total of 3086 claims. The government has paid out $137.4 million as part of this process, $125.4 million of which went to claimants and the rest in legal fees to the firms that acted as class council.
The report, called “Broken Dreams Broken Lives,” digs into the “devastating effects” of the women who experienced this treatment within their workplace for years. Bastarache has made 52 recommendations for change, including to training, recruitment, job postings, human resources policies and more.
He stated that financial compensation and lawsuits don’t scratch the surface of remedying the top-down “wholesale” change needed across the country.
“Fixing the RCMP and addressing the negative culture that has taken root in it will take an immense effort and will require the good will of its leaders and members. Most of these individuals are invested in the status quo and will not likely want to make the necessary changes to eradicate this toxic culture,” Bastarache said.
RCMP HEAD: 'WE FAILED THEM'
In a statement responding to the report’s findings, the RCMP says it acknowledges the impacts of workplace harassment and the courage of the women who came forward. It also states that the RCMP is committed to making “meaningful, holistic” change. The statement goes on to highlight some of the measures taken and underway, that are meant to get at the harmful culture within its ranks.
During a teleconference, commissioner Lucki—participating in the teleconference from self-isolation, as she is awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test—expressed regret about the findings, saying said that many of these women set the path that she has walked.
“We failed them, because they are women,” Lucki said. She said that the behaviour documented is “not what we are as an organization,” and she found it hard to read, pledging to stamp out hate within her organization.
“I am angry for these women,” she said. “I am so very sorry.”
Facing questions about the impact these findings and the recent questions over Lucki’s acknowledgement of system racism within the RCMP have on the public’s trust in police, the commissioner said the report is putting new wind in her sails to pursue reforms.
However, she wouldn’t say whether she supports the specific call for a wholesale examination of the future of the force, but said if further review is needed she welcomes it.
In advance of Lucki, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair issued a statement saying that: “No one should have to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but we know that this is an everyday reality for many women and LGBTQ2S+ employees in Canada and in the RCMP.”
He called the “systemic patterns of abusive behaviour” in the RCMP as “repulsive and unacceptable.” Blair said he has spoken with Lucki and insisted the behaviour “must end now.”
Addressing reporters later on in the day, Blair said the government is on board with making the required reforms, in response to a question about whether it’s time to rethink the RCMP’s role.
“We are absolutely committed to the reform, and I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks about the direction that reform will take and how we hope to achieve that… It’s such an important undertaking. It has challenged successive governments over several decades. There have been a number of different reports, which are very helpful,” Blair said.
In 2016, then-RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson issued an apology and since the claim process has been underway as Bastarache travelled the country to compile research to inform this report.
'IT SHOOK ME'
The Merlo Davidson settlement is named after plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson, who were among the female officers and employees to report bullying, harassment, and discrimination while working for the RCMP.
In an interview on CTV News Channel, Davidson said that while she’s known and lived the reality inside the RCMP for years, reading the entirety of the report blew her away.
“It shook me. It shook me to my depth to realize what was going on,” she said.
Asked if she thinks Lucki has what it’ll take to turn things around, Davidson said she thinks the commissioner’s heart is “in the right place,” but she’s “struggling to get it done.”
“Bastarache was completely, 100 per cent right: they cannot do it by themselves. There has to be an outside committee or council struck to ensure the changes occur and to be the backbone to making it happen,” she said, suggesting the members should have a say in who takes this task on.
“There's a lot of good individuals, male and female that are doing the frontline work right now, but middle management and management: step it up, be a leader. It's got to change,” Davidson said.
Among the examples of mistreatment raised during this class action process:
- claimants being removed from, or not allowed to go on courses as a form of reprisal for not agreeing to a sexual relationship with a supervisor, or for complaining about harassment;
- accounts of sexual assault and gender-based discrimination arising out of specialized teams such as the undercover team, the tactical teams, the canine unit and the Musical Ride program.
- penetrative sexual assaults, pejorative comments, sexualized comments in the workplace, and LGBTQ members being outed without their consent.
Many of the women who came forward in this process have been diagnosed with serious psychological injuries including depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and anxiety. One claimant died by suicide, while many women have expressed a lack of trust in others, feelings of isolation, a lack of self-esteem, and challenges in personal relationships.
With files from CTV News' Michel Boyer