As a woman, I am disgusted by recent news of the punishment handed out by the RCMP to former Edmonton officer Staff Sgt. Don Ray. After a pattern of inappropriate behaviour over several years—including drinking alcohol with female subordinates, having sex with them at work, sexually harassing them, and in at least one case exposing himself to an employee—Ray has been handed a outrageously lenient penalty. He has been demoted only a single rank to sergeant, docked a measly 10 days pay and transferred to British Columbia, where he can slink off to hide. This punishment for him is the proverbial slap on the wrist; for women, it’s a slap in the face.
In making its decision about how to sanction Ray, the RCMP claims it was swayed by several factors. One was his many years of service to the force. I do not understand how the service of one man can be considered to carry more weight than the collective years of service of the women he victimized. Ray seems to be more important in the eyes of the RCMP than all the women he hurt combined, which is grossly unfair and an invalidation of the damage he has done to his female colleagues and to the public’s perception of the force. Another factor in the decision was that Ray apparently apologized for his conduct. To reduce his sentence simply because he said “sorry” implies, wrongly, that an apology is enough to get a person off the hook for bad behaviour and that anything is OK as long as you apologize. Furthermore, I want to know to whom and in what manner he apologized. Did he give each woman he injured a sincere, face-to-face apology? Given the disrespectful nature of his actions and the attitude towards women that it demonstrates, I doubt very much his apology was either sincere or face-to-face.
For the women Ray harassed, this punishment basically says that his right to keep his job trumps their rights to a safe a workplace and to protection from such behaviour. What a terrible feeling for those women to have to work in that environment now, day after day, knowing how little they are valued by their employer. That feeling, of course, will extend to other female RCMP members in Edmonton who were not harassed by Ray but who will now feel vulnerable to similar actions from other male officers. Those officers may now see Ray’s light punishment as a message saying it’s acceptable to harass female employees because there will be no serious consequences for doing so. And what about Ray’s future female colleagues in BC? They will now also be subjected to a tense work environment so that this man can keep his job. This is glaringly unfair to those women as well.
These outcomes are terrible, but perhaps an even worse consequence is the potential effect the lenient sanctions against Ray will have on everyday women. Knowing that internal sexual misconduct is not harshly punished by law enforcement sends the signal that such offenses are not taken seriously by the RCMP. This signal may make women afraid to seek help if they should become victims of sexual misconduct in the world. If sexually inappropriate behaviour is accepted in the force, why should any woman believe that the force will help her if she suffers from such actions elsewhere? If women in the RCMP can’t count on the organization for protection, how can other women believe the force will protect them? It’s no wonder women are afraid to go to the police if they have been sexual victims; it’s no wonder they fear not being believed or being accused of lying. If one of the RCMP gets away with sexual acts against women, why should women trust the RCMP to act responsibly in response to other sexual crimes? Without trust, of course, women may choose not to report sexual crimes, which will let perpetrators get away with these offences. Just like former Staff Sgt. Don Ray.
His slap on the wrist is a slap in the face to women. Where the real slap needs to be is in the face of the RCMP brass who meted out this flimsy punishment. Perhaps such a slap would wake them up to the foolishness and irresponsibility of their decision. Perhaps it would make them reconsider their choice and punish Ray more harshly, at the very least dismissing him from his job and cutting his pension. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen. In fact, some RCMP higher-ups are more likely to slap Ray on the back in understanding and commiseration than to punish him more severely.
A condensed, slightly edited version of this blog was also selected as the “feature letter” in the letters to the editor section of the Edmonton Journal on May 26, 2012. Here is a link if you’d like to read their version, under the headline, “Mountie’s puny penalty insults women.”