[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Our story begins around 2002, and it’s not over yet. Back then, nearly 20 years ago, a young indigenous woman in Nanaimo, British Columbia, alleged that she and others had previously been paid, coerced, and sometimes forced into sex by an RCMP Constable. The story isn’t simple, but how it began should have been. The matter at hand has never been proven in court because it was investigated too slowly to meet the benchmarks for charges to proceed, even if an internal investigation recommended them. As the case was tied in knots, the young woman took her own life. The RCMP Constable in question was placed on paid sick leave in 2004. He is still on paid sick leave right now. And he is not the only RCMP officer being paid, year after year, to not do a job because of [00:01:00] allegations or misconduct.
What does that say about the internal process of our national police force? What does it say about the resolution that victims are looking for and deserve? And even because these allegations have never been proven, what does it say about a fair investigation for officers accused of these crimes?
Something has been rotten here for well over a decade. Is this one case, or a handful of cases, or is it systemic? And if it is systemic, can we fix it? Will the RCMP even try to?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Jane Gerster is an investigative reporter who has been covering the RCMP in Canada for years now. Hey Jane.
Jane Gerster: Hey, how’s it going?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: It’s going well. Um, I appreciate you joining us and, uh, I wish we had good behaviour by [00:02:00] the RCMP to talk about.
Jane Gerster: Wouldn’t be quite as newsworthy.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: No, but maybe just to start, tell me about CC and what she says happened to her.
Jane Gerster: Sure, so CC is a young Indigenous girl who, as a teenager was sexually abused by Judge David Ramsay, who is a BC judge, um, convicted of sexually abusing several under-aged girls for nearly a decade back in the nineties. And he was sentenced in 2004 to seven years in prison, which is where he died.
And CC also was one of several of those girls who, over the course of the RCMP investigation into Ramsay, spoke about being sexually abused by RCMP officers as well. One of them, um, being Constable Justin Harris, who is the primary person that CC’s allegations centered on. [00:03:00] And CC, unfortunately, struggled a lot in life, you know, sort of had a dysfunctional growing up situation, you know, was, was in the system for a little while, which is where she sort of started to encounter Ramsay and Harris.
She ultimately passed away in 2007 from natural causes, at which point the RCMP dropped its appeal into the case against Harris.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What was the case against Harris, uh, exactly? You know, how many, uh, women or girls and, um, what were they saying occurred and what, what was the RCMP investigating?
Jane Gerster: So the RCMP was investigating, um, Harris for, um, for allegedly sexually abusing several young girls that he encountered during his work as an undercover cop, mostly working in sort of drugs and gangs in Prince George in Northern BC.
So the allegations and part of what gets really complicated [00:04:00] here is that, you know, the exact specifics of the allegations sort of changed, depending on which interview, which interview is being done. So CC over the course of her life did, uh, several interviews with RCMP officers, various RCMP officers about this and the exact specific allegations, sort of which details she focused on differed.
Um, but in broad strokes, it was that that he paid her for sex, and when she was unwilling, became abusive.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And what does he say to those allegations?
Jane Gerster: That they’re completely, false that none of that ever happened, that he ran into her twice, and that was it.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So what do we know about what the investigation actually found before the appeal was dropped?
Jane Gerster: For sure. So, you know, it’s kinda complicated. Um, a lot of this has been sort of pieced together over the years and you know, what I, what I was able to [00:05:00] report. Really a lot of it, a lot of it comes from Harris who was willing to share a lot of the documents that he sort of amassed over the years through various, you know, RCMP processes and legal processes.
What we know is that, you know, when the RCMP first heard the allegations against Ramsay and other, you know, and Mounties, they really prioritized the Ramsay allegations. And we know that from Project E Prevails, which is the investigation the RCMP launched in 2004 to look into the allegations specifically against Mounties, of which Harris was not the only one. There was at least eight Mounties who are named by various young women and teenagers, um, but only two names really became public.
Um, we know that, you know, Project E Prevails did this investigation. We know that they recommended charges against Harris, [00:06:00] charges for sexually abusing CC and also charges for sexually abusing CC’s sister KC.
