Even though RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has vowed that there is “no room” for sexual assault and harassment in her organization, the penalties meted out to Mounties for sexual misconduct vary widely and range from dismissal all the way down to transfers and pay cuts.
A CBC News review of publicly available RCMP conduct board decisions also found that the reasons cited for retaining an RCMP officer found to have engaged in sexual misconduct can be quite subjective and can include evaluations of on-duty performance, past misconduct allegations or expressions of remorse.
Over the past five years, six Mounties found guilty of discreditable sexual activity by the conduct board have been let go for their actions. One captured and printed a photo of a naked woman being held in a detachment’s detox cells. Another exposed himself to a subordinate, pulled her ponytail and asked her to perform oral sex.
Another 14 RCMP officers have been punished for sexual misconduct while ultimately being allowed to stay on. Their conduct ranged from non-consensual touching to voyeurism to starting a relationship with a minor.
Another three implicated in acts of domestic violence were allowed to continue their careers in the RCMP.
Some of those allowed to stay on with the force were fined, transferred or declared ineligible for promotion for a period of time.
‘An honest, but mistaken, belief in consent’
Along with the Criminal Code, Mounties are subject to the RCMP’s Code of Conduct, both on and off-duty.
A conduct hearing is triggered in the most serious cases where dismissal is on the table. They are formal, court-like processes and the adjudicators have legal authority.
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.”
The constable “has a record of strong performance throughout his career,” the board ruled in that case.
“This is a case of an honest, but mistaken, belief in consent.”
While deciding whether to dismiss a civilian member who got drunk at a function, groped one woman and made sexual comments to another, the board referred to other cases where the men weren’t dismissed for similar activity.
That civilian member was given a temporary demotion and reassigned.
The board ruled that when an Alberta constable filmed two women performing oral sex on him without their consent, he “violated the sexual integrity of the two complainants.”
The decision in his case also noted his nine years of “productive service.”
“His performance evaluations are very positive and describe him as a member with excellent work ethics and great potential,” reads the decision.
That constable’s pay was docked and he was ineligible for promotion for two years.
One British Columbia constable was fined 45 days’ pay for harassing two young women while driving by them in a car, and for sending harassing and threatening texts — including this one: “The war is on slut!! I will win! You will see! I am willing to pay with my life are you cowards willing to do the same slut!”
In that case, the conduct board authority concluded the constable was going through a stressful time.
“He experienced ‘a perfect storm’ in terms of his personal and work life stressors leading up to what others, including [the constable] have described as a ‘meltdown,'” reads the 2021 decision.
Chief Superintendent Stephane Drouin, director general of the RCMP’s workplace responsibility branch, said the guiding principle in discipline is to ensure the incident does not happen again, “with the emphasis being placed on remedial, educated measures versus being solely punitive in nature.
“It has to be proportionate to the incident, to the details, the evidence that’s presented to them. Every case can be very different. Even though it’s sexual misconduct, there’s different elements to be considered by each of the adjudicators and how they arrive at their decision.”
‘A blue wall of silence’
Drouin said the adjudicators consider both mitigating and aggravating factors when doling out penalties.
“So did the member accept responsibility for his actions? Did they admit to the allegations? Were they remorseful?” he said.
“All the way to the aggravating factor, so that’s how serious was the misconduct. Was there a lack of honesty, integrity on the part of the member? What type of risk do we put the member — the victim — or a member of the public at risk? So there’s a really a list long list of factors that they consider before arriving at that decision.”
Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver, said she sees these disciplinary decisions as the RCMP protecting its own.
“Really, this sort of Mafia-like code of silence is such a huge part of the culture,” she said.
“We are talking about a culture, of a blue wall of silence. On one hand, there’s a desire to present that the RCMP is taking police-involved sexualized violence and domestic violence seriously. On the other hand, that blue wall of silence is in effect when it comes to actually holding their own members accountable.”
The RCMP continues to struggle with allegations of sexual misconduct. As part of the historic Merlo-Davidson settlement agreement — the result of a class action lawsuit related to sexual harassment of women within the RCMP — 2,304 women received compensation out of a total of 3,086 claims.
A high-profile report coming out of that settlement said the force has a toxic culture.
In the wake of that settlement, Lucki promised to stamp out sexual assault, harassment and discrimination in the RCMP.
“This behaviour continues to surface. It must be stopped and it will not be tolerated. There is absolutely no room for sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, bullying, sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia in the RCMP,” she said in November.
“It’s important that people know that it will not be tolerated.”
MacDougall said the perception of abusers in the force has real-world impacts for the women she serves.
“Women are left with very little recourse in terms of accountability. It takes a lot for a survivor to come forward and share their story. It’s even harder when we talk about police and sharing an experience of sexualized violence or domestic violence at the hands of a member of the RCMP. It’s very challenging and the reports are extraordinarily low,” she said.
“Those individual members have so much power over people and places. When there is domestic and sexual violence perpetrated by a member of the RCMP, I think that they lose their right to to have that [authority].”
Very few RCMP members ever land in front of conduct boards. The RCMP said that some members accused of misconduct resign before their case gets to a public hearing.
Of the 84 decisions posted on the RCMP’s website dealing with behaviour “that is likely to discredit the force,” 64 cases were deemed “established”. The remaining allegations were not proven, stayed or dealt with as procedural matters.
Of the established cases, 14 lead to dismissals.
Outside of the six sexual misconduct cases, other reasons for dismissal cited in the decisions posted online include cocaine use and lying to prosecution services.
Drouin said his department is conducting a wholesale review of the conduct measures.
“Just to ensure that it meets current expectations of Canadians,” he said.