Sexual harassment in the RCMP and the failure to catch a serial killer
by Perry Bulwer
The previous post on this blog concerned corporal punishment of children as an abuse of authority. For four years, from June 2007 to June 2011, I archived news articles at Religion and Child Abuse News related to another type of abuse of authority, namely religiously motivated child abuse, which sometimes includes corporal punishment. I archived well over 3000 news articles on the subject, which represents only a small fraction of such abuse that occurred around the world during that period. I am certain that if I had focused instead on another kind of abuse of authority that appears in news reports almost daily, a similar archive would contain at least as many articles. I am speaking of police misconduct, and I touched on the subject in a previous post, Rogue Cops: A few bad apples or a rotten barrel Part 1.
In that article I used a few examples, one from California and one from Ontario, to support my contention that police misconduct, whether it is outright criminal behaviour or unethical, unprofessional conduct, is often indicative of systemic problems. In other words, the problem is not confined to just a few rogue cops, or 'bad apples', as organizations often describe problem members rather than admit to systemic failures. The larger problem is that the barrel itself is rotten, which inevitably creates more rotten apples.
I realize now that the reference to a rotten barrel in the title of this article and its predecessor is somewhat ambiguous, since it could refer to either all of the apples in the barrel or the barrel itself. In the original article I did attempt to clarify what I meant by that reference, writing:
If he was a bad apple, so were his superiors, which suggests the entire barrel was rotten. There are just too many cases of police misconduct (I'm referring to the U.S. and Canada) for it to be a matter of a few corrupt cops. The problem is rooted in police culture and training.
To be more clear, what I mean is that it is the barrel itself, and the barrel makers that are rotten. Professor Zimbardo's classification of evil activity is instructive here: "... individual (a few bad apples), situational (a bad barrel of apples) or systemic (bad barrel makers)".
And if you think 'evil' is too strong a word to use in relation to police misconduct, consider Zimbardo's definition of evil in The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil:
Let's begin with a definition of evil. Mine is a simple, psychologically based one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others—or using one's authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is "knowing better but doing worse."
To abuse one's authority is to abuse the power, or perceived power, one holds over another, which is what misbehaving police do, and such abuse is evil. I think most people reading this blog will not need much convincing that police brutality is evil, but if you do need convincing just look at the photos in this article about a teen girl battered by a police officer in the back of a police car with two or three other police officers watching.
That the victim in that case is an Aboriginal woman in a town and province with a history of racist police misconduct ought not to surprise anyone. But police bigotry is not confined to race, as the current Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (the Inquiry) is hearing from various witnesses. That Inquiry is examining the neglectful role of police forces, particularly the Vancouver Police and the RCMP, that enabled a serial killer to continue disappearing and killing women, most of whom were street sex trade workers, for years after he was first identified as the prime suspect. I am very familiar with that case because I lived in the neighbourhood where many of the victims were working and disappearing from, and know all too well the disdain many police officers had for street prostitutes and their advocates. In fact, I told a parliamentary committee examining the issue of prostitution how the police aided residents with the NIMBY attitude who organized to push prostitutes into a dark and dangerous industrial area, but that advocates such as the resident group I was working with were ridiculed and hampered in our efforts to protect women from the more dangerous aspects of street sex work.
While the police were still in denial that a serial killer was preying on vulnerable street workers, at least until he was finally arrested in 2002, those street workers and their advocates had every reason to believe the police were denying the obvious because of who the missing women were. The attitude of police, as well as many residents, towards street prostitutes and advocates trying to protect them from harm was the same attitude now being exposed by an RCMP whistleblower who has made damning allegations of sexual harassment within the RCMP as well as claiming that police indifference towards the missing women led to the bungling of the case and more murdered women. As I told that parliamentary committee, for example, at several meetings on this issue held in community policing offices in my neighbourhood I and other advocates were sometimes prevented from speaking and ridiculed by name calling such as "hooker huggers" (like environmentalists who are called "tree huggers"). I personally wore that as a badge of honour since I think trying to save a human is at least as noble as trying to save a tree, but the point is that name calling like that is intended to denigrate the other, to demean them, to dehumanize them, which is evil. And now the Inquiry has heard evidence from "... Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, author of a 2010 report critical of the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP, [who] admitted that former Vancouver deputy police chief John Unger referred to the dozens of missing women as “just hookers.""