And we know that, you know, at the same time, the RCMP, you know, on the basis of Project E Prevails, you know, charged Harris with violating, uh, their code of conduct. By time, sort of, they, they actually got Harris into, you know, into their code of conduct process, they had, they had blown past the RCMP act’s requirement that allegations be dealt with within a year of knowing the name of the Mountie that the allegations are being leveled against.
So we know that that’s where, you know, the internal code of conduct process fell apart and that’s the appeal that was dropped after CC’s death. Um, but criminally in the end, two crown prosecutors declined to lay charges against Harris on the basis that there wasn’t a good likelihood of conviction.
But where it sort of [00:07:00] got a bit complicated is after CC’s death, that was when the second prosecutor said, yeah, I don’t recommend charges, but internally there’s a letter from a senior RCMP officer in British Columbia saying if we had charge capabilities, I would charge Harris myself. And that’s where, you know, this whole saga of Harris being on paid leave for nearly 17 years really begins.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Tell me how that works. Like how paid leave works in the RCMP in general. Um, you know, I’m not, I don’t need crazy detail about it, but like, what is it?
Jane Gerster: Basically like in the RCMP, they classify you as different sort of statuses. Um, so like a Permanent 04, a Permanent 06, or Temporary 04 and Temporary 06 and these different classifications um, have to do with sort of what amount he has been cleared to do. You know, are they clear for active duty? You know, are [00:08:00] they on temporary leave ’cause they need to deal with medical illness? You know, um, is there, is their medical illness or psychological issue permanent, in which case we can’t have them back to work? You know, is it desk duty? Is it whatever. That, those were sort of the classifications.
Um, so in Harris’s case, um, you know, when the RCMP, you know, when they actually came to him and said, “Hey, we are, we are accusing you of violating our code of conduct. We’re putting you on paid leave.” So in that case, it was a paid suspension while the internal processes sort of worked their way through.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right. And that’s something you hear about all the time with regard to police officers accused of improper conduct. You know, I think we’re familiar with that, but it’s, it’s when it transitions to this, never ending leave that, that it’s really interesting.
Jane Gerster: Yeah, for sure. So this is where sort of you go back to when the RCMP dropped its appeal, which should have cleared the way for Harris to go back to work. When they dropped the [00:09:00] appeal, they lifted his internal suspension. Um, and at that point, sort of this process starts in which they’re like, okay, we need to recertify you. You know, what do we need to do to get you back to work? Cause at that point he’d been off or almost three years.
And, uh, basically there were delays and delays. So he, he didn’t go back. He says he felt so beaten down by that process that he was really struggling psychologically, at which point, you know, a doctor diagnosed him and he was put on ODS, so paid sick leave. So the first leave is for, you know, we’re, we’re suspending you while we investigate. And then when that’s done, the second leave starts and that’s ODS. So that is him, you know, being on off duty, sick, and that is still happening. It’s still ongoing even today.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Can you explain a little bit, um, how unique [00:10:00] this kind of situation is for the RCMP? I totally understand that there would be all sorts of ODS situations in terms of like long-term or terminal illness, um, and that kind of thing. Is there a process for resolving situations like this one where it seems like you probably need to make a decision about this guy, whether he should be a member of the force?
Jane Gerster: There’s absolutely a process. The process is just so backlogged and like the reality is Harris is not actually unique. Like he’s not the only one, like last year, uh, October 2020, there’s a Toronto Star article, “This RCMP corporal has been on medical leave for 17 years. Could an end to his messy dispute with the force be near?” And that’s a different RCMP corporal in Alberta. Same thing. He’s been on sick leave for 17 years, but Harris was actually technically removed from the force for three months during this 17 year period.
And that has to do with a change [00:11:00] to the RCMP Act in 2014. Because essentially the reason why these scenarios are possible is because there was a stipulation, um, in the RCMP Act it’s, uh, Section 45.27, that basically said any decision to discharge or demote a mountie is on pause until their appeal is processed.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And so these appeals take years.
Jane Gerster: Yes, because there’s, they’re very backlogged. And so when they repealed Section 45.27, um, which Harper’s government did that, um, sort of back in 2014 and when they did that, the idea was to make it possible to basically like remove someone from the force and they could be removed while their entire appeal was going through. And maybe the appeal reinstated them, but they’ve been paid- unpaid off work for however long that happened.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jane Gerster: So basically they tried to remove Harris in 2014 [00:12:00] when that change was made. But they couldn’t do it because his case predates those changes.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And there are others like him out there.
