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RCMP still has work to do

It's 2016. Women have had the vote in Canada for 100 years. Women enjoy reproductive freedom, equal pay for equal work, and a host of other protections against discrimination in the workplace, in everyday life and in public institutions.

An RCMP vehicle.

But then there's the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, showing us how far we still have to go.

Female RCMP officers have spoken out for five years about being harassed, belittled, demeaned and physically assaulted by bullying male counterparts.

Finally, there is now a meaningful response. Earlier this month, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized for the hostile reaction the RCMP gave the thousands of women who joined the force since 1974.

“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,” Paulson said to two of the women officers who spearheaded class-action lawsuits.

The federal government has set aside $100 million for a compensation fund to make some measure of restitution to about 1,000 women who are expected to come forward.

The stories of these women are almost unbearable to read. That of Linda Davidson, lead plaintiff in one of the class action lawsuits, is typical. She was physically groped by a supervisor. Sex toys and ketchup-covered tampons were placed in her workplace by colleagues. When she was on patrol, fellow officers would not assist her when she called for help. She was so anxious, she routinely vomited before her shifts. The harassment affected her marriage and her health.

Meanwhile, RCMP Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell, who was assigned to the Musical Ride, described many incidents when she was soaked in cold water and dragged face down through the horse dung and urine in the paddock's stalls. The abuse she suffered at the hands of colleagues was so severe that her co-workers took bets on when she would kill herself.

Eventually, O'Farrell's supervisors transferred her out of the Musical Ride for her own safety. Yet none of her abusers were removed.

And this is the heart of the problem with the RCMP's response. Yes, an apology helps victims heal. Yes, $100 million will help compensate the victims. But it isn't nearly enough. There is still a big hole in the plan.

For real justice to be done, the abusers must be called to account. If individuals are found to have participated in these terrible acts, they must be punished. There are three reasons: First, people who behave like that ought not to serve in any police force. Second; the victims cannot feel that real justice has been done unless there are consequences imposed on the tormentors. Third, the public trust in the RCMP has been severely shaken by these revelations. It will not be restored unless every effort is made to remove the offending elements and start fresh.


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