To say the RCMP has an image problem is an understatement. Their unofficial motto "the Mounties always get their man" is sadly laughable given they obviously can't get that man if he is within their ranks and sexually harassing fellow female officers.
The majority of the upstanding Mounties must cringe every time the RCMP makes the news, given it's usually negative attention.
Unless you've been living under a rock, the scandals rocking the RCMP are like a tsunami that keeps on coming. The latest case landed on the front page of Monday's Vancouver Sun with the headline "Clerk files harassment lawsuit against RCMP." This latest case centres on alleged bullying and harassment of a female civilian worker. Other scandals that leap to mind include the Pickton fiasco (include the VPD here), the botched Dzienkanski case, the transferring of "bad apples" to another province and multiple former female officers filing lawsuits over allegations of rampant sexual harassment and assault. Once an enduring symbol of Canadian pride and resourcefulness, the RCMP has turned into a force of embarrassment and shame for many Canadians. Can it recover? It has to.
But it's a daunting task, made even harder when an ex-female officer, who is suing the force, stated last year, "What I say to people now is that if you have a woman in your life who you care about, do not allow her to join the RCMP."
Are any women actually still interested in joining the Mounties?
Cpl. Catherine Galliford-who spent 20 years on the force, much of her time spent as a high-profile spokeswoman-made those comments last year, but was even more blunt when she advised women "to run, like your hair is on fire" away from a career with the national police force. Join police departments, but not the RCMP, she said.
How do you counter that?
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson recently testified before a Standing Committee on the Status of Women in Ottawa that his longterm goal is for half the national police force to be made up of women-despite being told there is little demand to support even a goal of 35 per cent. Currently, just over 20 per cent of the force's officers are women. You have to give Paulson credit for his efforts. He's determined and appears sincere, but I wonder if it's working.
I contacted the local RCMP to inquire if the number of women wanting to join the force is plummeting. They replied promptly and spoke frankly. While Paulson is front and centre in the fight to improve the RCMP's image, many of the force's women work behind the scenes to ensure the RCMP can still be seen as a worthwhile career for women.
Cpl. Stephanie Ashton, who works in the RCMP's B.C. recruiting unit, said women were indeed still joining the embattled force. In fact, the hiring benchmark is 30 per cent, which B.C. exceeded by one per cent last year. (The RCMP sets its hiring benchmark on the census to determine equity and diversity.) Ashton believes it's imperative to have women on the force. I agree.
"Personally, I think having women on the force provides a balance of investigational styles and approaches to dealing with the public that you wouldn't get without both perspectives," Ashton wrote in an email exchange. "[Ninety] per cent of our jobs is talking to people. Many women are able to achieve results in investigations simply because of their approach."
Ashton said the number of women applicants has remained steady despite the aforementioned scandals and widely publicized negative comments about life on the force for women. Recent recruits tend to be "highly successful women, with good academic backgrounds, strong character and good fitness," Ashton said.
And yes, the women do ask about the scandals, which Ashton addresses up front in career presentations that the RCMP holds across the province.
"I know it has happened and I have heard stories from female members who have had negative experiences, but 99 per cent of them put the blame on the individual acting inappropriately and deal with it right away," writes Ashton, who has two kids and earned an undergraduate and master's degree while on the force.
"We have over 30,000 regular and civilian members in the force (19,500 are regular members). At any given time, the number under investigation is under 200 and this can be for everything from swearing in public up to some of the Criminal Code offences that have been publicized recently... Women who take on this job are quite resilient and able to deal with these types of problems."
My question is: Would I want my daughter to join the RCMP right now if she were an adult? My husband says no. I'm undecided.
More on this topic next week.