Jane Gerster: Yes. I mean, I kind of, this has sort of been a little bit of like an Odyssey for me, trying to figure it out and I still have like an access to information request like five years later, still working on it. Um, but statistically there are, as of last September, which is the most recent data that the RCMP would give me, there are 17 Mounties that includes Harris who are on paid sick leave for at least four years straight. You know, Harris is one of those 17, anecdotally I know about four or five others who have been more than a decade on paid sick leave. Um, but a lot of people don’t want to talk. They don’t, you know, they’re trying to navigate this and they don’t really want to go on the record.
It’s not my place as a reporter to say, this is a valid use of paid sick leave. This is not a valid use of paid sick leave. Like that’s [00:13:00] not my area, but you know, one of the reasons why this is sort of, speaks to some systemic issues within the RCMP is if you look at the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, in their 2017 report, they talk about how a lot of the members that they spoke with, how, when they talk to a force psychologist, the RCMP, you know, there’s people within the RCMP that don’t call it “off duty sick”, they call it “off duty mad”.
And that it’s essentially, you know, what, what Harris says about his case is sort of a version of what many other Mounties have told various psychologists and independent investigators. Which is that they didn’t need sick leave to begin with, but they needed sick leave once, you know, sort of the bureaucracy of the RCMP made them feel like they had no other options or made them feel like they were being gaslit or [00:14:00] made them feel like they had no choice.
You know, so in Harris’s case, you know, when it got lifted and he thought he was going to go back to work, and then he gets the letter saying, “I would charge you myself”. And then he gets another note from his, you know, sort of staff rep saying, “Yeah, they there’s, you know, something about an untested allegation.” and so there’s just all these roadblocks. And so what he says is that essentially after, you know, after more than a year of roadblocks, like he was just undone by this process.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Is there anything, um, In the bigger picture of how the RCMP operates, that could be done to fix the process here? And I’m not even speaking specifically about the 17 individuals who’ve been on it for more than four years, but about the waiting in limbo to have your appeal decided and collecting a full paycheck while you do that, presumably regardless of how bad the [00:15:00] allegations are. Yeah. I mean, or, or to fix the system more accurately, I guess, uh, the only answer is like actually step up the appeals process and get through them?
Jane Gerster: Yes. Well, I mean like, it’s that legal maxim, right? Like justice delayed is justice denied. And the RCMP has a really well-documented problem with doing things in a timely manner, both for the public and for their own members.
And so, yeah, obviously you could speed up this process, but the reality is the RCMP has been told that you need to do things in a more timely fashion, in a, you know, in a variety of fields, be it access to information, you know, be it external complaints against the force, be it internal code of conduct.
They’ve been told over and over and over, you have to do this faster. You cannot take so long. Like this is not okay. And nothing’s changed. So ultimately if you sort of follow that train of thought, you know. And there’s, you know, there’s, there’s nuance and context within that and there’s exceptions and whatnot.
But if you follow that train of [00:16:00] thought, a lot of it goes back to oversight of the force. Who is making sure that they do actually do it faster? Who is making sure that they put the resources there? Who is making sure that their use of their own code of conduct system is fair, because frankly, a lot of Mounties have alleged that it is not, and there’s a lot, you know, there’s a lot of sort of court cases and various, various stories that have come out over the years where people say this process is being used to bully and to harass, which is something that, you know, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission also mentioned.
So it’s not just a question of, “Let’s speed up processing Harris’s case.” It’s a question of what else, what else is being done with the code of conduct system? Like how much of its time is being sucked up on illegitimate cases on things that don’t need to be before the code of conduct board, on things that are bullying or workplace [00:17:00] harassment, because that’s a huge, that’s a huge sort of piece of the puzzle.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: You spoke to CC and KC’s uh, dad about this. I can’t imagine how you would feel to know that this has been going on for 17 years after, uh, your daughter’s allegations were first brought forward and long after she’s passed away.
Jane Gerster: I had to tell him. He didn’t know Harris was still working.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Tell me about that moment.
