Should the RCMP Use External Investigators?
The CBC recently reported on the RCMP Chief Superintendent’s recommendation that complaints of bullying and harassment should be investigated by an external body. The complaints of bullying and harassment are not new. In fact, a report was issued in 2013 by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police which uncovered workplace issues and provided statistics for the number of harassment complaints filed across Canada’s provinces and territories.
The RCMP has since instituted a Gender and Respect Action Plan, but still requires a formal process for investigating complaints. The question is, should they address these matters internally, or hire external assistance?
There are several good reasons for using either an internal or external resource, and the best decision often depends on the characteristics of the workplace, and/or the specific issue in question.
Internal investigations can often be completed at a lesser cost, as the individual conducting the investigation is already an employee of the organization. Investigations will likely take up a relatively small percentage of the internal investigator’s work time if the organization has taken appropriate steps to develop a safe, respectful, and healthy work environment. Timing for completion is another factor, as internal investigators are already in the workplace and ready to be engaged when the complaint arises.
The most obvious reason for using an external investigator is the need for confidence in the process and the expertise of the individual conducting the investigation. Simply put, an individual assigned investigate a complaint may not have the time, training, ability, or demeanour to conduct a proper investigation. Simply assigning an employee to investigate a complaint, and then at completion stating that the complaint was investigated, does not necessarily discharge an employer’s responsibility. A complainant or respondent may still reach out to the Ministry of Labour or Human Rights Commission, in which case the investigation process may be scrutinized. Therefore, it is important to ensure that a capable investigator is assigned.
Also for consideration when deciding whether to investigate internally or externally are availability of internal investigators, and employee/labour relations. In addition to honestly assessing whether a proper investigation can be conducted internally, organizations should weigh the cost of lost productive time by the internal investigator against the cost of an external resource. Organizations with a dedicated investigator on the payroll will likely find more value by going internal, but where the person assigned to investigate has other duties, value may be found in hiring an external investigator.
Lastly, and this relates directly to the RCMP case, employee/labour relations, or more specifically, trust, is an important consideration. A review of the 2013 report reveals that many employees who witnessed or experienced harassment at various times during their RCMP career felt as though their employer did not take the complaints seriously, did not respond appropriately, and allowed a negative work environment to persist despite complaints. In a situation such as this, employees may have a hard time buying into the employer’s dedication to investigate complaints internally. In other words, the damage has been done and now the RCMP has to rebuild the trust of its employees.
In these circumstances, it seems that the best step for the RCMP to take at the moment is to use external investigator, at least until a comprehensive process for internal investigations is implemented, and the RCMP develops, on an organizational level, a competency and willingness to address and investigate complaints.