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Real Leaders Aren’t Bullies

April 17, 2016

RCMP

Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a long and proud history. Formed initially as the North-West Mounted Police in 1873 (changed to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in 1904), the national police force is recognized around the world by its British military-inspired red serge uniform. Indeed, a great uncle of mine in Western Canada served with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in the early 1900s. (The RCMP was established in 1920 from the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police and the Dominion Police.)

The “Mounties always get their man” has gone down in folklore, with their red dress uniforms still being loved by Hollywood. However, despite the good feelings generated by this organization’s long history, something has been afoot in the RCMP for the past several years – and it’s ugly.

Under the thin veneer of the stereotyped square-jawed Mountie lies a deep and troubling problem: sexual harassment of female members (members being the term used by the RCMP for its sworn police officers). The past decade has witnessed the public display through the media of numerous female RCMP officers, including those who had left the force due to PTSD, telling their stories of sexual, physical and verbal harassment. Media organizations, in particular the CBC’s The Fifth Estate, have run documentaries and news reports on a problem that seems to have no bottom.

Linda Davidson RCMP

At the time of writing, two class action lawsuits have been filed against the RCMP by former female officers, with the most recent being initiated by former inspector Linda Davidson (see photo). This is on top of the hundreds of harassment and discrimination complaints that have been filed by female officers over the past several years.

The RCMP’s problems aren’t just focused on the sexual harassment of women. The organization has had years of problems with the morale of its frontline officers. The distinct hierarchy between commissioned officers (inspectors and above) and those below is striking.

One personal story goes back to 1990 when I was on French language for four months when I was a federal public servant. The other students in my small class were male RCMP officers, ranging from corporals to sergeants to an inspector. They’d all been in the force for many years. Some were pretty chauvinistic in their attitudes towards women. But what struck me most was when on a few occasions we were invited to headquarters for after class get-togethers. There was the officers’ dining mess hall, where we met, and the non-commissioned officer’s mess. A social class distinction in action.

The separation of RCMP officers into upper and lower classes, just by the means of two mess different halls, is a symbol of privilege for the select few. This is anathema to building leadership in a law enforcement organization.

Paulson

Current Commissioner Bob Paulson has enough on his hands in attempting to respond to the crisis caused by the explosive sexual harassment cases and class action lawsuits. However, Paulson, whose cleanly-shaved bullet head and penetrating gaze gives him the stereotyped top-cop TV look, just keeps stepping in more shit. He’s been given a publicly stated command by his new boss, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, to fix the sexual harassment problem. His previous boss (under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government) Ralph Blaney ordered Paulson to apologize to Staff Sgt. Tim Chad for what was tantamount to bullying (dating back to a series of heated e-mail exchanges in 2012).

In this instance, Minister Blaney hired retired Vice-Admiral Larry Murray to investigate Chad’s harassment complaint that he had been bullied by Paulson. In 2014, Murray found in favor of Chad’s complaints, specifically two of the three. Paulson’s forced apology was based on his exercising “bad judgement.” He was also to be monitored for the next three years to ensure no reprisals against Tim Chad.

The RCMP’s troubles go deeper. A case in point is the horrific slayings of four Mounties in Moncton, New Brunswick, on June 14, 2014. The killer, Justin Bourque, deliberately hunted the Mounties, in one situation slaying one officer in front of a family watching from their living room window. It was a tragic day, and likely one that could not have been prevented. However, what was reprehensible was the Mounties not having in their detachment adequate armored vests and the new issue Colt C8 carbine. These were flown in from headquarters in Ottawa many hours later. Too little too late.

Colt Waterloo Police

One of the outcomes from the slayings was the filing of four Canada Labour Code charges by the federal government against the RCMP. The charges pertained to the equipment, training and supervision of RCMP officers.

In the following months, the media reported how the RCMP had delayed the deployment of the carbines across Canada. Excuses included several modifications to the weapons and budget cuts. Of interest is that while RCMP brass sat on their thumbs, other Canadian municipal police forces have equipped and trained their officers with the same semi-automatic rifle. (Photo: Waterloo, Ontario police with Colt C8.)

Unfortunately, nothing seems to have been learned from the 2005 slayings of four RCMP constables in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, of frightening parallel to the Moncton shootings nine years later.

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Real leaders, regardless of whether working in business, government or non-profit, act consistently with integrity. They shun any notion of engaging in verbal jousting with their followers, instead communicating face-to-face in a respectful way. They follow the late Stephen Covey’s habit Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. Commissioner Paulson, as a top organizational leader, has failed miserably on that front.

Real leaders, rather than making excuses for impediments to taking effective action (such as Paulson has done on the issue of dealing with problem officers), get out in front and make it happen.

And in tackling major organizational problems, real leaders make themselves visible and accessible to employees. Email and social media don’t cut it.

The RCMP is in crisis. Whether it can ever regain its once well-deserved international reputation is uncertain. I wonder what my great uncle Bill would think.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

– Dwight D. Eisenhower


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