The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

RCMP officer says sexual harassment dismissal sends message to women

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REGINA - An RCMP officer says she's "bitter and angry and hurt" after a panel of senior officers dismissed her sexual harassment complaint against a male supervisor because the case took too long to be heard.

Const. Laura Lehne said Thursday what happened to her sends a clear message to women wanting to join the force.

"It's scary that more women will be sexually harassed, and as long as these ... offenders know to drag it out, and as long as the RCMP knows to drag it out, nothing will happen," said Lehne in a phone interview from her home in Regina.

"I don't blame anyone for not coming forward because it only makes your life hell and nothing's done."

Lehne filed a complaint against Cpl. Tim Korman when the two served at the detachment in Buffalo Narrows, Sask., in 2004.

She alleged that Korman started out by making offensive and sexually explicit comments about her, then punished her after she filed her complaint by denying her backup in the field, taking her off training courses and messing around with her shift assignments.

However, the review panel said it had no choice but to reject the complaint even though information provided to the panel suggested the allegations had merit. Her allegations against Korman were not proven.

It turned out that a senior RCMP member missed the deadline to file the paperwork needed to deal with the complaint by one month.

Chief Superintendent Garry Jay has admitted errors were made in handling Lehne's case. He said the RCMP will review the panel's decision to determine if the harassment policy needs to be changed.

Jay said RCMP should have handled the complaint within one year.

Lehne said she wasn't surprised by the panel's decision.

"I knew that if this timeline issue came up, this case would be thrown out."

She said she repeatedly went to RCMP supervisors, politicians and even the media in an effort to try and push things along, but she kept getting the run-around.

"I knew if they delayed it long enough, nothing would happen to the corporal and to the RCMP," she said. "This way, they all walk away free."

She said one of the officers involved in processing the case apologized to her after the hearing, saying that he takes full responsibility, "but I believe there was more than just him involved in the delay."

When Lehne first filed the complaint, she thought she was just doing what she was supposed to do - the RCMP policy on sexual harassment was very clear, and officers were told they were expected to report incidents and shouldn't fear retaliation.

She never wanted any money or to cause trouble, and said she got along well with her fellow graduates, whom she called "wonderful guys."

All she wanted, she said, was for her alleged harasser to leave her alone.

"For them not to deal with this blows my mind - they write the policy, they know the rules, they know the timelines, they know everything. Why wasn't this dealt with?"

She has a theory on that, believing it was a case of make-it-go-away.

"They don't want bad press, and they don't want anything hard to deal with," she said. "If it was a simple matter of an assault - one member punches another member - it would be easy."

The 31-year-old constable, who marked her eighth anniversary with the RCMP on Wednesday, is currently on unpaid leave.

She said her health has started failing because of the stress she's been under, which she also blames for a miscarriage she had a year ago.

Her next step, she said, will be to see if she can take the case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and to pursue a civil lawsuit.

She's also supposed to meet with RCMP brass in a few weeks to discuss her future with the force. At this point, she can't imagine returning to work.

"I think it would be just too difficult right now - it would be extremely awkward and difficult," she said.

"I love the job. The politics, apparently, suck."

- by Gwen Dambrofsky in Edmonton

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