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Harassment persists in RCMP, outgoing Commissioner Paulson says

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson waits to testify on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2013.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson arrived as Canada's top cop 5 1/2 years ago with a clear commitment: to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

In October, he made a historic apology to thousands of female members for the way they were treated by the national police force, as well as announcing a $100-million settlement for two class-action lawsuits.

But as Commissioner Paulson, 58, announced his retirement on Monday, after 32 years in the RCMP, he acknowledged harassment issues endure.

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"We must try to resolve these historical yet persistent harassment claims," he wrote in a message to Mounties.

Commissioner Paulson, who has three grown children and a young son, said he is excited to focus on his family. He is said to be leaving on his own terms. His last day of work will be June 30.

In his message, Commissioner Paulson said the force has "some challenges and work ahead of us," including improving the mental-health strategy, workplace tolerance and respect, and modernizing labour relations.

"These issues and those who follow them closely will make for a busy and challenging spring but we will – as we do – persevere in order that we can keep delivering on our primary mission – keeping Canadians safe and secure," he wrote.

The RCMP are also facing labour-code charges stemming from the 2014 deaths of three officers killed by gunman Justin Bourque in Moncton.

Outside the Commons on Monday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale thanked Commissioner Paulson for his service.

"He's worked extraordinarily hard in the public interest to protect the safety of Canadians," Mr. Goodale told reporters.

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He said Commissioner Paulson's successor will be chosen with "very careful consultation." A spokesman later said the government will launch a selection process in due course, and may make an announcement about an interim commissioner at a later date.

Police sources say a potential successor is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau, who heads contract and aboriginal policing. Deputy Commissioner Brosseau, who is Métis, joined the force in 1988 and has a master of law degree from Harvard. Another candidate is Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud, now in charge of the force's federal policing unit.

Commissioner Paulson's successor will inherit a police force in which wiretaps obtained against criminal organizations are sharply dropping and in which complaints of post-tramautic stress disorder suffered by the rank-and-file are sharply rising.

Last week, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled against the RCMP in a harassment case, awarding Sergeant Peter Merrifield $141,000 for his mistreatment and denouncing the conduct of his commanding officers. Commissioner Paulson testified at the trial, saying he had been led to believe Sgt. Merrifield was a disgruntled employee whose accusations against his superiors were groundless.

After the ruling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked whether he still had full confidence in Commissioner Paulson.

"The fact is, we have an awful lot of work to do. And I know that the RCMP is taking very seriously the responsibility to shift the culture in a way that makes sure that in any workplace – whether we're talking about police forces or Canadian Forces members or anyone in any workplace across this country – that we are protecting them from harassment and intimidation," Mr. Trudeau said.

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Lately, the Mounties have also been facing challenges in their primary responsibility: to investigate major crimes. A series of big-ticket investigations – involving a human-trafficking ship from Sri Lanka, alleged overseas corruption by a Canadian company, a Vancouver terrorism sting and the trial of Senator Mike Duffy – have fallen flat, with judges and juries finding that evidence gathered by Mounties was not persuasive enough to convict suspects.

In October, 2014, two attackers inspired by the Islamic State group killed two Canadian Forces soldiers in the streets, before being gunned down themselves. One of the attackers stormed Parliament's Centre Block, forcing then-prime minister Stephen Harper to take cover.

After those events, Commissioner Paulson redirected hundreds of detectives from organized crime investigations to counterterrorism cases and kept them there, in hopes that the Mountie blitz would disrupt any repeat attacks.

With reports from Daniel Leblanc and The Canadian Press

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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