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RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson says he plans to leave his post by summer

OTTAWA – The top Mountie has decided the time has come for him to retire.

In a message to the force on Monday, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said he will leave at the end of June to focus on his family more after spending 32 years with the force, the last five as commissioner.

He called it a profound honour and privilege to have served with the Mounties.

Two separate insiders with direct knowledge of Paulson’s decision, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the commissioner began planning his departure last October and that he was not pushed out the door.

The sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Paulson felt it was the right time for him to take his leave. “He chose his time,” said one.

Ultimately, Paulson’s tenure may be judged on his degree of success at rooting out what he called dark-hearted behaviour from the force upon assuming command in 2011.

In his statement Monday, he pointed to a multitude of issues the RCMP continues to wrestle with, including historical, yet persistent, claims of sexual harassment and lingering mental health concerns for employees.

He also talked about persistent safety and training issues stemming from the shooting deaths of three officers in 2014 at the hands of gunman Justin Bourque in Moncton. The force is facing labour code charges as a result of the tragedy.

And there is still the outstanding issue of unionization, with a government bill on the subject sitting idle in the House of Commons after the Senate sent an amended version of the legislation back to MPs in June.

The plain-speaking Paulson said the tough list of issues will make for a busy and challenging spring before his June 30 departure.

“We will — as we do — persevere in order that we can keep delivering on our primary mission: keeping Canadians safe and secure,” he said in his message.

Speaking outside the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale thanked Paulson for his years of service and hard work.

“I wish him well in his retirement, but he still has almost four months to go and there’s a lot of work that needs to be accomplished in the meantime and I will look forward to keep working with him.”

Paulson said the timing of the announcement should give the government enough time to find his replacement. The government has not yet indicated how that process is expected to unfold.

The veteran Mountie took the helm of the force in 2011, vowing on Day 1 to tackle concerns about sexual harassment and bullying accusations inside the RCMP. The issue would prove to be an intractable one that has dominated much of his time in office and continues to persist.

More recently, an Ontario Superior Court ruling against the RCMP laid out a blistering critique of the how senior officers mercilessly harassed a sergeant and damaged his career after deciding he had lied to them about his unsuccessful bid to run for the federal Conservatives in 2005.

The judge in the case awarded Sgt. Peter Merrifield $141,000 for his mistreatment and denounced the RCMP’s conduct as egregious.

Paulson testified at the trial, saying he had been led to believe Merrifield was a disgruntled employee whose accusations against his superiors were groundless.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked if he still had full confidence in Paulson following the ruling.

“We all are agreed, including Commissioner Paulson … that harassment is unacceptable, and whether it be in the Canadian Armed Forces or within the RCMP or even within Parliament, I have shown zero tolerance for harassment and sexual assault,” he said.

“The fact is, we have an awful lot of work to do. And I know that the RCMP is taking very seriously the responsibility to shift the culture in a way that makes sure that in any workplace — whether we’re talking about police forces or Canadian Forces members or anyone in any workplace across this country — that we are protecting them from harassment and intimidation.”

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