‘We Failed Them’: RCMP Reacts to Report Alleging Rape, Homophobia in Force

Credit to Author: Jane Gerster| Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:18:41 GMT

Canada’s beleaguered national police force took another hit this week with the release of an independent report labeling the culture within the RCMP “toxic” and saying it “tolerates misogynistic and homophobic attitudes.” 

The Honourable Michel Bastarache’s report, titled “Broken Dreams Broken Lives,” follows a $100 million sexual harassment class action against the force by its own members and concludes that the problem is pervasive, before recommending an inquiry into the Mounties’ future.

Bastarache, whose findings echo many past reports analyzing RCMP culture, said, “the time has come to ask some hard questions about the structure and governance of federal policing in Canada. The past has demonstrated that change cannot come from within the RCMP.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki called the stories in the report “hard to hear” before apologizing on behalf of the force at a press conference Thursday.

Bastarache’s bluntness was a welcome surprise for some of the more than 3,000 people who submitted claims (over 2,304 received financial compensation). 

“I was shocked when I opened it,” said Samara Symonds, a civilian member in Alberta who was medically discharged earlier this year and compensated for sexual harassment on the job under the Merlo-Davidson settlement.

“It’s everything that I knew but it’s amazing that someone has said it so concisely and so strongly.” 

Symonds, who joined the force in 2011, said she wasn’t sure she was going to submit a claim in the first place but ultimately decided to because she wanted her story to be part of the report in the hopes it might affect substantive change.

“This is what we have wanted for a long time: for the public to finally be able to see the hell that a lot of us have lived,” said Janet Merlo, a former Mountie who helped launch the class action that resulted in the lengthy report.

Merlo said she was not all that surprised by the “damning and heartbreaking” conclusions, after two decades in the RCMP and multiple reports spelling out the force’s organizational and cultural deficiencies in excruciating detail.

The RCMP’s own Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) published  a 2017 report which said “the RCMP lacks both the will and the capacity to make the changes necessary.”

Still, Merlo said, she broke down when she first read the figures Bastarache revealed. Specifically, the revelation that 131 women reported being raped over several decades. Slice the figures however you want, Merlo said, there are 131 alleged rapists in the force or a smaller figure of repeat offenders. Either way, she says, “how can that be acceptable?”

It isn’t, said Commissioner Lucki during a Thursday press conference. Lucki, who said she couldn’t speak to whether any of the members who allegedly raped their colleagues have or would face criminal charges because of the confidential nature of the settlement, called the report “difficult to read” and said she was “ashamed, frustrated, saddened and angry.”

“We failed them,” Lucki told reporters. “I’m sorry.”

Merlo said that’s exactly the reaction she was expecting and while she believes Lucki wants things to change, Merlo said it’s abundantly clear that “enough is enough” and an outside agency needs to come in and “clean house.”

Kaitlyn Bartlett, who served as a Mountie for more than a decade, agrees.

“The one thing we’re constantly told is that this is the way it is and you either get on board or you leave,” said Bartlett, who says she was sexually assaulted and beaten up while working in northern Alberta because she is “part of the LGBTQ community.” 

Bartlett transferred, but she said the RCMP disclosed the reason for her transfer to her new colleagues and “it was hell.”

Worn out and feeling like she was being pushed out, Bartlett resigned in 2019. She’s still fighting with the RCMP about its investigation into her sexual assault and she has zero interest in hearing the commissioner talk about new or amended policies.

“Rules were in place,” she says. “Reprinting a policy doesn’t fix it.”

In a statement, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the report “describes systemic patterns of abusive behaviour that are repulsive and unacceptable” and he has “emphasized” the need to end said pattern to Commissioner Lucki. He said his office would review the report at length and provide further comment. A spokesperson has not yet responded to questions about whether the government will hold an inquiry into the future of the RCMP.

Already RCMP culture “has resulted in incalculable damage,” says Bastarache’s report, before warning that “if real action is not taken, the RCMP will find itself in the same place again in a few years.” The government recently settled a second $100 million sexual harassment class action, which is open for claims until Jan. 12, 2021.

Lucki said an independent centre for harassment resolution will open next summer. However, she was vague when pressed on the need for an outside body to address structural change and later said “there are things we can do from the inside (to affect structural change).”

But Alice Fox, another former Mountie whose own sexual harassment lawsuit was settled with a gag order, has no faith in Lucki’s words.

“This report is going to go to the same place the other ones did: the garbage,” said Fox, who still actively supports current members fighting sexual harassment claims and who has lost several of those members, close friends, to suicide, in recent years.

“We have to live the collateral damage,” she says. “This is fucking killing us.”

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