That misogynistic, sexist attitude of the police regarding the dozens of missing women was not just confined to street sex trade workers. The RCMP whistleblower, Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was the RCMP spokeswoman on the missing women investigations, has blown the door wide open on sexism and sexual harassment inside the RCMP. She has filed a formal complaint over 100 pages long with the RCMP, is planning to sue the RCMP, and will testify in 2012 before the Inquiry. Here is what Galliford has said about the sexual harassment she faced:
"Everything that came out of his [a supervisor's] mouth was sexual," Galliford said. "If I had a dime for every time one of my bosses asked me to sit on his knee, I'd be on a yacht in the Bahamas right now."
Galliford says she faced constant sexual advances from several senior officers from the moment she graduated from the RCMP Academy in 1991.
She outlines years of harassment in a 115-page internal complaint that the RCMP has yet to respond to, including allegations a supervisor on the Missing Women's Task Force lied to colleagues when he said they were intimate and that he even exposed himself to her.
"He said, 'I have something to show you' ... and pulled out an appendage. He wanted to show me his mole because he wanted to know if I thought it was cute," she said.
"I said, 'Let's go back to the office. We're late. Put it back in your pants.'"
According to Galliford, a supervisor on the Air India Task Force was even more direct.
"One of my bosses kept trying to be intimate with me throughout my time on Air India and kept on taking me on the road trying to have sex with me," she said.
"We don't have any new information to share with the Air India families right now, so why are we going on this trip? And no one said anything, but it was because he wanted to give the perception that we were a couple."
Galliford says the command and control structure at the RCMP means Mounties are instructed to do as they're told, or risk getting reprimanded.
"If they can't screw you, they are going to screw you over. And that's what it became like and so I started to normalize the harassment because I didn't know what else to do," she said.
"It just got to the point that after I had about 16 years of service, I broke. I completely broke."
In 2007, Galliford joined the ranks of 225 B.C. Mounties who are currently off duty on sick leave.
Obviously, her lengthy complaint contains many more details, but that brief account is enough to reveal a disgusting environment of sexism and abuse of authority. It is that kind of environment I refer to when I write of rotten police culture. Cpl. Galliford has also revealed some details of her planned testimony before the Inquiry, exposing the indifferent attitude of police officers investigating the missing women case:
Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was the RCMP spokeswoman on the Air India and Pickton investigations, said Thursday that police could have obtained a search warrant for convicted serial killer Robert Pickton years before they arrested the B.C. pig farmer.
She said she's read a 1999 Coquitlam RCMP file that nobody seems to be able to locate now.
RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen responded in a written statement, noting it would be inappropriate to comment on anything related to the inquiry.
"You know what? I'm not an armchair quarterback, I'm not," said Galliford. "Never have and never will be. But the minute I read that file I could have put everything together for another search warrant and nothing was done. It was concluded.
"I have to be very careful about what I say right now," she added. "I'm sure that when I testify on behalf of the missing women inquiry, I'll be able to be more forthcoming."
Galliford said the file she read included information that would have allowed police to obtain a search warrant for Pickton's farm.
She said the file had been "purged" from a 1997 file, noting a purge takes place when a file is too big so the information inside is carried over to another year.
"You had a lot of other potential suspects, but in this certain file, we had enough for another search warrant. He wasn't a potential suspect. He was a suspect and there is a difference in the police world."
Police consider a person a suspect, said Galliford, when they have found evidence and can put the person at the scene of a crime.
"At that time in the investigation, Pickton was the only one," she said. "There were potential suspects, but Pickton was the only suspect."
Cpl. Galliford places the blame for that failure of police to connect the dots, stop the killer sooner and save lives squarely on police indifference, in other words on police culture:
Galliford says she saw numerous problems inside the investigation, including investigators who were more interested in padding their paycheques and drinking alcohol than catching a serial killer.
"They would break between noon and 2 p.m. PT to just drink and party and go for lunch, but then they would go back to work on Friday and claim double-time," she said Wednesday.
"There was a police indifference and that, I believe, is why it went on for so long [to catch Pickton], and why so many women lost their lives."
The indifference of the police towards the missing women -- denying a serial killer was on the loose; denigrating the missing women as "just hookers"; neglecting to follow up solid leads and making connections that were obvious to citizens and their own spokesperson -- is directly related to the misogynist attitudes directed at and exposed by Cpl. Galliford. If you have any doubt about that, consider these cruel comments that she was subjected to by fellow officers:
At Pickton’s trial, eyewitness Lynn Ellingsen gave key testimony that she saw Pickton hang a woman from a meat hook in his barn and gut her.
