Even if you’ve never been to Canada there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Mounties. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP, with their ceremonial hats and red jackets, are a national icon of Canada. The Mounties, in fact, have a pervasive policing presence across most of Canada, although not usually in red jackets and very rarely mounted.
The RCMP has been a respected police force since its incorporation in 1920, with its roots in the Northwest Mounted Police, which was established as a central police force by the Parliament of a very young Canada in 1873. Fast forward to 1974, just over 100 years later, and the Mounties began to accept women as officers. Although that was more than 40 years ago now, some things seem to take longer than others. Serious issues of sexism, sexual harassment by fellow officers and superiors, and overall bullying and discrimination within the Force have continued to plague the agency. I might add that these issues continue to plague some other police forces, military units, and police and military academies. It seems to go with the uniform for some male officers, sadly.
This week the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Paulson, made an historic statement that it is hoped represents a serious step in moving in the right direction. In his announcement of a settlement agreement with respect to two large and longstanding class-action lawsuits brought on behalf of hundreds of female Mounties and former Mounties, the Commissioner gave a strongly worded and emotional apology for the long-time unacceptable behaviour and toxic workplace. There was an admission that the women had been subjected to systemic bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Commissioner Paulson spoke of the courage of the women who came forward and stuck with the complaints despite being isolated, scorned, and finally dismissed from jobs they cared about.
Notice that I used the word settlement. This settlement allows both sides to forego the additional anguish, time, and cost of court cases. The settlement has a number of parts, including encouraging aspects such as establishing serious changes and expectations in the workplace.
The main public talking point with respect to this settlement was that the RCMP (aka the federal government, with taxpayers’ money) has put aside $100,000,000 to compensate up to 1000 women affected by this egregious (and illegal) behaviour. Of lingering concern is what has not been mentioned at all, except in letters to the editor and online comments. The remaining question is: what is happening to the “potent minority” of male Mounties blamed for the “poisoned workplace culture”? No mention whatsoever. One can only conclude that this group of chauvinistic bullies (aka sexist pigs who engaged in illegal activities on an ongoing basis), who blatantly and shamelessly ruined lives and careers of possibly 1000 women under the protection of their supervisors, have suffered no consequences for their actions as a result of this settlement.
As welcome as the sincerity of Commissioner Paulson was and as encouraging as the directions specified in the settlement are, the lack of accountability of the responsible Mounties is unacceptable. Sorry to say, this is somewhat reminiscent of the protection of abusive priests while large settlements were made to victims using money from the parishes.
It is ironic that the announcement in Canada of a $100M settlement for workplace bullying and sexual harassment comes out just a few days before the release of the Donald Trump tape. It strikes me that some of the reprehensible actions of sexual assault attributed to the culpable Mounties are more or less identical to those bragged about by Donald Trump in the tape. And, to be clear, he didn’t just say he’d like to sexually assault women, he said he did so whenever he could get away with it. He has now removed any doubts anyone might have had as to whether his frequent trash talking about women is just talk.
While it is gratifying, at the least, that most public leaders are disavowing his comments, there are a few points that trouble me. Folks, blatant, over-the-top sexual harassment is not just a women’s issue. And unacceptable sexist behaviour is not just an affront to men’s wives, daughters and granddaughters. It is an affront to all honourable men, who are equally horrified by such talk and actions. I count my husband and sons among those horrified. It is an affront to men’s – and women’s – sons and grandsons. Do people really want husbands, sons, and grandsons to hear this kind of dialogue and think that it is OK, as long as it is not in front of women, about whom of course you are speaking? Is this the message we want our leaders to send?
Another thing. Women don’t need to be revered. They need to be respected as people, as equals, just as does every individual, regardless of gender, race, creed, or age. This is the message that should be conveyed through the words and actions of our leaders.
And finally, the type of behaviour we have had plastered all over our screens and newspapers for the past few days flies in the face of all the work being done in schools and universities to wipe out incidents of sexual assaults and the menace of rape culture on our campuses. This is a serious issue that scores of dedicated professionals and concerned student leaders are working hard to overcome. Educating with the right messages is paramount. The public dialogue we have witnessed this week has not helped. Having politicians and even some religious leaders dismiss this talk as “locker room banter” is not acceptable. It is enabling. It is demeaning. It is condescending. It is damaging. It is wrong. We clearly have a ways to go. 😦
Photo credits: pinterest.com (Mounties), http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog D.Mark Davis (Trump)