The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) formally apologized for decades of harassment of female members. The apology was accompanied by a $100-million (approximately $75 million American) settlement, ending two class-action lawsuits against the force. And it is a very good apology.
Bob Paulson became the RCMP commissioner in 2011. In 2013, he spoke up about the “cultural dysfunction” of the force and said he was devoted to improving the climate for women. He told the Guardian that an apology had been in the works for years, “but had been delayed by the desire to heighten it with some sort of compensation.” (Which is good, since 500 members and former members of the force were suing for having experienced crude jokes, unwanted sexual touching, threats and rape.) The settlement will compensate any woman who’d served in the RCMP since 1974, when women were first allowed to become full-fledged police officers.
A settlement is a good form of restitution, which can be an important part of an apology. But here, the words themselves were superb. Here’s Paulson’s full statement, and here’s the bit I found most powerful:
Instead of succeeding and thriving in a supportive and inclusive workplace, many women have suffered careers scarred by gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment.
Some of these women left the RCMP, heartbroken, disillusioned and angry. Others stayed and were forced to find ways to cope with this inexcusable condition since they did not see an organization that was willing to change.
Still others courageously tried to make themselves heard by management only to find they were denied movement and opportunity or judged adversely and punished within the RCMP for their efforts.
The impact this has had on those who have experienced this shameful conduct cannot – must not – be solely understood as an adverse workplace condition for which they must be compensated. For many of our women this harassment has hurt them mentally and physically. It is has destroyed relationships and marriages, and even whole families have suffered as a result. Their very lives have been affected.
Harassment and the lack of effective systems and processes to have prevented it and eliminated it from our workplace is absolutely at odds with what the RCMP is supposed to be. It is at odds with what we all need the RCMP to be.
To the representative plaintiffs here today: Janet Merlo, who has so courageously taken the lead to represent so many women who have been adversely affected, and to Linda Davidson and all the women you represent; indeed to all the women who have been impacted by the Force’s failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every Commissioner: I stand humbly before you and solemnly offer our sincere apology.
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. You can now take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference. Because of you, your courage and your refusal to be silenced, the RCMP will never be the same.
I must also apologize to all Canadians. I know how disappointed you’ve been with the Force as you heard some of these very public and shameful examples of disgraceful conduct within our ranks.
Why is this so good? Paulson used the words “I’m sorry.” He clearly indicated that he understood the impact of what the Force did. He spoke to the women directly. He showed the kind of human emotion that’s hard to fake. (The Globe and Mail wrote, “With a quiver in his voice, the top Mountie looked directly at two retired officers who spearheaded class-action lawsuits against the RCMP in British Columbia and Ontario, Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson. All three had tears in their eyes.”) He apologized to all Canadians, not just women on the force. He made clear that everyone should have high expectations of their police force, and everyone is hurt when representatives of the force behave shamefully.
Finally, immediately after the apology itself, he noted that organizational changes and new initiatives were underway to create a better culture. An independent claims process had begun for women who’d been affected. This isn’t just an attempt to “move on”; it’s an attempt to make things right, and to create lasting change. As Merlo, one of the plaintiffs, noted, “It’s a good day for the RCMP. This is the beginning of a new era.”
A former RCMP officer, Heli Kijanen, who left the force because of bullying, discrimination and harassment, talked to her local paper in Thunder Bay, Ontario, after Paulson’s appearance. “I just felt such wonderful feeling and hope for the future,” she said. “For Mounties, and females who want to join and work in a society where they are accepted and they don’t have to over-prove themselves, they don’t have to be dragged under the system because it’s a boys club.” She noted that she hoped to go back to the RCMP. “I would be one of those members that would be more than willing to go back into the force and make real change,” she said. “I want to tell everybody out there: if you fight for something long enough that you firmly believe in, if it’s right and it’s just, it will happen and to never give up. I congratulate all the female Mounties out there.”
You can watch a short clip of part of the apology, and the response of some of the female officers and former officers, here:
O, Canada. May you one day make this little girl in her official RCMP-licensed unisex onesie proud.