Workplace violence in the form of bullying, harassment and sexual abuse has reached a crisis point in countries around the world. In Canada, the fact that this pernicious problem thrives within institutions designed to uphold law and order makes it all the more startling.
Recent stinging coverage of the RCMP’s inability to manage internal complaints of abuse suggests its so-called “arm’s length” body — the Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution (ICHR), created to investigate bullying, harassment and sexual abuse — is ineffective.
Const. Corey Flodell, a British Columbia Mountie, is the most recent manifestation of the systemic failure to confront the RCMP’s widespread culture of abuse. Despite admitting to five instances of misconduct against female co-workers, Flodell remains a member of the RCMP.
Members of the RCMP are expected to maintain a high standard of professionalism and follow the force’s Code of Conduct that promotes good behaviour, integrity and impartiality. If misconduct occurs, the discipline authority — a detachment commander, for example — will address violations and ascribe corrective measures.
In more serious matters, like in the case of Flodell, a conduct hearing is held, a formal process used to pursue the dismissal of a member based on allegations. These proceedings take place in front of a board that hears evidence, renders decisions and administers sanctions, including dismissal.
Inappropriate touching, harassment
In a decision by conduct board adjudicator Christine Sakiris, Flodell was found to have committed one act of discreditable conduct by “touching inappropriately another member of the RCMP without her consent.”
Flodell was also found to have contravened the force’s code of conduct once by engaging in harassment and another three times by making “rude and/or inappropriate comments,” according to the decision that followed a joint agreement between parties.
Sakiris made clear in her decision that she had concerns about the proposed discipline against Flodell given that another investigation had determined charges could proceed against him, and because meagre sanctions against the constable amounted to only 120 hours of pay and 80 hours of annual leave.
She stated in her decision that Flodell’s description of his actions as “workplace banter and jokes” minimized the allegations and suggested he lacked genuine remorse. Nevertheless, Sakiris ultimately agreed with the proposal presented by Chief Supt. Steven Ing to simply reprimand Flodell.
Flodell will be transferred to another detachment, must work under close supervision for a year and undergo additional training. He has been ordered to draft letters of apology. He will also forfeit 15 days of pay and 10 days of vacation.
That’s not exactly a punishment that fits his admitted misconduct.
The implications inherent in the decision are unmistakable: the RCMP is failing in its duty to protect its members from each other through a culture of silence.
By agreeing to what amounts to a slap on the wrist, Sakiris’s decision further perpetrates systemic violence by the RCMP’s conduct board. It strikes at the heart of public trust while supporting the systemic issues within this profoundly broken culture.
Six Mounties have been terminated over the past few years following conduct board findings that they engaged in discreditable sexual activities while 14 have remained on the job despite being found to have committed sexual misconduct.
A snapshot of a naked woman being kept in a detachment’s detox cells was photographed and printed. One more yanked a subordinate’s hair, exposed himself to her and requested oral sex from her.
Other members of the RCMP have been disciplined for sexual misconduct but ultimately kept on. One RCMP officer was demoted and transferred after he rubbed the inside of a co-worker’s legs, touched her vagina and told her to “just relax.”
In any other reasonable context with other public or private employers, criminal charges would be laid and the employees would lose their jobs.
The scourge of protecting perpetrators
Clearly the RCMP’s conduct board’s unchecked power, discretionary action and subjective decisions are not focused on the victims but rather on protecting the perpetrator.
The Mounties aren’t alone.
The Canadian Armed Forces doesn’t get it either after multiple scathing reports of their inability to address sexual misconduct.
What’s taking Canada’s Armed Forces so long to tackle sexual misconduct?
The same goes for the Vancouver Police Department. Const. Nicole Chan took her own life after reporting years of abuse at the hands of her supervisors.
Behind the blue wall: The toxic culture that left a Vancouver police officer dead
At the RCMP, the outcome for Flodell is indicative of a systemic problem — the blue wall of silence within the RCMP allows officers to engage in sexual misconduct, receive lenient punishments and continue their careers with their reputations largely intact.
It sends a powerful message — “when you’re ‘one of us,’ you are above the law.”
The failure of the RCMP to address sexual misconduct is not an isolated incident but rather a pattern of behaviour documented in a succession of court cases spanning several years.
Notably, a class-action lawsuit exposed the pervasive discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault suffered by more than 2,000 female RCMP members, resulting in a $125 million settlement.
Nonetheless, the Flodell case and too many others illustrate the RCMP continues to fail its members.
Decisive action required
In 2020, in response to the release of a comprehensive report on RCMP misconduct, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said:
“If an organization cannot keep its own members safe from harassment and discrimination, how can Canadians have confidence in them, to keep them safe as they enforce the law? There is a need for a lot of work moving forward to improve and reform the RCMP.”
The same holds true three years later.
This is yet another wakeup call. The RCMP conduct board system of discipline is broken — and the RCMP leadership is incapable of fixing it.
Workplace violence is a public health issue impacting the physical and mental health of many Canadians. Tackling it requires immediate and decisive action. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, has the authority under the Public Health Act to create a national response beyond employer-driven reforms and superficial policy changes.
Another logical step would be to establish a national commissioner on workplace violence that’s independent of antiquated employment law.
This commissioner could be mandated to conduct impartial investigations and impose real penalties for perpetrators and employers that engage in and condone violence, bullying, harassment and sexual abuse at work.
The scourge of workplace violence requires a seismic shift in our perspective and response. Decisive action is required to prevent, address and end this crisis — within the RCMP and law enforcement agencies everywhere else.