News / Canada

RCMP member launches appeal to avoid new hearing over alleged harassment

Marco Calandrini is asking the court to overturn a recent decision that opens the door to a conduct hearing for alleged sex assault and harassment.

The new RCMP headquarters building is shown in Ottawa, Wednesday, October, 5 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The Canadian Press / Fred Chartrand

The new RCMP headquarters building is shown in Ottawa, Wednesday, October, 5 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA — An RCMP member who was fined for disgraceful conduct in the workplace has launched a fresh court challenge to prevent further disciplinary actions against him.

Marco Calandrini is asking the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn a recent decision that opens the door to a conduct hearing for alleged sexual assault and harassment, which could lead to his dismissal.

The court action comes as the national police force grapples with new accusations of lewd and sexist social media posts by RCMP members.

The Mounties have been wrestling for years with problems of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour in the police force.

Calandrini, a civilian member of the force, was fined five days' pay in early 2015 following an investigation into complaints of nudity at the explosives training unit of the RCMP-administered police college in Ottawa.

Meantime, a male co-worker brought allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Calandrini, saying he had touched his buttocks, inner thigh area while making suggestive remarks on three occasions between Aug. 31, 2012, and Oct. 29, 2013.

The RCMP notified the Ottawa police, but the local force did not lay criminal charges.  

However, an internal RCMP probe substantiated the allegations in October 2015 and a penalty of 15 days' pay was levied against Calandrini, who apparently accepted responsibility and expressed a desire to resolve the matter promptly.

The RCMP Act says that a conduct hearing — a more serious disciplinary step — may not be initiated against a member for an alleged contravention of the Code of Conduct more than one year after the alleged infraction becomes known.

But the RCMP invoked a time extension clause in the law and Calandrini was told in May 2016 that a conduct hearing would be in the public interest.

Calandrini unsuccessfully challenged the validity of the time extension in the Federal Court, which ruled last month the delay on the part of the RCMP "was not excessive."

On Thursday, Calandrini's counsel filed a notice of appeal, alleging the judge made errors of law.

When news of the controversy at the police college broke in early 2016, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale expressed outrage to Bob Paulson, commissioner of the RCMP at the time.

Paulson, who retired last year, spent much of his tenure as top Mountie implementing measures aimed at making the police force more respectful and responsive.

Fresh concerns emerged Friday as the CBC reported a new Facebook group supposedly created by, and limited to, male RCMP officers contains sexually suggestive material that has angered female colleagues.

One post viewed by the broadcaster showed a painting of a fictional frontier scene of an RCMP officer with a burlesque dancer performing what appears to be oral sex on him.

When concerns about disrespectful content believed to be written by an RCMP employee are brought forward, "they are and will be investigated and addressed," said Cpl. Annie Delisle, an RCMP spokeswoman.

"The RCMP has initiated Code of Conduct investigations in the past based on inappropriate comments in third-party applications or on social networking sites and we will continue to do so when these situations arise."

Public trust is essential for the RCMP to effectively fulfil its mandate, she added. "As a result, RCMP employees are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that meets the rightfully high expectations of Canadians."

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, said some of the behaviour that has been reported on the Facebook site "clearly cannot be a part of the modern, respectful workplace Canadians expect in the RCMP."

"Our government is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to help all women and men feel safe and respected at work."

Goodale has been clear with RCMP leadership that the expects comprehensive, transparent investigations, serious disciplinary measures, support for victims and concrete action to end toxic behaviour, he added.

Earlier this week, RCMP said it would undertake a Code of Conduct investigation into a private Facebook group posting by someone believed to be an officer who reportedly said a young Indigenous man deserved to die.

An Aboriginal Peoples Television Network report said a Mountie on the Prairies posted the message, which said the shooting of 22-year-old Colten Boushie on a Saskatchewan farm should never have been about race.

Boushie died two years ago when he and four others drove onto Gerald Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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