EDITORIAL: A most-needed confidence boost

The anti-sexual-harassment stance taken by B.C. RCMP's Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens is a welcome indication of change.

The anti-sexual-harassment stance taken by new Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens – head of the RCMP in B.C. – is a welcome indication that winds of change are sweeping through the force.

Late last year, when B.C. RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Catherine Galliford shared her own allegations of being harassed by male colleagues, it was the cue for a series of similar allegations from other female officers.

Callens, RCMP E Division commander, is quick to say most female officers he has heard from have had a positive experience in the force. But when an officer as highly placed as Callens says he is “not persuaded” the force has responded fully or quickly enough to allegations of sexual harassment – and that “one case is too many” – it’s a telling statement indeed.

On this issue, the presence of smoke has seldom been acknowledged as evidence of fire by the force.

The appointment of Richard Rosenthal as B.C.’s first civilian police investigator suggests that the province’s police forces are beginning to realize that greater transparency may be more of a friend than an enemy.

Callens has also sent a message he is prepared to make changes to the ‘culture’ of the RCMP, both by making sure officers who allege harassment are able to report it without fear of retribution, and by suggesting he will be taking a close look at the actions of immediate superiors of complaining officers to make sure incidents are not swept under the carpet.

He is, of course, engaged in his own damage-control mission – to rebuild public confidence in the force.

As he notes, most officers do an exceptional job, but large organizations such as the RCMP can’t afford to ignore public perceptions, even if they prove – by and large – erroneous.

The sense that an organization can close ranks and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing undermines every bit of valuable work such an organization does. Loss of confidence is a poison that can eat away at the fabric of any organization in which the public reposits its trust.

No amount of spin-doctoring or presentation of media-friendly photo ops can take away the feeling that something is wrong. Glibness, aloofness, or an unwillingness to acknowledge that there could be a problem doesn’t help either.

Taking responsibility, as Callens demonstrates, is about more than damage control, or never admitting weakness or past errors. And, as he seems to understand, that can only inspire more public confidence in the long run.