RCMP tolerates ‘misogynistic, racist, and homophobic attitudes:’ former Supreme Court justice

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s culture is so toxic, the federal government needs to conduct an external, independent review of the RCMP’s future as a federal policing organization, says a former Supreme Court of Canada justice tasked with dealing with the fallout from the force’s historic sexual assault settlement.

“What I learned led me to conclude that a toxic culture prevails in the RCMP. This culture encourages, or at least tolerates, misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes among many members of the RCMP,” wrote Michel ​Bastarache in his final report — “Broken Dreams Broken Lives” — which was released today.

“The problem is systemic in nature and cannot be corrected solely by punishing a few ‘bad apples.'”

The Merlo-Davidson settlement, named after lawsuit plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson, covers those who were harassed while working for the RCMP during or after September 1974. They include women who experienced sexual harassment and gender or sexual orientation-based discrimination while working as regular RCMP officers, civilian members or public service employees of the RCMP.

This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon.– Michel Bastarache’s report

Bastarache was appointed to independently assess the claims and write a final report based on his findings. Over the past four years, he said, he and his team conducted 644 interviews of current or former female employees of the RCMP.

“The level of violence and sexual assault that was reported was shocking,” he wrote in the report.

“What the women told the assessors shocked them to their core. This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon.”

More than 2,300 women received compensation

In 2016, the Liberal government set aside $100 million to cover the claims. Back then, the RCMP was expecting about 1,000 women to submit claims.

Instead, the assessors’ office received more than three times that number.

Of that total, 2,304 women were compensated and 782 claims were denied.

In all, $125,266,500 was paid to claimants.

Each victim was eligible for a payout of between $10,000 and $220,000.

Davidson, who retired in 2012 after a career lasting almost 30 years, said that while her profession brought her moments of glee, she was tormented for years by her male coworkers.

“The sexual assaults, the inadvertent tearing my top open and reaching in and grasping me by my breast, things like that,” she said.

“Things like they would go into your locker and open it up and I found ketchup smeared over one of my shirts.They had actually taken tampons and dipped them in ketchup and hung them from the coat hangers.”

There were 150 claims approved at the highest level, which covered “penetrative sexual, bullying and constructive dismissal of vulnerable claimants resulting in resignation, or leaving a claimant in a dangerous situation without backup in which she was seriously injured resulting in permanent disability.”

Retired RCMP officers Linda Davidson (left) and Janet Merlo share a laugh outside Federal Court in Toronto on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Davidson and Merlo were the representative plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the RCMP on behalf of sexually harassed female employees. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

These women reported having suicidal thoughts and severe PTSD.

“No financial compensation can repair the damage that the assessors witnessed. If no concrete measures are taken, the RCMP will be in the same place again in a few years,” the report said.

Commissioner Brenda Lucki issued an apology today to all the women involved.

“We failed them because they are women,” she told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I am angry for these women and their families.

“I can definitely sympathize and understand what these women went through. It’s touched me very personally. Today has been a very emotional day. But this is exactly why I took on this job. I am deepening my resolve to do better.”

RCMP commissioner says change takes time

Bastarache wrote that the problems faced by women in the RCMP have been known to the force and to the government for at least three decades.

He said that while some improvement has been made, legislative changes and administrative reforms haven’t rooted out the toxic culture.

“It’s time to discuss the need to make fundamental changes to the RCMP and federal policing,” Bastarache wrote.

“I am of the opinion that the culture change is highly unlikely to come from within the RCMP. The latter has had many years to proceed, has been the subject of numerous reports and recommendations, and yet unacceptable behaviour continues to occur.”

The report made 52 recommendations touching on areas like recruitment and training, postings, maternity and paternity leave and promotions. Lucki said the RCMP will look into all of the recommendations.

But when asked whether she supports the call for an external review into the RCMP’s culture, Lucki said she would not “speak to that specifically.” 

“I have been in the chair for two and a half years. We’re a big organization. Change takes time,” she said.

“But we have made significant change under my command.” 

Davidson says the RCMP needs to be open to that outside review.

“If it brings change, bring it on,” she said.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the report describes systemic patterns of abusive behaviour that are “repulsive and unacceptable.”

“No one should have to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but we know that this is an everyday reality for many women and LGBT employees in Canada and in the RCMP,” Blair said in a media statement. “Not only does this behaviour ruin careers, it has a lasting and significant impact on the lives of those targeted.”

Blair said he spoke with Lucki and “emphasized that these unacceptable patterns of behaviour must end now,” and that a comprehensive plan to address the report’s recommendations must be implemented.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki apologised to the women in the class-action lawsuit. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“We have a duty to do all the necessary work to prevent acts such as these from occurring ever again,” Blair said in his statement.

The minister said he will have more to say in the coming weeks about the government’s approach to the RCMP.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a key part of Lucki’s marching orders when she was appointed in 2018 was to change the culture of harassment in the RCMP.

“If an organization cannot keep its own members safe from harassment and discrimination, how can Canadians have confidence in them to keep them safe as they enforce the law?” he said Thursday.

“There is a need for a lot of work moving forward to improve and reform the RCMP, and that’s exactly what we continue to be focused on.”

The RCMP has reached a second settlement — for about another $100 million — for women subjected to sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination while they worked for the force in non-policing roles.

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