A damning report on Canada’s largest police force was recently released by former Supreme Court of Canada judge, The Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C. Q.C.

“`Broken Dreams, Broken Lives’: The Devastating Effects of Sexual Harassment on Women in the RCMP” concludes that the culture of the RCMP is toxic, and tolerates misogynistic and homophobic attitudes among leaders and members.

Bastarache was the independent assessor of class action compensation for 2304 women who experienced serious forms of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Within the stories of victims, and the findings of this massive, harrowing review are takeaways for leaders who seek to maintain a safe and just workplace.


“[I]t is impossible to fully convey the depth of the pain” heard in claimant interviews, writes Bastarache. “What the women told the Assessors shocked them to their core”:

  • The report describes a “shocking” level of violence and sexual assault, with over 130 claimants disclosed penetrative sexual assaults.
  • The report describes a “shocking” level of violence and sexual assault, with over 130 claimants disclosed penetrative sexual assaults.
  • Of particular concern in the context of policing was the denial, or the threat of the denial, of “backup” support for targeted women from other officers.
  • Claimants described a sexualized environment characterized by frequent swearing, highly degrading expressions that reference women’s bodies, sexual jokes, innuendos, discriminatory comments with respect to the abilities of women, and unwelcome sexual touching.
  • Women who identified as LGBTQ2S+ were also subjected to ostracization, pejorative comments, sexual assaults and being outed without their consent.

TAKEAWAY #1: Workplace Harassment Causes Serious Damage

Left to fester, workplace harassment is illegal, a risk to an organization’s reputation, and most importantly – a grave threat to the physical and mental health of employees.

Bastarache found that the “full tragedy and suffering of what the RCMP’s failure to provide a safe workplace has done to these women is overwhelming”:

  • Many women have been diagnosed with serious psychological injuries including Major Depressive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic attacks and substance dependence.
  • Claimants also reported a lack of trust in the RCMP, a lack of trust in men, feelings of isolation, withdrawal from social activities, friendships and sexual relations, humiliation, lack of self-esteem and lack of confidence.
  • Many women experienced eating disorders, alcohol abuse, suicidal feelings (one women died from suicide during the claims process), self-harm, panic attacks, vomiting on the way to work, inability to maintain a positive relationship with their spouse and children.

TAKEAWAY #2: Where There’s One Form of Discrimination, There Are Likely Others

Be live to all complaints of any and all forms of harassment in your organization. People who target one group to harass rarely…er…discriminate.

In the face of widespread protests against racism and police brutality, and the death of George Floyd last spring, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki denied that systemic racism exists in the RCMP.

Yet, from its inception, “the Force” implemented federal government goals of “settling” the West, including displacing and criminalizing Indigenous peoples. The RCMP remains the police force in many northern and rural communities, and ongoing incidents and allegations of racism and other forms of discrimination remain.

“This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon,” states the Bastarache report. More accurately, many might argue, this class action “has further tarnished” the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon.

TAKEAWAY #3: If You Don’t Fix It Yourselves, External Solutions Will Be Imposed

“Change from within” is not an option for the RCMP to remedy itself: “there are strong reasons to doubt that the RCMP has the capacity or the will to make the changes necessary to address the toxic aspects of its culture.” External independent review and involvement (eg. federal government) is Bastarache’s recommendation.

Once complaints proliferate unabated, and a hostile culture takes hold, leaders will be seen as part of the problem, not the source of a solution. (Bastarache: “Most of these individuals are invested in the status quo and will not likely want to make the necessary changes to eradicate this toxic culture.”)

For most organizations, the external loss of faith likely won’t come from a former SCC judge, but rather from shareholders, customers, the media, the board of directors, head office, or employees on social media platforms.

In order to maintain trust and credibility, leaders must carry out the hard, preventative work that tackles the root of any toxicity in the workplace culture.