'We failed you. We hurt you': Text of apology from RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson

RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson speaks during a news conference in in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Paulson has apologized to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees for alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized at a news conference Thursday to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment. A text of the statement of apology was released by the RCMP:

Good morning. Forty-two years ago, almost to the day, women joined the RCMP as full-fledged police officers for the very first time. It was an historic moment for a national police force whose history is so rich and so intertwined with this incredible country.

The new recruits were very publicly sworn-in by the highest ranking officers in an effort to demonstrate that these pioneering and courageous women would be supported and helped into what would be a very challenging role.

Throughout my 31 years of policing, I have found that people seek out and join the RCMP as police officers, civilian members, and public servants, because fundamentally it is noble work in the service of Canadians. People come to work here — to play a role, a key and unique role — in keeping Canada and Canadians safe and secure.

The RCMP has always sought to fulfil its mandate ... perform our duties without fear, favour or affection. There is honour in that, and that attracts the best people from across the varied and diverse population, which is Canada.

If you've ever been to Depot (RCMP Depot Division in Regina), you'll know the tremendous pride, hope and excitement in the cadets who graduate in their Stetsons, high browns and red serge as they head off to every corner of this country to their new duties ... without fear, favour or affection. The last thing, the very last thing, any of them would ever expect from this honourable Canadian institution is that their ability to contribute to our crucial mission would be constrained, impeded, defined or even affected by their gender.

No, they rightfully and quite reasonably expect to be developed, supported, encouraged, enabled and protected as they are deployed to the dangerous and challenging work that is policing. They expect to be treated and judged on their dedication, courage, competence and performance.

This has not been the experience for many of the women who have come to the RCMP since that hopeful day 42 years ago. Instead of succeeding and thriving in a supportive and inclusive workplace, many women have suffered careers scarred by gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Some of these women left the RCMP, heartbroken, disillusioned and angry. Others stayed and were forced to find ways to cope with this inexcusable condition since they did not see an organization that was willing to change.

Still others courageously tried to make themselves heard by management only to find they were denied movement and opportunity or judged adversely and punished within the RCMP for their efforts.

The impact this has had on those who have experienced this shameful conduct cannot – must not – be solely understood as an adverse workplace condition for which they must be compensated. For many of our women this harassment has hurt them mentally and physically. It ... has destroyed relationships and marriages, and even whole families have suffered as a result. Their very lives have been affected.

Harassment and the lack of effective systems and processes to have prevented it and eliminated it from our workplace is absolutely at odds with what the RCMP is supposed to be. It is at odds with what we all need the RCMP to be.

To the representative plaintiffs here today: Janet Merlo, who has so courageously taken the lead to represent so many women who have been adversely affected, and to Linda Davidson and all the women you represent; indeed to all the women who have been impacted by the force's failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every commissioner: I stand humbly before you and solemnly offer our sincere apology.

You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry. You can now take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference. Because of you, your courage and your refusal to be silenced, the RCMP will never be the same.

I must also apologize to all Canadians. I know how disappointed you've been with the force as you heard some of these very public and shameful examples of disgraceful conduct within our ranks.

Since being appointed commissioner — indeed as I became commissioner, as I stood in the foyer of our Parliament to be announced and introduced — I was enveloped in the swirl of outrage over some, then, very public failures to have protected our employees and to have eliminated the behaviours which were giving rise to the deep disappointment Canadians were registering with the force. I remember clinging to my firm belief that improved leadership and enhanced accountability were central pillars to what had to be significant change in the force.

The announcement that brings us all here today is another huge step in the ongoing work which is the cultural transformation of the RCMP. Today, we've jointly filed a settlement agreement in two class-action lawsuits on behalf of female current and former regular, civilian and public service employees. This settlement, which is still subject to approval by the Federal Court, broadly sets out two main elements:

Firstly, continued organizational change elements, which include new initiatives and a commitment to forge ahead with those we have already started; and, secondly, an independent claims process and compensation scheme for all the women who experienced gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, bullying and harassment in the RCMP from September 16, 1974 to the date the agreement receives court approval.

The claims and compensation will be managed independently by Justice Bastarache and his team. I know I can speak on behalf of the plaintiffs and the RCMP to say how grateful and fortunate we are to have secured his help.

As I've indicated the agreement must be approved by the court and so it would be premature to discuss the terms of the agreement in any detail.

Permit me to take a moment, however, to thank those who have worked so tirelessly for so long to get us to this point: Of course the plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson and all the women you represent. Counsel for the plaintiffs David Klein, Won Kim and Sandy Zaitzeff. Our litigators from the Department of Justice, Mitch Taylor in Vancouver and Gina Scarcella in Toronto. Liliana Longo from RCMP Legal Services and all of the people from the RCMP and the various government departments who have helped us bring this agreement together.

Ministers Goodale (Public Safety Ministers Ralph Goodale) and Mihychuk (Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk), thank you; and thanks to the government of Canada for the forbearance, confidence and support in helping make this right for so many people who have served in the RCMP. This agreement is a further commitment from the RCMP to keep building on its efforts to eliminate gender discrimination and harassment.

The harassment problem in the RCMP was enabled by an organizational culture that developed over time in isolation from the values of the communities we serve. Effective accountability and enlightened leadership have been instrumental in bringing us back alongside with modernity.

This agreement demonstrates an RCMP that is accountable to its employees and its citizens. The terms of this agreement will require enlightened leaders at all levels of this organization to make good on our promise of culturally transforming the RCMP so that every employee of this great force can contribute fairly, equitably and safely to our mission of keeping Canadians and Canada safe and secure.

Bob Paulson

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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