RCMP culture needs to change to fight harassment, MPs told

The RCMP's grievance process doesn't line up with standard federal government procedures for dealing with harassment and the culture must change in order to fight the problem, MPs heard Tuesday morning.

RCMP representatives appeared as witnesses at the House of Commons status of women committee this morning, providing testimony as part of the MPs' study of sexual harassment issues in federal workplaces.

Sharon Woodburn, the director general of the RCMP's workforce programs and services, and Michael O'Rielly, the director of the RCMP's legislative reform initiative, told MPs that the Treasury Board Secretariat process is set up to resolve problems early and rebuild relationships. The only recourse in the RCMP, however, is a disciplinary process that requires gathering evidence to prove a violation of the code of conduct. It echoes repeated comments by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson that the force needs an updated disciplinary process, something that's up to Parliament to pass.

That legislation, Bill C-42, has made it through committee stage in the House.

"C-42 will definitely help, because it will provide us the opportunity to overcome ... this structural challenge that we have right now," O'Rielly said.

Woodburn said she's confident in the processes that the RCMP are putting in place and that a number of factors will help the culture at the RCMP, including recruiting and retaining more women.

"The critical mass will get us there and I don't know what that number is exactly, but I do know that that would be a room where everyone is comfortable in the meeting and the power imbalance is not necessarily with the man that's the most senior at the table," she said.

"I think we will see, based on everything that we are doing, we will see a more balanced workplace and therefore a more respectful one."

Two representatives of the RCMP's external review committee also testified: chair Catherine Ebbs, and executive director and senior counsel David Paradiso.

The external review committee reviews grievances and appeals of disciplinary measures for the RCMP.

In its 25-year history, Ebbs said, the committee has reviewed 99 harassment cases covering abuse of authority, bullying and on-the-job pranks. But has seen "next to no" sexual harassment cases since Ebbs became the chair seven years ago.

The committee doesn't keep statistics on sexual harassment cases, Paradiso added.

The lack of sexual harassment cases could be because the external review committee deals with appeals, so complaints dealt with at a lower level wouldn't reach them, Ebbs said.

"And of course we know there is a situation where there are some people who feel they have been harassed who don't even make the complaint. I think that's very unfortunate that they think that, and the result is that case will never get to us, obviously," she said.

In an interview with CBC News last week, Paulson said the Mounties' "harassment crisis" had "shadowed" his first year on the job, something which was "appropriately and properly in need of attention."

Over the last year, CBC News has been documenting stories from female Mounties who have detailed accounts of sexual harassment on the job.

A year ago, one of British Columbia's highest-profile Mounties said she's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after years of sexual harassment. Cpl. Catherine Galliford went on sick leave in 2007 and launched a lawsuit against the RCMP last May.

Last spring, it was revealed that RCMP Sgt. Don Ray was demoted and transferred from Edmonton to B.C. after he admitted to having sex with subordinates, drinking with them at work and sexually harassing them over a three-year period.

Paulson said last spring in an open letter that the current discipline system for the RCMP was designed 25 years ago. He also said it's "unsatisfactory" that tax money is used to continue paying people who don't deserve to be on the force.

The first hearing in female Mounties' class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, which alleges systemic harassment and gender-based discrimination, was held in British Columbia's Superior Court last August.

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