‘They gave me my life back’: RCMP member on harassment report

Alice Fox finds hope in harassment report after 4.5-year civil claim against former boss

This story is the first in a series on Alice Fox’s experience with PTSD and harassment in the RCMP.

On May 14, Alice Fox fell asleep peacefully. She didn’t have nightmares about going to court against the RCMP. She didn’t wake up covered in sweat. It was the first night that had happened in a long time.

“I am so happy. I feel like I just won the lottery,” she said.

“They’re giving me something many members have died for.”

That night, Fox had gone to bed in her Cloverdale apartment with a copy of a report about RCMP harassment in her hand. Inside, it examined the stories of four RCMP members who had filed civil suits against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Catherine Galliford, Susan Gastaldo, Atoya Montague and herself, Alice Fox.

The report had been in the works for nearly a year. In July 2016, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale appointed former auditor general Sheila Fraser as a special advisor on a report on harassment in the RCMP.

The goal was to examine the four cases and provide recommendations to solve the difficulties the four women faced.

And the result: that bullying and harassment remain serious problems within the RCMP and only major changes to the way the police force is run will make a difference, according to the report.

The coordination of the report followed a letter Galliford, Gastaldo, Montague and Fox sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2015. They asked him in the conclusion of the letter “to move forward with the proposed changes and promises made over the past four years to improve the status and treatment of women in the RCMP once and for all.”

For Fox, the changes shouldn’t just deal with women, but all RCMP members. “This is not just a women’s issue,” she said. “This is a clear example of what happens when you don’t follow the rule of law.”

Fraser’s report is one of three reports about the RCMP to be released in the week of May 15. The second report was an examination of the RCMP’s approach to workplace harassment conducted by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. The third was a report on the RCMP’s mental health strategy, put forward by current auditor general Michael Ferguson on May 16.

For Fox, Fraser’s report was a declaration of the truth behind a story she had been trying to tell for four and a half years.

“They gave me my life back,” she said. “I’m going to be okay.”

That wasn’t the purpose of her report, Fraser said. Instead, the report was intended to examine what happened to these women after they filed harassment complaints with the RCMP — not to label one party as right or wrong.

“We actually looked a little broader than that,” Fraser added. “We were curious to know what had led them to file the civil suits.”

Unlike Galliford, Gastaldo and Montague, who all filed claims on sexual harassment, Fox’s claim was of harassment and discrimination. Fox alleged that her supervisor, Staff Sgt. Marc Alexander, harassed her based on her disabilities, including dyslexia, dysgraphia and visual perception disorder.

In January 2013, Fox left the RCMP on medical leave due to stress, she wrote in a statement for her civil claim. In February 2013, she filed a formal harassment complaint against Alexander.

After she filed the complaint, Fox claims that she experienced even greater harassment from Alexander. In her civil claim statement, Fox wrote that Alexander and the RCMP have attempted “to tarnish my name as a competent member.” She alleged that Alexander solicited public complaints against Fox and tampered with Fox’s case files.

In Alexander’s response to the civil claim, he denied “each and every allegation of fact or law as set out in the Notice of Civil Claim unless expressly admitted” in his response. He did not specifically address the alleged harassment after Fox’s complaint in his response.

Alexander did not respond to The Reporter’s request for an interview by press deadline.

Fox’s claim also alleged Alexander altered information in her case files to discredit her and Fraser’s report found the RCMP investigation about the alleged tampering was insufficient.

The report said the response focused instead on whether the changes Alexander made would “negatively impact the integrity of this (drug) investigation.”

In the report, Fraser wrote that “while the decision-maker concluded that the supervisor’s interventions did not have an adverse effect on the actual police investigation, it remains the organization did not deal with the substance of her complaint.

“Even more problematic,” the report continued, “is the fact that the alleged activity took place after she had submitted a harassment complaint against the supervisor.”

The report did not prove if the tampering had actually happened, only that the investigation did not deal with Fox’s complaint.

“Do you know how crazy you feel, to go four and a half years saying ‘I’ve told you the right thing’ a hundred and ten times,” Fox said in an interview before the report was released. At that time, Fraser had already taken her findings to the four women involved in the report.

“And then you have to get the government in to say, ‘Alice, you’re right.’ I’m like —” She pounded her chest four times, her eyes closed. “That’s the definition of misandry my friend. I couldn’t work in the last four and a half years. This is my life.

“It’s hard.”

To date, only one of the civil suits put forward by the four women has been addressed in court. None of the claims are part of the October 2016 settlement offer for women who suffered discrimination and harassment in the RCMP.

All four women suffer from PTSD. Fox believes that at least part of her PTSD came from having to deal with the RCMP during her harassment claim.

“It was actually at times very difficult,” Fraser said about interviewing the women for her report. “They told us later that they did have like a physical and emotional reaction to having to go back through all that.

“I knew that we were in one way causing harm to these women. (But) hopefully their contribution will lead to change and to making things better.”

Fox hopes so too.

“Management failed me,” she said. “But you know what, it’s time we learn from it. Move on.”

In the report, Fraser recommended a Board of Management be created as an external and independent body to effect organizational changes in the RCMP. This is the same recommendation that was put forward by the 2007 Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP.

She’s hopeful this report will have an impact on the structure of the RCMP. But, according to a report released on May 15 by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, there have been 15 reviews done of the RCMP in the past decade and internal change has been glacial at best.

The commission found that while senior leaders in the RCMP have made efforts to prevent harassment – particularly at the divisional level – these initiatives have been limited and ad hoc and have not received the necessary support from headquarters.

“There has been no effort by national headquarters to monitor their effectiveness, roll out best practices, or institutionalize reform,” the report said.

Incidents of harassment – sometimes extending over months or years – can have serious professional consequences and can cause real emotional and physical harm, the watchdog added. In turn, this may affect the operational effectiveness of the RCMP.

“Dealing with harassment is a complicated and nuanced activity,” commission counsel Emma Phillips told a news conference Monday. “It requires a nuanced approach.”

“The RCMP is too insular to be able to change on its own,” Fraser said. “There needs to be something in place that will ensure that these (anti-harassment) initiatives continue, that they show results.”

Fox won’t benefit from the creation of a Board of Management, but she doesn’t care.

“I’m okay. My job is done,” she said. “I did the right thing. And I’m proud.”

With files from The Canadian Press

 

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