by Roxanna Bennett
Today a national hotline will be implemented for female RCMP officers and others who have experienced sexual harassment at the hands of the police. The service will be staffed by Battered Women’s Support Services, offering confidential emotional support and referrals to legal services.
The launch of the service was spurred by the public statements of Cpl. Catherine Galliford in advance of her testimony at the Missing Women’s Inquiry. Galliford expressed that she wishes the option of a hotline had been available to her while she was working on the force. She said: “Female police officers are incredible public servants and the general public is only starting to hear about the harassment that we go through. It can break you, and then if you need help, it’s very hard to find.
A phone line, with confidentiality and referral to counselling, and medical and legal help, is an excellent idea. I went to every doctor on the planet,” Galliford continued, saying the RCMP’s internal employee assistance program leaked her medical files to the RCMP and did not offer her any help with her situation or ongoing emotional issues. Galliford has post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia and has been on sick leave for the past four years. Her illness is a direct result of the continual sexual harassment she suffered during her 16 year career with the RCMP.
The harassment began before she entered the force. In 1991, having started her training with the force the year before, Galliford was stalked by an RCMP officer. Allegedly, the officer stalking her told her that if she did not have sex with him he would stop her from getting onto the force.
Galliford joined the Missing Women’s Task Force in 2001 with the intention of hunting down a serial killer that was preying on women in the Downtown Lower Eastside of Vancouver. She was the public spokesperson for the Air India bombings and the Pickton case.
Galliford will be testifying at the Pickton Inquiry in January with the support of police psychologist Mike Webster and she intends to “name names.” Galliford said the RCMP had enough evidence for a search warrant for the Pickton farm in 1999 but did nothing. Fourteen women were murdered by Robert Pickton between 1999 and 2002. In 2002, Pickton was arrested for an unrelated charge when junior officer Nathan Wells obtained a search warrant related to illegal firearms.
Galliford released a 115-page statement to the RCMP detailing the apathy, misogyny, and discriminatory conduct of both the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP after the formation of the Missing Women Task Force. In her statement Galliford says that members of the Task Force watched porn and left work early to drink and engage in sexual liaisons. In an interview Galliford said of her former colleagues: “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.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.”
Soon after joining the force, Galliford found enough evidence for a search warrant but her discovery was met with indifference.
“The minute I read that file I could have put everything together for another search warrant and nothing was done. It was concluded. 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. At that time in the investigation, Pickton was the only one. There were potential suspects, but Pickton was the only suspect.”
Galliford said the file contained evidence of guns, women’s clothing, government I.D., and an asthma inhaler that belonged to one of the missing women. Instead of obtaining a warrant to search the farm, senior RCMP staff curtailed surveillance at the farm. Galliford attributes this disinterest with the systemic misogynistic culture of the RCMP.
A particularly disturbing form of harassment occurred for Galliford as the details of the Pickton murders began to emerge. Other members of the Task Force had a “fantasy” about Galliford that they insisted on sharing with her. In an interview she said:
“They wanted to see Willie Pickton escape from prison, track me down and strip me naked, string me up on a meat hook and gut me like a pig. And they actually started laughing and fist-tapping each other.”
Catherine Galliford is not the only female RCMP officer to state publicly that they were sexually harassed at work. Krista Carle, a former Mountie, says that in the 20 years she was on the force she was constantly sexually harassed, most often by senior staff. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2004, Carle applied for medical discharge in 2009.
In an interview Carle said: “It’s an old boy’s culture . . . and if you can’t cut it, there’s something wrong with you or you shouldn’t be in that field. Like, you should just be able to take a joke. It’s just a joke, it’s not hurting anybody.”
In 1991 Carle started on the force in Alberta, and was sickened to find pornography placed inside her desk. There was an internal review but Carle says that nothing came of it and no one found out who had placed the material in her desk. In the 1990s, Carle, along with four other officers, settled out of court with the RCMP after being allegedly sexually assaulted by an undercover sergeant.
In 2010, male RCMP officers providing security for the Olympics were charged with making inappropriate sexual advances toward their female colleagues.
In August 2011, 13-year veteran of the force Constable Susan Gastaldo began legal action against her senior supervisor, whom she alleged attempted to coerce her into a sexual relationship. Now suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, Gastaldo says that the staff sergeant attempted to engage her in over 20 nonconsensual sexual acts and once anally raped her. She claims that the staff sergeant threatened to hurt her children and husband and destroy her career if she reported his conduct.
Newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has said that the issue of harassment is “first on my plate” and: “I want a full, fair and thorough look at how we handle allegations of sexual harassment so we can get to the bottom of the problem, fix it, and get on with the critical work of keeping Canadians safe.”
The national hotline will be available for female RCMP members during business hours at 1-855-687-1868.
(Photo by Thivierr via Wikimedia Commons)