Facing questions about the controversy over a Mountie who was allowed to keep his job after fondling a woman at a work event, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she doesn't always agree with the way Mounties are disciplined.
Lucki was questioned about the case by a lawyer during the Mass Casualty Commission hearing in Halifax on Wednesday.
"Do you have any concerns about what that says to female members of the RCMP?" asked lawyer Jane Lenehan.
"Absolutely," responded Lucki.
"This is not something I take lightly and I can say that as a female member, and I can say that with a 36-year history in my organization, and I can say that with history as a female before I joined the RCMP ... It is not something that I take lightly."
Lucki sided with a decision that allowed Const. Devin Pulsifer to keep his job, despite the fact that his commanding officer in Nova Scotia wanted to have him dismissed for sexual assault. Details of the case were made public earlier this summer.
According to both an RCMP conduct board decision and a report by the province's police oversight body, an intoxicated Pulsifer placed his hands under another RCMP officer's shirt and grabbed her breasts in full view of other RCMP members at a work event at a bar.
Both the conduct board decision and the report said Pulsifer then moved on to a second constable and placed a hand under her shirt.
Pulsifer, who was posted to the detachment in Liverpool, N.S., at the time, doesn't deny the allegations and said he was blackout drunk at the time.
The incident was investigated by Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), a civilian agency that probes allegations against police officers.
It concluded that a charge of sexual assault could be brought against Pulsifer. But since both women had indicated in writing that they did not wish to have the case "brought to the stage of criminal charges," SIRT didn't launch a criminal case.
The RCMP conduct board found that, "on a balance of probabilities," the allegations made by both women were established. The board docked Pulsifer 35 days' pay, declared him ineligible for promotion for two years and ordered him into alcohol abuse counselling.
Commanding officer saw it as sexual assault
The head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia at the time appealed that decision, arguing Pulsifer's actions met the definition of sexual assault and that he should resign or be dismissed.
In comments published in the conduct board's final decision, Lee Bergerman, the now-retired former assistant commissioner for Nova Scotia, argued that the board "intentionally misclassified [Pulsifer's] actions as 'unwanted sexual touching.'" She said the board described him as an "intoxicated pub patron" with the intent of imposing lesser penalties.
The case was punted to the RCMP External Review Committee (ERC), which sided with the board. The ERC is an independent administrative tribunal that conducts case reviews on appeal decisions in certain RCMP employment and labour relations matters.
Lucki, who had the final word in the case, earlier this year concluded that the allegation against Pulsifer was characterized originally as "discreditable conduct" — not sexual assault — upheld the board's original assessment and dismissed Bergerman's appeal.
Lucki wrote that Pulsifer's "peers spoke highly of him, his performance evaluations were positive, and most importantly he displayed integrity in the manner by which he conducted himself after the incident took place, a quality he had previously been revered for."
Lucki defended her ruling on Wednesday, saying there was no error in the decision-making process.
She also said she has concerns about the RCMP's disciplinary system.
'I hope I never have to make the decision again'
"It's something that's really near and dear to my heart ... I follow what the process is. I don't always agree with, sometimes, the process," she said.
"I hope I never have to make the decision again because you grapple with all of the legalities of the decision and you grapple with the moral part of the decision. And those two things don't go together often in in cases like this."
Lucki was appointed commissioner with a mandate to improve the RCMP's culture after years of sexual abuse and harassment cases.
In his scathing 2020 report on the RCMP's internal culture, former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache said he heard alleged victims of sexual misconduct accuse the RCMP of letting perpetrators slide with next to no "consequences."
After that report was released, Lucki promised to stamp out sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the RCMP.
Lucki said a review of the force's conduct measures is ongoing.
"My commitment to my organization is to modernize our conduct," she said Wednesday.
"This is where I have to put my fight."