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The RCMP has a lot to learn from the experience of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Canada’s military recently underwent an external review of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct practices in the organization by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. In her report, Deschamps made ten recommendations for changes to the CAF where she found the existence of a “sexualized culture” that is “hostile to women.” (Deschamps’s report can be accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/military-harassment-report-10-recommendations-1.3055935.)

My research into the history of women in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), a paramilitary police force, has also shown that sexual misconduct and the sexual harassment of female police officers are endemic. In fact, many of Deschamps’s findings and recommendations are applicable to the RCMP, who would be well served to pay attention not only to her research, but to the response of government and the public over revelations that the CAF’s leadership planned to ignore some of the report’s key recommendations well before it was even released. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/military-s-response-to-sexual-misconduct-report-curtailed-by-general-s-orders-1.3071386.

Here are six ways the RCMP can change the sexualized culture of the police force:

  1. Acknowledge that sexual misconduct and harassment is a problem within the RCMP.
  2. Reinforce to all members that sexual assault and sexual harassment is illegal and clearly defined under sections 264, 265, 266, and 273 of the Criminal Code of Canada as well as under civil law – federal, provincial, and territorial legislation as well as under provincial human rights codes and labour legislation.
  3. Realize that women (and men) in the RCMP are no longer willing to be silent about sexual assault and harassment.
  4. Understand that the problem is based on beliefs and assumptions about gender. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not about sexual intercourse but about power and control over individuals, groups, institutions, and the culture of an organization.
  5. Change the culture of the RCMP. Begin with denying employment to those applicants who view sexual misconduct as acceptable behaviour. Reinforce zero tolerance throughout the training period at the academy and openly discuss the problem sexual misconduct poses. Insist on further training on the subject before constables are promoted to the non-commissioned ranks, and again before they receive a commission. Hold those who are guilty of the practice to account.
  6. Work to regain the trust of the Canadian public. Canadians want to trust their national police force but they also want their rights as citizens living in a democratic society to be respected. The RCMP has long understood that trust is essential to ensuring the public’s compliance when enforcing the law. But trust is also a necessity if police officers want to be treated with respect in return.

It is no longer possible to ignore sexual misconduct or accept it as a normative part of military or police culture. Attempts to sweep the issue under the carpet will only harm the reputation of the RCMP and the CAF in the long run, not to mention the lives of those who experience sexual harassment and sexual assault at the hands of their peers and supervisors. Canadians are no longer willing to wait for change.

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