This afternoon, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) hosted an expert panel including the Honourable Michel Bastarache, independent reporter Jane Gerster, and Dr. Pam Palmater to discuss the history and future of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Bastarache authored the report Broken Dreams. Broken Lives: The Devastating Effects of the Sexual Harassment on Women in the RCMP.
Bastarache undertook three years of assessment during which 660 women were interviewed. His findings determined the 150-year-old institution has a complex mandate; lacks proper resources; and cannot properly carry out the paramilitary work it has been commissioned to implement.
The RCMP’s white male culture continues to be re-enforced through present day hiring practices that ensure the maintenance of the “bro” mentality that is rendering the RCMP incapable of dealing with the threats faced by Canada today.
Broken Dreams. Broken Lives. is the 17th such document to make basically the same recommendations, all of which highlight the fact that changes within the Old Boys Club are non-existent and the same problematic culture continues to flourish.
For some women, the harassment and assaults began at the hands of their RCMP trainers. This is of concern to Bastarache because recruits as young as 18 years of age without any higher education or experience are not only ill prepared to address modern issues, but are placed in an extremely vulnerable position from the start of their careers. And, for women, especially Indigenous women and women of colour, things do not improve as their careers progress.
Women also shared that they were told during training that there is, “The right way, the wrong way and the RCMP way. And, you always do things the RCMP way.”
That would explain why male RCMP officers suspected of, or indeed, found guilty of assaulting female officers, generally face no retribution. Instead, they’re likely to be transferred and that, more often than not, means receiving a promotion. Meanwhile, women reporting abuse become the target of ongoing vicious abuse that jeopardizes their careers.
The Northwest Mounted Police, the precursor to the RCMP, was founded in 1873 to control Indigenous people and to exercise sovereignty. Indigenous women and children are still paying a price for antiquated hiring policies that place more emphasis on physical attributes than morals and values.
Gerster, who has researched the paramilitary force extensively, says the all-white male force has remained virtually unchanged throughout its history. It has no oversight; no one demanding answers; and despite numerous Canadian and international reports demanding change, the RCMP have yet to be held accountable.
Palmater addressed the toxic culture of the RCMP that includes racism, homophobia, misogyny, and sexualized violence of Indigenous women and girls. These ways of being are so ingrained into the culture that the RCMP as an institution is not willing or capable of changing their policies and practices. And, there are no repercussions for their inaction.
Add to that the role the RCMP played in the residential school system –rounding up children every September or arresting parents who tried to hide their children; their role in the Sixty’s scoop; and their continued role in forced apprehensions of Indigenous babies and children and it’s easy to see why Indigenous people are reluctant to engage with the RCMP on any level.
“The RCMP cannot survive as an institution. There is no fixing it,” Palmater said. In fact, Palmater sees the RCMP as a national security risk due to its increasing infiltration by white supremacist members and groups.
Palmater also highlights that the roles once filled by RCMP officers are currently fulfilled by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and by the Canadian military. So, why the overlap of services in a mere 22 per cent of the country that is home to mainly Indigenous populations?
Although the RCMP operate at federal, provincial and local levels, the Federal government alone is responsible for holding the RCMP to account. So, why is the conduct of Canada’s most entrenched systemically racist, homophobic, misogynous, and anti-Indigenous institution not an issue this federal election?
According to Palmater, none of the parties have a plan to address the RCMP. The NDP have said they have zero tolerance for the culture of fear but lack a coordinated plan. The Conservatives are going to hire more RCMP officers. The Liberals plan to review policies and processes yet again.
Seems like a no brainer — defund the RCMP and use the money to create a caring, equitable post-pandemic Canada.
Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence
Image: Jamie McCaffery/Flickr