Toews demands RCMP form gender bias action plan

The RCMP has been ordered by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to quickly rework a plan to address gender bias in the force.

In a letter obtained by CBC News, Toews is demanding that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson rewrite a report addressing gender inequality in the force.

Toews expresses frustration that he did not receive an action plan from Paulson that "we (you and I, the RCMP and the Government) could present to Canadians." Instead, Toews only received an analysis of the existing situation within the force.

Paulson's original report on the state of women within the force did not surprise Toews.

"In many ways the analysis confirmed issues that we have all known to exist within the force," he wrote, noting "troubling issues" like how since 2008-09 the number of female cadets at the RCMP training depot has dropped by 52 per cent.

Now, Toews calls for a plan with "specific, objectively measurable, milestones" to be sent to him by Dec. 11.

Toews says the RCMP needs to recruit more women, with the goal of having women make up at least 30 per cent of the force. He also wants to see more women promoted within the RCMP's ranks.

Currently, there are about 15,000 male officers and about 4,000 female officers. The majority of the women officers have lower ranks.

Toews also says the RCMP needs to reduce the number of harassment complaints, and address any complaints more quickly.

Late Friday, a spokesman for the RCMP sent CBC News a brief, written statement, saying Commissioner Paulson "understands the minister's letter and the RCMP and the minister are on the same side of this issue."

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told reporters after question period in the House of Commons on Friday that Toews could have done something about this years ago, but chose to neglect the problem.

"I love [that] the minister has suddenly found religion on this thing," Cullen said. "The patterns going on within the RCMP, particularly towards women, have been worrisome and would lead to exactly what's happened, which is women are not applying to be in the force."

Cullen said Paulson can't take full responsibility for a problem he inherited from his predecessors.

"It's a bit hollow," the NDP MP said of Toews' letter. "The government's got to take some ownership for this thing.They helped create the environment that women have found so offensive."

"It obviously means the minister's feeling under some serious pressure that they've not acted on this," said Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett. "I think it's extraordinarily unusual. I've never seen anything like this: this scathing letter with that short a time frame."

"A real plan has to have not only the recruitment issue but also the retention issue," she said. "If women just don't feel safe there and want to go do something else, it's very difficult to maintain any sort of gender balance."

Prof. Linda Duxbury, who has studied workforce issues in the RCMP, warns that harassment issues should not be equated only with gender issues.

"A lot of men within the RCMP would also say they're being harassed, and quite legitimately," she said.

"Quite frankly, a lot of the things I saw from Vic Toews [are] more like quotas. We need to see this number here and that number there," she said.

"If we start doing quotas and we start moving into any kind of appearance that we're favouring women ... you're not going to get the outcome that you want, which is making women feel more comfortable within the work environment and the work climate of the RCMP."

Paulson has often talked about his commitment to end sexual harassment in the force, and to hire and promote more women.

The RCMP appointed Paulson as the new commissioner last November, after allegations of sexual harassment within the force first emerged.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford, the RCMP's former spokeswoman, filed a 115-page internal complaint, which she shared with CBC News. Galliford said she faced constant sexual advances from several senior officers from 1991 until 2007, when she took sick leave.

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.

Galliford's story prompted several other female Mounties to come forward, resulting in a federal investigation and multiple lawsuits against the RCMP. The first hearing in a class-action lawsuit, which alleges systemic harassment and gender-based discrimination, was held in British Columbia's Superior Court in August.

Men have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation.

Paulson recently told a House of Commons committee that sexual harassment complaints comprise about three per cent of the 1,100 harassment grievances filed within the RCMP since 2005. The remainder involve misuse of authority and personal behaviour issues.

After he became commissioner, Paulson said in an open letter to Canadians that he would rid the RCMP of "bad apples."

A year after his appointment, Paulson told CBC News in an interview earlier this month that the Mounties' "harassment crisis" had "shadowed" his first year on the job, something which was "appropriately and properly in need of attention."

"[It's] the culture of harassment, it's the culture of misuse of authority," he said. "That's really where I've been focused on and where many of my commanding officers have been focused."

Toews is demanding Paulson take action on his prior comments to address the gender bias within the force.

The RCMP said Paulson would not be speaking publicly Friday about the letter.

"The time for review and report in relation to this issue has passed," wrote Toews. "Now is the time for action."

Soon after being appointed, Paulson expressed frustration about the bureaucratic hurdles in ridding the force of dark-hearted behaviour.

Currently, any serious cases — those requiring more than a reprimand — must be referred to an adjudication board composed of three senior officers who follow a heavily regulated process. Matters can take up to five years to be resolved and the manager is largely cut out of the loop.

Under proposed new legislation, Bill C-42, managers would be given more responsibility to deal with day-to-day disciplinary issues. The bill has made it through the committee stage in the House.

The Opposition New Democrats say they will vote against the legislation because the new system would not be a truly independent process.

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