The RCMP is making it simpler to release officers with serious medical problems, prompting fears that many ill members will be sent packing without due process or the means to fight their dismissal.
Mountie Jeff Whipple pictured in Spruce Grove, Alta., in December. Whipple, who suffers from post-traumatic stress over the infamous shooting in Mayerthorpe, Alta., is protesting his release from the police force for medical reasons. — File photo by The Canadian Press
Under the old rules an officer who protested a medical discharge because of mental or physical disability could remain on the payroll until the matter was settled.
New regulations, slated to take effect in June, say a decision as to whether to release or demote a member will not be put on hold while a grievance works its way through the system.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the more streamlined procedures, which flow from legislation passed last year aimed at modernizing the force.
The Conservative government argued the changes would permit the force to promptly deal with grievances that often fester for years, hurting workplace morale and leaving careers in limbo. Critics, including the NDP, said the measures placed too much power in RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson’s hands and would only worsen relations with members.
Cpl. Roland Beaulieu, a B.C. Mountie on stress leave, says he became ill in 2001 when supervisors refused to properly address his complaints about issues including unpaid overtime and lack of promotion.
He recently received a message from the force saying it was taking the first step toward medically discharging him, and he knows of two others who just got notices. He suspects that when the new regulations take effect, “they’re going to punt a lot of people that are off in the same situation that I am.”
“It gives them carte blanche to say, ‘You’re out of here.’”
Paulson sought new disciplinary powers to deal with “bad apples” — including rogue officers — more swiftly, said Gerry Hoyland, a former Mountie now helping several other officers with grievances.
“Instead, the government has provided him the means of medically discharging members much more easily,” said Hoyland, who fought his own battles with the police force over on-the-job harassment.
“I know from past experiences that the new medical discharge process will not be fair.”
Cpl. David Falls, an RCMP spokesman, said procedural fairness would be respected, adding the legislation “does not provide for members to be summarily discharged.”
Under the new rules, discharge boards or hearings will no longer exist. The member will be given notice by a senior officer, relevant information in RCMP files and the opportunity to make written submissions. The senior officer may agree to hear oral arguments.
Rules posted on the RCMP’s internal human-resources Infoweb say a medically discharged member may grieve the decision, and the outcome of the grievance can be independently scrutinized by an oversight body, the RCMP External Review Committee.
But the decision to discharge someone will not be put on hold while a grievance plays out, the rules say.
As Cpl. Jeff Whipple knows, the grievance process can be lengthy.
Whipple, who suffers from post-traumatic stress over the infamous shooting in Mayerthorpe, Alta. — in which four colleagues were killed — is protesting his release from the police force for medical reasons.
He is the second Mountie grappling with emotional fallout from the 2005 event that the RCMP has moved to medically discharge — a process Whipple alleges was done behind his back in violation of force rules.
Whipple was among the first on the horrific Mayerthorpe shooting scene. But he says his difficulties began later due to lack of understanding and proper care from his employer as he tried to come to terms with the tragedy.
“My hurt, pain, is from what they did after the incident — not the incident,” he said in an interview.
In 2009, Whipple sued the RCMP. Three years later the force discharged him on medical grounds, which he grieved, alleging lack of due process including denial of access to files he needed to argue his case.
“They just don’t take responsibility,” he said. “They don’t look after their people.”
Paulson insisted last year the idea was to care for injured and ill Mounties with the primary objective helping them return to policing.
“And where we can’t do that, then we have to work with them to try and find them employment within the organization — or ultimately help them make the adjustment,” he told The Canadian Press.
“We just have to face that some people get to a situation where they’re not in a position to contribute at work anymore.”
Falls said it’s in no one’s interest to have members on protracted medical leave.
“We owe it to our fellow officers who rely on each other for support and backup to manage our workforce responsibly,” he said. “That is why we cannot, in good conscience, pay a full salary indefinitely to an employee whose health prevents them from performing duties within the RCMP.”
By Jim Bronskill
THE CANADIAN PRESS—OTTAWA