Ellingsen and Pickton had picked up the woman, whom Ellingsen believes was Papin, earlier that night in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was the spokeswoman for the Missing Women Vancouver police and RCMP Task Force, revealed in an interview Tuesday with the Vancouver Province, and in a 115-page statement, that male officers told her they had a “fantasy.”
“They fantasized about Willie Pickton escaping from prison,” Galliford said in her statement to RCMP Insp. Paul Darbyshire and RCMP Supt. Dave DeBolt.
“He would escape from prison, track me down, strip me naked, hang me from a meat hook and gut me like a pig,” Galliford told the Vancouver Province.
Galliford, who emphasized she knows many police officers who cared deeply about the missing women, said only one other officer in the roomful of men seemed as shocked and horrified as she did.
At the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday, Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, author of a 2010 report critical of the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP, admitted that former Vancouver deputy police chief John Unger referred to the dozens of missing women as “just hookers.”
What Cpl. Galliford reveals about the sexist attitude within the RCMP as well as the misogynistic indifference of those investigating the missing women case is beyond rotten and disgusting, it is truly evil. RCMP culture is rotten to the core if a room full of male officers can dehumanize a female officer with images of the gruesome slaughter of a serial killer's victim while laughing about it. If that is the attitude RCMP officers and their superiors have towards their own female members, then it is no surprise at all that their indifference and neglect in the missing women case led to the murder of more women. There is a direct link between sexual harassment within the RCMP and their failure to catch a serial killer of women. It turns out that many female RCMP officers have something in common with their sisters working the street. Apparently, some male officers and bosses do not discriminate when it comes to sexual bigotry, degrading women regardless of whether they wear a uniform or work the street.
In Part One of this article I used examples from both Canada and the U.S. to illustrate my contention that the problem with all police forces in those countries is not that there a few bad apples, or even a barrel of bad apples, but that the barrels themselves are rotten. My opinion that police culture is corrupt is informed partly by personal experience, but mostly through media accounts, not through any comprehensive investigation of policing issues. However, I think it is a conclusion easily reached by any casual observer of such matters. Nevertheless, I will give the final word regarding corrupt police culture to an insider who knows a thing or two about policing. Norm Stamper is a former Seattle police chief and outspoken board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). He is also author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing and he recently wrote an article for The Nation magazine titled "Paramilitary Policing from Seattle to Occupy Wall Street." He is an expert in these matters and he confirms my conclusions regarding rotten barrels. In a Democracy Now interview Stamper notes:
"There are many compassionate, decent, competent police officers who do a terrific job day in and day out. There are others who are, quote, 'bad apples.' What both of them have in common is that they 'occupy,' as it were, a system, a structure that itself is rotten. And I am talking about the paramilitary bureaucracy."
And in his article in The Nation he writes:
I’m convinced it is possible to create a smart organizational alternative to the paramilitary bureaucracy that is American policing. But that will not happen unless, even as we cull “bad apples” from our police forces, we recognize that the barrel itself is rotten.
UPDATE: December 10, 2011
On December 8, 2011, Bob Paulson was officially sworn in as the RCMP's 23rd commissioner. He announced several 'get tough' measures to deal with sexual harassment allegations within the force. While they are positive steps which will help to prevent or properly punish future incidents, Paulson's quick dismissal of historic abuses and injustices calls into question just how serious he is at getting to the systemic roots of the problem.
He claims that discipline and accountability will be key under his watch, yet he appears to be avoiding any accountability for one particularly egregious case. It involves accusations of assault and sexual harassment by four female colleagues of Sgt. Robert Blundell in the late 1990s. Retired RCMP superintendent Ian Atkins conducted an internal review at the time, investigating how the case was handled. His conclusion then, and today, is that Blundell should have been fired. And a lawyer who was hired by the RCMP to prosecute Blundell in an internal hearing revealed recently that she was shocked when an RCMP superintendent flew in to negotiate a deal with Blundell. In the end, Blundell was only ordered to take counselling and fined one day's pay. He was later promoted.
In a media scrum after his swearing in ceremony, as well as in his first formal TV interview, Paulson said, "I like to think the Blundell case has been resolved," and that he didn't want to debate the decision. But the thing is, the case is not resolved for Blundell's four female colleagues who never received justice for the personal and institutional abuse they suffered, nor is the case resolved for the public or the RCMP because an injustice like this, committed by the very people whose duty it is to uphold justice, brings disrepute to not just the RCMP but the entire legal system.
Further media updates to this story, including coverage of the missing women inquiry and RCMP harrassment cases, will be added to the comments section below.
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