A Nova Scotia RCMP constable who violated the force's code of conduct after fondling co-workers will keep his job — even though the top Mountie in the province at the time wanted him dismissed for sexual assault.
The case pits the wishes of the local division against Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who — while promising publicly that sexual assault would not be tolerated under her watch — agreed to let the member keep his job.
In 2018, Const. Devin Pulsifer joined other Mounties for a night out at a local pub in Port Williams, N.S., capping off a day of tactical training. The social gathering was organized by the force as a team-building opportunity.
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.
Another member pulled him away but, moments later, Pulsifer moved on to a second constable and placed a hand under her shirt, said both the conduct board decision and the report.
The second constable swatted Pulsifer away but he tried again, said both reports, adding that the second constable then turned around and punched Pulsifer in the face.
Both women, whose names are protected by a publication ban, said they hadn't spoken to Pulsifer before the incident and never consented to his actions.
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, a civilian agency which 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 case was brought before the RCMP's conduct board in 2019. Such conduct hearings happen in the most serious cases — ones where dismissal is on the table. They are formal, court-like processes and the adjudicators have the legal authority to order disciplinary measures, such as loss of pay or dismissal.
The board found that "on a balance of probabilities," the allegations made by both women were established.
Evidence before the board
As part of the process, the board reviewed Pulsifer's positive performance evaluations and letters of support. Fellow officers, identified only by their initials in the conduct board decision, described him as a leader and a courageous officer who had put his life on the line.
The board also looked into what was going on in Pulsifer's life when the assaults took place. Its report said that "his grandmother was in the hospital from a fall" at the time and "he had missed a call from a social worker relating to an adoption he and his wife were pursuing." Pulsifer also had learned recently that a former member of his tactical troop had committed suicide.
The board reviewed a victim impact statement from the first woman he touched who said she felt abandoned by the force.
"I was very hurt by some who I believed were true friends and all they seemed to care about was how this incident made the troop look," she wrote.
"In my opinion, it is completely unacceptable to allow this person to continue to be a police officer. I'm praying the RCMP will not disappoint me, and so many other women in the force, who've been a victim at the hands of other members."
She wrote that she is disappointed in herself for not pushing for criminal charges but said that dealing with the investigative team "was a horrible experience." The woman said she was so stressed by these events that she lost sleep, and even once fell asleep at the wheel.
"It would have been nice to get an apology from him, if he was in fact sorry for his actions," she wrote.
Pulsifer told the board he was remorseful, pointed out it was his first infraction and said he was willing to get any treatment necessary.
Ultimately, the conduct board docked Pulsifer for 35 days' pay, declared him ineligible for promotion for two years and ordered him into alcohol abuse counselling.
"While involving two victims, who were sexually touched in quick succession, the subject member's misconduct was clearly an isolated incident, and out of character," the board concluded.
"He has performed his policing duties at an above-average level, and has consistently demonstrated an impressive work ethic and commitment to additional roles with the ceremonial troop and tactical team. His personal bravery in the performance of his duties has been formally commended."
N.S. Mountie accuses board of mitigating his actions
But the head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia at the time appealed, 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.
Bergerman said she felt the board was putting too much emphasis on Pulsifer's character references and "trivialized" how his actions affected the victims.
The case bounced around the RCMP's internal processes for years before landing on the desk of Commissioner Brenda Lucki in Ottawa.
She 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.
"In my view, the board made no error by not specifically describing the respondent's conduct as sexual harassment," she wrote in her decision earlier this year. A copy of the decision was made public last week.
"The board was in the best position to determine the weight of the evidence and I see no justification to intervene."
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."
In her ruling, Lucki also ordered Pulsifer into sensitivity training and told him to apologize to the two women in writing.
Pulsifer did not reply to CBC's attempts to contact him.
Lucki has promised to stamp out sexual assault
The RCMP has been accused for years of imposing inadequate sanctions on Mounties in cases of harassment and sexual assault.
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.
"This behaviour continues to surface. It must be stopped and it will not be tolerated. There is absolutely no room for sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, bullying, sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia in the RCMP," she said in November.
"It's important that people know that it will not be tolerated."
In a statement sent to CBC News, a spokesperson for the RCMP said all conduct issues are handled in a "manner that is fair, consistent and proportionate in nature."
"To be clear, the member's behaviour was not condoned. He received the sanction of a forfeiture of pay, a serious disciplinary measure appropriate to this individual case. These are case-by-case assessments," said spokesperson Robin Percival.
"Any form of sexual misconduct, harassment and violence is unacceptable and is not tolerated in the RCMP. We continue to encourage anyone who feels they are the victim of inappropriate behaviour to report it."
The federal government has promised to review how the RCMP disciplines its members.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino's post-election mandate letter tasked him with launching "an external review of the RCMP's sanctions and disciplinary regime to determine the adequacy of existing sanctions and whether they are applied properly and consistently."
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