One year ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that prohibiting members of the RCMP from collective bargaining or forming a union was a violation of their Charter right to freedom of association. The justices ruled that Mounties should have the freedom to choose their own independent labour relations system.
Since 1919, members of the RCMP have been prohibited from forming a union under the RCMP Act. That legislation was challenged in 1974 when thousands of RCMP officers met in cities across the country to discuss the possibility of forming a union. At these meetings, Mounties aired a number of grievances against the RCMP including unreasonable transfer policies, low wages, no overtime pay, archaic marriage regulations, and a “military system of operation.”
In response, the RCMP proposed the establishment of a Division Staff Relations Representatives (DSRR) system. Under the plan, an elected representative from each division would meet with the commissioner and his deputies once a year to address grievances and discuss personnel issues.
Mounties voted in favour of the proposal in a country-wide referendum held on May 30, 1974. The positive outcome was a public relations boon for the RCMP who by this time was intent on projecting an image of modernization and change to its members and to Canadians.
The DSRR system proved to be a failure when it came to addressing complaints of sexual harassment, however. The DSRR was not independent from management and elected representatives were non-commissioned officers. Women were regularly denied the opportunity to file grievances against their harassers, many of whom were also non-commissioned officers.
For decades DSRR representatives viewed the RCMP’s transfer system as a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. Female members who filed grievances were often transferred to another posting where a reputation as a complainer usually preceded their arrival. The approach allowed the harasser to continue his harassing tactics without consequences to his own career. Many female police officers chose to resign instead.
It was not until July 1983 that the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual harassment as “discrimination on the ground of sex.” It was an important development for the women of the RCMP, given the ineffectiveness of the force’s DSRR system in dealing with harassment.
When Ralph Goodale, the minister for public safety, announced in the House on December 7, 2015 that his government was working on a new labour relations plan for the RCMP, I couldn’t help but wonder if the plan would include an independent grievance process for resolving sexual harassment issues.
The government’s plan will purportedly give Mounties the right to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and benefits, but how far it will go in addressing all aspects of employee relations in uncertain.
The proposed legislation is set to be tabled in the House at the end of February 2016. Hopefully Mr. Goodale and his staff will keep the history of sexual harassment in the RCMP in mind when developing the new system. It’s taken forty years to get this far; hopefully it won’t take another forty for sexual harassment to become an obsolete practice in the RCMP.
 Peter Moon, “RCMP Morale Problems Traced to Rapid Growth,” The Globe and Mail, May 27, 1974.
 Canadian Human Rights Commission, Sexual Harassment Casebook, 1978-1984 (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Human Rights Commission, 1984), overleaf.