Yesterday the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Bob Paulsen, issued a public apology to hundreds of women who had faced sexual harassment and discrimination while on the force. His statement follows the settlement of two class-action lawsuits, providing over 100 million dollars in compensation to the women who faced hostility in the workplace.
For decades women seeking to serve and protect their communities on the RCMP faced ridicule from their male colleagues. One officer, Alice Clark, was publically humiliated when she found plastic breasts taped to her desk. Another, Janet Merlo, was told to “keep her f—ing legs shut next time” when she told her supervisor she was pregnant. The list of grievances goes on and on.
It has become common for women to abandon their career on the force after only a few years, unable to cope with the constant sexism and harassment. Rob Creasser, a representative from the Mounted Police Professional Association and a retired Mountie believes that the culture of the RCMP is largely to blame for this misogynistic behavior, saying: “The cultural problem is that the people at the top don’t realize it’s a cultural problem, because they want to keep things the same.”
“To stop harassment and discrimination against women in policing requires both an enforced zero-tolerance policy and a gender balancing in the numbers of women officers,” said Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation who has overseen the organization’s research on women police. “Hopefully the RCMP is addressing both. And given how extraordinarily expensive harassment is, I’m sure Canadian taxpayers will be demanding the dramatic changes needed.”
In the wake of these allegations, the RCMP has taken steps to combat sexual harassment and discrimination. A new law was passed last year expanding Paulsen’s power to deal with cases of sexual harassment and establishing a new process for addressing complaints. Officers are now required to take a mandatory online course on creating a ‘respectful workplace’ and today women make up almost a third of RCMP’s senior executive committee.