In this day and age, there is no excuse for discrimination based on race or sex in any Canadian workplace.
As Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees, all of us have a right to racial and sexual equality in this country. Archaic thinking along gender and racial lines should be a relic of a previous age — studied, understood, but no longer acceptable.
And yet, at least one of this country’s most venerated institutions — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — seem to be slow to catch on to that fact.
This week, The Canadian Press reported that the RCMP is now allowing women to wear pants and boots with all their formal uniforms. This decision follows a nearly decade-old complaint from an unnamed female officer who filed a grievance because she was denied boots and pants to wear with her formal walking out order. Up until recently, a female officer’s required formal uniform included a long blue skirt and black leather pumps.
Her January 2003 complaint was twice denied on the grounds that she had been aware on graduation from RCMP training of the force’s uniform requirements and should have filed her grievance at that point.
Though the External Review Committee disagreed with that determination, it still did not make changes as it found her case did not constitute discrimination under the law. However, the committee’s report, which was signed by chairwoman Catherine Ebbs, said the grievance raised a reasonable question — namely why the force did not permit female officers to choose which style of uniform they wished to wear, male or female.
Of course, this policy has now changed — according to an RCMP spokesperson, female officers can now get pants and boots on request, though official uniform regulations still require a skirt for female officers in Walking Out Order. He said it will take time for the adjustment to be incorporated into the dress manual.
The excuse given by Staff-Sgt. Maj. Sylvain L’heureux for the nine year delay was that the pants and boots are expensive, difficult to source and only available in men’s sizes.
Hogwash. If that were true, why is it now possible for female officers to have that choice? A sudden change in uniform sourcing?
To our minds, this smacks of a latent resistance on the part of the force administration to change and a failure to make necessary changes to make the officer workplace one free from sexual discrimination.
In March, lawyers representing a former RCMP officer from Nanaimo, B.C. filed a class-action lawsuit for alleged sexual harassment against the force.
The female officer, Janet Merlo, said she endured 20 years of sexual harassment, sexual pranks, lewd comments and double standards from male supervisors. The CBC reported that her lawyers also say that up to 150 women are ready to join the suit with their own stories of harassment and gender-based discrimination in the RCMP.
While none of these allegations have been proven in court, it does raise concerns over how female officers are treated by their male peers and superiors. This, and the late-won right to wear pants, suggest the RCMP has a lot of internal work to do before they can move past their very public troubles.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 18, 2012