FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)
Yet another female officer has come out into the open, alleging sexual misconduct and the RCMP’s failure to act on her complaint.
Karen Katz, a member of the RCMP’s protective services section, “E” division in Kamloops, British Columbia, filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court of British Columbia on January 3.
The harassments allegedly took place when Constable Baldev Singh Bamra was assigned to the same watch as her. Bamra was, on occasions, a designated acting corporal – a position of authority over Katz, who is the only female member on the watch.
The statement of claim charges that Bamra commenced “a campaign of consistent complaining” to others about Katz, prompting her to request to be transferred to a different watch in 2006. Not long after the transfer, however, Bamra was moved back on the same watch as her, with the two of them frequently working together.
The court document claimed that Bamra embarked on an escalating “pattern of erratic physical conduct” towards Katz, including slamming his chest against her while wearing his bulletproof vest and “bear-hugging” her. On one occasion when both were working on a night shift in 2007, Katz alleged that Bamra pinned her against a desk and rubbed his crotch against her knee until she managed to free herself.
Katz reported the matter to her psychologist and, subsequently, to her supervisor. However, the RCMP failed to investigate the matter and did not discipline the constable in question, the statement of claim writes.
Katz went on medical leave from February of 2009 and was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. She reportedly “suffered permanent and irreparable harm including extreme embarrassment, loss of reputation, extreme stress resulting in disabling psychological injury, personal expense and financial loss,” the statement of claim notes. By failing to provide Katz with a reasonably safe workplace, “the RCMP’s breach of its duty of care caused or contributed to a recognizable psychiatric illness or psychological harm.”
Rob Creaser, Kamloops-based spokesperson for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC), says he thinks morale within the force is at an all-time low. “It doesn’t make it a fun time to come to work when you’re always hearing about these types of issues in the paper,” he says.
Creaser, formerly a Mountie for 28 years, charges that sexual harassment is rampant within the force, “whether it be bullying or lack of promotional opportunities, because you are not part of the old boys’ network.” He speculates that more allegations may surface “now that the gates are kind of open.”
Lawsuit a latest addition to a series of allegations
Katz’s accusation is the latest in a string of allegations that have beset the RCMP. Others who have come forward with similar grievances include four female officers who have accused Sergeant Robert Blundell of sexually assaulting them during various undercover operations in the late 1990s, and former RCMP spokeswoman corporal Catherine Galliford.
David Eby, executive director of British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in Vancouver, says these cases create a sense of a lack of accountability within the force, “which is not a safe feeling for female employees in the workplace.” For those officers who claimed that they have been harassed, “the workplace becomes threatening and dangerous. That’s totally unacceptable for a police force, of all places,” Eby says.
While harassment complaints can be raised and addressed through several avenues — the RCMP’s ethics office, the professional integrity officer in national headquarters and the staff relations representative being some examples — questions over the impartiality of these reporting channels abound.
Creaser is critical of the fact that, in the event of a complaint, staff relations representatives typically represent everybody within the force except the commissioner. “There needs to be a clear separation of management and frontline folks in terms of representation,” he contends, citing the case of the staff relations representative who represented the four female officers as well as the alleged victimizer, Sergeant Blundell, as a case in point.
Concerns over the RCMP’s inability to discipline problem officers and establish minimum standards of conduct affect the safety of both regular and civilian members, Eby argues. “It’s really only through actual actions where officers in the detachment see that there is some accountability, that there will be consequences for inappropriate actions. That is the only thing that will make people feel safer again.”