A P P R E C I A T I O N
Victim of the horrors of sexual misconduct at the RCMP,
Champion in helping others to overcome theirs.
By now it is widely known that sexual harassment in the workplace can be life-altering. What is too often overlooked is that it can also be life-ending.
That was the tragic outcome for former RCMP constable Krista Carle, who took her own life in July after suffering the after-effects of the sexual harassment and bullying incidents that led to her resignation from the force. She was 53.
It is a measure of just how hideous sexual harassment can be, and how consequential its mishandling by organizations, that otherwise strong, brave women who have shown they can walk down a dark alley late at night to answer a call for help cannot always walk out of the dark shadows that overtake their lives when they are confronted by the monster of sexual misconduct.
The RCMP has one of the worst records for sexual misconduct incidents and the inability of senior leadership to deal with the culture that permits it, of any organization of its kind — anywhere. Krista was not the first member of the force to have been utterly traumatized. She will not be the last, as she predicted herself.
Krista was acutely aware of the devastation this avoidable harm inflicts on women every day. As she told The Globe and Mail in 2016, “It’s like being on the Titanic and people are in the water saying, ‘Please throw me a life ring. I’m drowning.’ You try to help as many people as you can, but there are so many of them. And some of them aren’t going to make it.”
You try to help as many people as you can, but there are so many of them. And some of them aren’t going to make it.
Sadly, Krista did not.
I hear from victims every day in every walk of life. Each story is heartrending and yet so similar. Sexual misconduct, and standing up against it, has cost them a normal life, their jobs and their health. Many admit that they have often thought about taking their lives in the midst of the life and career devastation that has confronted them.
I shared those fears, and the troubling experiences of others, with members of the House of Commons committee considering changes in Canada’s anti-harassment laws. I can tell you that I am none too thrilled with the stone cold indifference that met my submissions. Not a single MP on the committee, several of whom I reached out to personally, bothered to reply. Likewise for Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who thought my message deserved her silence.
A similar display of disrespect faced Krista’s former colleague and sister victim at the RCMP, Janet Merlo, who strongly voiced her anger over Krista’s death in letters to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale. All she got back was a perfunctory acknowledgment from a correspondence clerk. Anyone who shows victims, or their advocates, this — or any — kind of disrespect when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct, much less display the indifference of not bothering with the basic courtesy of responding, like the MPs and cabinet ministers above, also shows that they don’t know the first thing about sexual misconduct — or its victims. When victims encounter such displays of disrespect, it frequently has the effect of re-traumatizing them and reversing any healing progress that has been made. This has been a common experience shared by so many victims who have reached out to me over the years. It has certainly been mine.
When I hear about companies and government entities that still throw walls of lawyers at victims who are coming forward with never addressed incidents of abuse, when I see powerful women heading universities, hospitals and major corporations who won’t lift a finger to help victims return to the workplace and resume the careers that have been stolen from them, when women tell me they mistakenly thought that in the #MeToo era they would be believed and regret now that they ever stood up against powerful men, I have to ask: What’s really changed in all these headline-grabbing months that revealed one miscreant after another?
For many of us in the everyday workplace who can’t summon CNN or the CBC to our cause, #MeToo isn’t really what it’s cracked up to be.
Perhaps with a tragedy like Krista’s, the message will finally sink in. When it comes to sexual misconduct, what is needed is a victim-centered approach, not a lawyer-centered response.
When it comes to sexual misconduct, what is needed is a victim-centered approach, not a lawyer-centered response.
Compassion, respect and support are the hallmarks of the bright light that will lift victims out of the shadows of indignity and rejection and on to the path of healing and recovery.
What Krista teaches all of us is that day cannot come soon enough. And perhaps, in that way, her sad passing and all the pain she endured, will not be in vain.
And the honourable, to borrow from Virgil, will finally find its due.