Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced Wednesday that a civilian advisory board will be created to help the RCMP deal with its issue of internal bullying and harassment.
At a press conference, Goodale claimed the new management advisory board will help modernize the way the RCMP functions.
But is it enough of a solution for the RCMP, which has faced years of criticism, complaints and lawsuits over the treatments of officers?
Jane O’Reilly, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in sexual behaviour within organizations, said the new advisory board is “a good first step.”
“Problems that the RCMP are facing are so systematic that it can be really helpful to have an outside or neutral perspective looking into what’s happening and giving advice,” she said.
But O’Reilly noted that there are certain factors that will determine whether the board is truly effective. One of the factors is who ends up on the board.
Here’s how the advisory board will work
Members of an interim board will be in place by April 1. Legislative changes this spring will make the board permanent.
The board will include up to 13 part-time appointees, including a chair and vice-chair.
“Ideally, they’ll have some people on board who have been involved in a similar situation that required an intense culture change,” O’Reilly said. “Other people who have helped create more inclusive environments more generally would be helpful as well.”
Over time, the board will expand its reach into other areas of management: effective use of RCMP resources, corporate risk and responses to address them, policies and management controls that support operations, human resources and labour relations, corporate and strategic direction, and performance measurement and departmental results.
Goodale will be able to direct the RCMP commissioner to seek the board’s advice and require that the commissioner report back, including on actions taken based on that advice.
The board will not be involved in matters relating to active law enforcement investigations in keeping with the principle of police independence.
Ultimately, O’Reilly explained the success of the board really depends “how much clout” the board has within the RCMP.
“It can’t just be something that just looks good for the RCMP. They have to respect the board, to listen to their opinions, and incorporate their suggestions in a sincere way.”
Linda Duxbury, a management professor at Carleton University who has studied police culture, was more doubtful that a fully civilian advisory board would be effective.
“I’m worried that a completely civilian oversight board is not going to completely understand the culture of policing and really understand the barriers to change,” she said.
Duxbury noted that could lead to resentment and resistance within the RCMP.
“I’m not saying no civilian members, I’m simply saying that it should have an equal representation of people who have worked with the police and/or the military,” she said.
Advisory board based on recommendations
Wednesday’s announcement represents the Liberal government’s response to two critical 2017 reports.
The first was the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which said the RCMP lacked both the will and the capacity to address the challenges that afflict its workplaces.
The second was a review by former auditor general Sheila Fraser of four harassment lawsuits from female members, which also called for substantial reforms.
The reports together made 13 recommendations, which Goodale said were all accepted by the government.
O’Reilly explained she understands where criticism that the government is not acting fast enough on those recommendations may be coming from, but that it’s important to note there are no quick solutions.
“I think they have such a big problem, there isn’t a lot of short-term solutions. It really is something that has to come from the top down,” she said.
She noted that all aspects of the RCMP need to be considered, from human resources to local cultures across the country.
RCMP’s history of bullying
In 2016, former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson delivered an apology to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to discrimination and harassment dating back as far as four decades.
The apology came as the Mounties settled class-action lawsuits stemming from allegations that cast a dark pall over the force.
The RCMP has received thousands of complaints from members since then and has struggled to keep up with reviewing them.
After Paulson’s departure, Brenda Lucki became the RCMP’s first permanent female commissioner.
The Trudeau government directed Lucki to modernize and reform the RCMP’s culture, protect employees from harassment and workplace violence, and foster reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
Lucki was also asked by Goodale to make the force representative of Canada’s diverse population, aiming for gender parity, and to have Indigenous members and minority groups better reflected in leadership.
Another priority is implementing measures to improve health and wellness after an auditor’s report found the force was failing to meet the mental health needs of its members due to a lack of resources, poor monitoring and meagre support from supervisors.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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