RCMP says force is changing after sexual harassment allegations

RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford doesn't regret her decision to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment within the RCMP.

A year after Canada's national police force was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment, some within the RCMP say the force is changing.

Last November, Cpl. Catherine Galliford told CBC News the constant sexual advances and mistreatment she faced while working as the public face of the RCMP in B.C. made her sick.

Her story moved several other Mounties to come forward, eventually prompting a federal investigation, multiple lawsuits and promises from the government to amend the RCMP Act.

One year later, Galliford — who still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia — stands by her decision to go public.

“I didn't ask to become the poster child for harassment in the RCMP. Do I regret it? No, I don't regret it,” Galliford told CBC News through tears.

“I have mixed feelings about it, but I don't regret it because it's changed part of the culture in the RCMP, because some people are able now to come forward and speak about it," Galliford said. "They are not going to be afraid to talk about it, because that's what made me sick.”

As many as 150 women are now hoping to join a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP over alleged gender-based discrimination within the force.

Days after CBC News broke Galliford’s story, the RCMP appointed a new commissioner, Bob Paulson, who promised to rid the force of what he called “bad apples.”

Managers are being told to enforce a zero-tolerance policy, and nearly 100 officers in B.C. are being trained to investigate harassment, with another 55 about to be trained as harassment advisers.

A recent study on sexual harassment within the RCMP in B.C. indicates problems are significantly under-reported because members are still too afraid of reprisal to come forward.

The study, which surveyed 426 members, found female officers believe there is no confidentiality, no consequences for the harassers, and that managers often cover up bad behaviour and punish complainers.

Insp. Carol Bradley, the inspector in charge of a plan to improve respect in the RCMP workplace within B.C.'s E-Division, told CBC News her own experience in the RCMP has been positive — but says there is much to be learned from the report.

“I thought the candid report showed us that employees have some trust in terms of sharing their experiences and also hopeful that the organization will take the information and create concrete initiatives to make our workplaces the best that they can be,” she said.

“We have heard from our employees that reporting is a concern for them. At the same time, many are reporting.”

However, RCMP officials in Ottawa say there are currently only four sexual harassment complaints on file across the country.

The federal government has introduced Bill C-42 — legislation to modernize the RCMP, make the complaint and grievance process faster and in the worst cases, give the commissioner power to fire problem employees whose behaviour is or borders on criminal.

But Bill C-42 has also raised skepticism and fear among Mounties.

Some say they worry by giving managers more power, the people who complain about their bosses will be the ones to get fired.

Some Mounties say the complaint process has to be moved outside the chain of command, or junior ranking members will never complain about their superiors.

Paulsen declined repeated requests for interviews from CBC News.

But Insp. Bradley said the RCMP is making positive changes and complaints made today will be investigated outside the officer's own unit, adding officers will soon have access to a harassment adviser.

“These individuals will be able and will have the authority to bring that issue to the level that it needs to be addressed,” she said.

“If it's a very senior person, they will go outside of that work environment to someone more senior or to someone who would have some kind of authority over that person, so we are addressing that.”

But Galliford said she still hears from other women who say they are victims of sexual harassment but are too afraid to complain because of what happened to her.

“There is no protection for the whistleblower, so if I go to someone in the RCMP and make a complaint about the harassment and the abuse and the way I'm being treated, I'm the whistleblower so it's going to come back on me,” Galliford said.

“And a prime example of that is the way the RCMP responded to my notice of claim.”

In response to Galliford’s lawsuit, the RCMP’s response to civil claim painted her as a problem employee and alcoholic who was never harassed by her male bosses. They denied each and every allegation Galliford made.

Bradley admits it is going to take some time to make all the necessary changes and RCMP management says the passing of Bill C-42 will help.

Paulson recently told a committee the RCMP has received 1,100 harassment complaints in the last seven years but only three per cent of them were about sexual harassment, saying most were about abuse of authority.

Bradley said her work will help regain the trust of the rank and file.

“We’ve heard what they have to say, we're listening, so I'm hoping that with our Respectful Workplace Advisers, with our electronic reporting form, with other initiatives as we identify the right ones moving forward, is people perhaps tentatively at first will reach out and try and that we will respond to their needs,” she said.

“We will start to rebuild trust where we need to rebuild it.”

Galliford, meanwhile, is moving ahead with her lawsuit and concentrating on her health.

“I still struggle with leaving my house, I still struggle with maintaining my relationships,” she said.

“What happened is I lost all of my self-confidence, all of it, and I am slowly gaining it back, but my doctor said it's still going to be a very long journey. I'm going to have PTSD for the rest of my life."