Jane Gerster: Oh God. Um, that was February, 2019. Um, And I, I mean to stress, like I didn’t, I didn’t like, I do a lot of RCMP reporting, but I also do a lot of domestic violence and gender based violence reporting. And so this was a story that personally and professionally, it was just like, what? Like, I didn’t even, at the start, I was like, I don’t, can I do this? Like, there’s a lot of conversations with editors I trusted at the beginning just about like, how do you handle this? What’s a sensitive way to do this.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Right.
Jane Gerster: And when [00:18:00] I, when I told her dad, it was just a lot of confusion. Like I think it was just a lot of confusion and a lot of heartbreak and, you know, we had to sort of navigate how, how do we talk about this? What’s fair to CC, you know, and for him, because, because of the publication ban on her name, you know, he was really part of the process of trying to lift that because he’d already successfully lifted the criminal publication ban on her name in Judge Ramsay’s case. So I think there was just this feeling at the beginning of, “Oh no, I have to have the same battle that I fought more than a decade ago. And I have to do this again.”
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Oh man. You also spoke to Harris. Um, and the interesting thing to me about this story is that, you know, there’s the story of the initial tragedy, uh, with Judge Ramsay and with allegations of abuse from RCMP officers. And then there’s like the whole other process [00:19:00] story, which is just like an incompetent organization story. And I wonder how he feels all this time later. Um, obviously he wanted to go back to work at the beginning. Does he wish there was a resolution one way or the other? Um, is he happy now to just stay collecting a paycheck indefinitely?
Jane Gerster: So, it’s complicated, is the answer, which, you know, I guess it’s not really a surprising answer.
Um, But to be clear, when he first approached me, he approached me on the basis that I would do the process story. You know, he very specifically sent me an email that was just like, I think I’m ready to go public. And I think you’re the right person to tell the story, because your reporting on the RCMP has dealt with systemic issues. And what he didn’t want was a relitigation of the sexual assault allegations. And I basically said to him, I was like, yeah, there’s I can’t touch this story without talking about those. Like, there’s no way that, you know, that that doesn’t get [00:20:00] addressed.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Yeah.
Jane Gerster: And I very like, you know, I was, I tried to be very transparent with both Bob and Justin Harris on what details would have to be included for it to be fair, because it was obviously a very sensitive story for both of them.
One of the things that Harris sort of said from the beginning, um, he said something, he said, “Google, my name.” He said, “I can’t get another job. So yeah, I need this paycheck.” But, he doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t want to be in limbo. You know, limbo has been very hard for him and limbo’s very hard for his family.
And that isn’t me asking people to sympathize with him. It’s not me asking them to hate him. It’s just me stating a fact. Limbo has been hard for him, just as it’s been an excruciatingly difficult 17 years for CC’s family. So I don’t think it’s as simple anymore. Um, as, yeah. I want to go back to work still or, yeah, I want this to be [00:21:00] done. I think both sides really, really want a resolution.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Are they going to get one anytime soon?
Jane Gerster: You know, I’ve had some conversations with Bob since, since the story came out and I think, um, you know, Bob and KC are certainly looking into what options they have. Um, and I know that Harris, ’cause he has this lawsuit against the force that’s been stalled, and at the same time, his internal, you know, fight with the RCMP is ongoing. So their attempt to discharge him, he’s fighting that. He’s hopeful that having the story out and having the press attention will encourage the RCMP to speed up that process. Um, which means, you know, he’s sort of expecting any day to forever from now a response, but I’m not sure.
You know, I try really hard with all the RCMP stories that I do to not promise [00:22:00] people a resolution or an outcome because I can’t. The best I can do is a truthful telling of what happened. The reality is the RCMP has a long history of dodging bad press, for minimizing it, getting through it. So I try to just be really mindful of that when I think about possible outcomes.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Jane so much for walking us through this and, uh, and putting the story on the record because somebody needed to.
Jane Gerster: Thank you.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Investigative reporter Jane Gerster. That was The Big Story, for more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Find us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. Email us, thebigstorypodcast, all one word, @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. And as ,always find us in your favourite podcast players, Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify, does not matter. We appreciate you wherever you listen.
Thanks for that. [00:23:00] I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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