Newly appointed Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance should be applauded for strong, public remarks he made about ending sexual harassment in the military. Responding to the Deschamps report, which alleges that sexual misconduct is “endemic” to the Forces, General Vance stated that he is ready to implement all 10 of the report’s recommendations. “The buck does stop here,” he said. “I am the leader of the Armed Forces and it's a leadership issue.”
After multiple accounts of sexual misconduct and harassment, a string of independent reports outlining recommendations for change, and now a class-action lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police involving hundreds of former personnel, we have yet to see similar strong leadership for the military’s cousin, the RCMP.
In 2007, the Brown Report recommended that the RCMP ought to have an independent civilian-run board of management. In 2011, the Canadian Association of Police Boards also urged the government to “establish an independent oversight body for the RCMP, composed of citizens … including the power to oversee RCMP policy, the RCMP budget and to hire the RCMP commissioner.”
These issues were also supported in a study by the Senate National Security and Defence Committee, which included testimony from police, military and other experts. I subsequently produced another report, which supported these conclusions, based on testimony from front-line personnel, many of them seriously injured by harassment.
The military utilized a number of independent civilian boards to supervise its restructuring after the Somali affair. In addition, every major police force in Canada is supervised by an independent public police commission, except for the RCMP.
Much more needs to be done to overhaul a culture in the RCMP which has allowed harassment to ruin careers, lives and sometimes families. Civilian review and oversight is a crucial component in addressing sexual misconduct and harassment in the RCMP and changing the culture that allows it.
Some argue that Bill C-42, passed in 2014, was the answer to all of these issues. Among other things, that legislation gave the commissioner of the RCMP and other regional commanders more power to fire “bad apples,” including those who might engage in sexual misconduct. This begs the question of who is considered the “bad apple” in a harassment situation by the person who does the firing. Bill C-42 also risks putting a chill on outspoken members, who may hesitate to bring allegations of misconduct forward, for fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.
In the spring of this year, I introduced Bill S-232, An Act to Amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. This legislation would create an RCMP Civilian Review and Oversight Council, and an RCMP ombudsperson. Both of these fixes will go a long way in addressing the cultural problems in the RCMP.
The purpose of the Civilian Review and Oversight Council is to oversee the operations of the RCMP, to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency and to provide a balance between public accountability and police independence from political interference. This would include the council working with the RCMP leadership on budgets, strategic priorities, programs, policies and procedures. This would also include assessing metrics for whether respectful workplace strategies and training courses are actually being followed and progress is being made in fixing the problem with the culture.
In addition to the council, the legislation would create the position of ombudsperson to act as a neutral mediator, investigator and reporter for problems encountered by RCMP personnel. This person and their team would identify and review emerging and systemic issues, assist members in accessing services, and redress any complaints that are filed — including complaints of harassment and sexual misconduct — by police and civilian members of the RCMP
I will re-introduce this legislation in the next session, after the October election. In the interim, I am hoping all of the parties consider this initiative in their election platforms. It is not a partisan issue.
The RCMP is one of our most treasured institutions. Their bravery and professionalism were clear to the world during the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament, as it is every day across this country. RCMP members continuously put their safety at risk for our protection; we are doing them a grave disservice if we don't make sure they are protected when they get back to the office.
- Senator Grant Mitchell is deputy chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence