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Women working with RCMP suffered ‘shocking’ levels of violence, sex assaults, says report

Workplace pornography, sexual assault, racial slurs and grooming: those were some of the abuses suffered by women who worked and volunteered with the RCMP, according to a scathing report authored by three retired judges.

The final report was prepared as part of a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP filed by former civilian employees, volunteers and students who faced gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault between 1974 and 2019.

Although the federal government set aside $100 million to compensate the estimated 3,500 potential claimants, only about $20 million was awarded to 417 of the 562 women who came forward. 

The low number of claimants could be attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, fear of retribution and an RCMP culture that derides reporting mistreatment, the assessors surmised.

‘Shocking’ level of violence

The assessors found a “shocking” level of violence and sexual assaults — many of which took place at RCMP detachments — reported in many of the claims. 

“The culture within RCMP workplaces tolerated misogyny, homophobia and a range of other prejudices and deeply objectionable misconduct within its ranks and leadership,” wrote retired justice Pamela Kirkpatrick in a letter last week to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

After the report’s release last week, Lucki acknowledged the “significant harm” suffered by claimants and called their experiences “unacceptable.”

“Fostering a healthy and inclusive culture where every person who works for and with the RCMP is recognized for their contributions regardless of their role, identity or category of employee is a top priority,” wrote Lucki. 

“I will not accept anything less.”

Women in workplace for ‘sexual amusement’

The claimants, wrote Kirkpatrick, were “united by the harassment” they experienced “across every decade” and in every province and territory.

“The all-too-common attitude was that women were in the workplace for the sexual amusement and gratification of male members,” reads part of the 45-page report.

“Pornography was a regular feature of harassment.”

The lawsuit is known as the Tiller settlement, for lead plaintiff Cheryl Tiller, who worked for the force as a stenographer in Yorkton, Sask., and was sexually harassed and touched by an RCMP sergeant in 2007.

The Tiller findings come 18 months after what was known as the Merlo-Davidson report authored by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel ​Bastarache.

2,300 uniformed women compensated

In 2016, the federal government set aside $100 million to cover the claims of former members.

That first RCMP class-action settlement covered female officers who faced gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault.

At the end of that process, 2,304 women were compensated. More than $125 million was paid to claimants and their lawyers with each victim eligible for a payout of between $10,000 and $220,000, depending on the level of harassment suffered.

Unique to the more recent Tiller claimants was their place in the hierarchy, far below uniformed members.

‘Lowest of the low’

They were treated as “the lowest of the low,” according to the report, which offers recommendations to minimize sexual and gender-based harassment and discrimination in RCMP workplaces.

“This report underscores the urgency of that work and acknowledges the pain and trauma caused by harassment and a range of deeply objectionable and unsafe conduct in RCMP workplaces, which has persisted for too long,” wrote Kirkpatrick.

While they support the recommendations that came from the Merlo-Davidson report, the assessors issued new ones tailored to address the women who came forward in the Tiller action. 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Acknowledge, examine, identify and rectify the systemic barriers that perpetuate and prolong the unreported and unaddressed harassment of women in RCMP workplaces. 
  • Establish an effective, independent and external process for receiving and investigating complaints of harassment committed by RCMP members and employees. 
  • Initiate and design a co-ordinated complaints process between the RCMP and those third parties with employees, contractors,or volunteers actively engaged with the RCMP. 
  • When designing the co-ordinated complaints procedure, include the position of a dedicated complaints facilitator to provide potential complainants with guidance.
  • Ensure drug and alcohol awareness programs are in place across the RCMP and are available to all who work alongside the RCMP. 
  • Provide enhanced training and education across the organization for an integrated, respectful and accountable workplace. 
  • Conduct a review of workplace security in order to ensure the safety and security of women in RCMP workplaces.

Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino acknowledged the significant power imbalances suffered by the women and said his government is working with the RCMP to review the recommendations and implement “relevant changes.”

“We’re supporting the RCMP’s hiring of an external expert to carry out a review of conduct measures, ensuring they meet high standards when it comes to fairness, transparency and effectiveness,” wrote the minister.

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