Joanne Mayer dreamed of becoming a police officer from the time she was five years old.
In 1988, when she was 21, her dream came true. She graduated from RCMP training with flying colours. She had hoped to start her career in an eastern province, where she could be close to her family and use her native French, but instead she was sent to Gibsons, a small town in British Columbia, a 40-minute ferry ride away from Metro Vancouver and across the country from her family.
The small detachment had just 10 police officers and Mayer was their first female officer.
When she arrived, she says another officer told her he didn’t think women — especially French women — should be allowed in the RCMP. She says she was treated “like a gopher,” made to make the coffee and clean the police cars.
The other officers often played tricks on her, such as telling her to go into the local strip joint’s back door, which led directly onto the stage, or pinning her badge on her hat upside down.
“They wouldn’t help me. If I needed backup, they wouldn’t come to help me,” she said.
She didn’t tell anyone how tough it was, especially not her parents, who were already worried for her safety.
After about three years on the job, she said she was called out of bed one night to go to a domestic dispute. She asked dispatch to call for backup, but no one appeared. She could hear a fight, but after she announced her presence, everything went silent.
When she went inside, a woman was lying on the floor, blue, with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck. Mayer says she checked the woman quickly, finding a faint pulse before a man jumped out of a closet with a knife.
“I’m so glad I had on my bullet-proof vest. The guys always laughed at me for wearing it… It saved my life,” she said.
Female #RCMP officers recall being treated like "gophers" and denied backup by workmates who felt women had no place on the force. #discrimination #harassment
Somehow, she got the knife away from the man and handcuffed him. The woman survived.
The next day, Mayer was reprimanded for going in without any backup and when she got angry, she was coerced into resigning, she said.
She was only 24 years old.
Today, Mayer is part of Breaking Barriers Together, a group led by former RCMP Const. Janet Merlo calling on the federal government to establish an independent body to investigate complaints and allegations by RCMP members and civilian employees. Merlo was the lead plaintiff in a 2017 class action settlement that resulted in more than $100 million in payouts to women who worked for the RCMP.
Mayer, now 55, also received a settlement in that class action suit.
“If my daughter were to join the RCMP, I would be so afraid for her,” she said. “I want to make sure that there will be change.”
The RCMP declined an interview for this story but sent a written statement saying the force welcomes any examination that could improve its operation and engagement and that change is happening. The force has launched an Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution that uses a trauma-informed approach to resolve harassment complaints and to prevent workplace conflicts.
“Harassment and discrimination in any form is unacceptable, and individuals who engage in it will be held to account,” the statement says. “An external expert is currently conducting a review of conduct measures and their application to ensure they meet modern expectations of fairness, transparency and effectiveness.”
Marge Hudson, now 66, says she is part of the group pushing for change because she wants to help the force reach those goals.
Hudson was hired by the RCMP in 1979 when she was just 23 years old and was the first female Indigenous RCMP officer in Manitoba. She stayed 31 years.
“I loved my job — why do you think I stayed so long? But they made it very difficult for me,” Hudson said, her voice breaking. “I’ve never been treated so bad in my life.”
Hired as a special constable to teach non-native RCMP members about Indigenous people and what to expect on reserves, her training was shorter, she graduated in brown serge, not red serge and she was paid less. After 11 years, she became a regular member.
“It started with systemic racism from the beginning, from Day 1 when I was accepted,” she said. “I was treated differently because I was Indian.”
She was singled out from the very beginning, sent on dangerous jobs without backup, never considered for a promotion and subjected to racism, such as being told she was fat “because all Indians are fat,” court documents show.
But even now, she would never discourage anyone from joining the RCMP.
“I know right now, there’s a young girl in [the training academy] who has joined the RCMP because of me… Hopefully, it’s going to be different for her,” Hudson said.
Her goal is to be an advocate for people who do not have a voice.
“If the RCMP wanted help to fix this, they can call me. I would still help them fix this,” Hudson said. “That’s why I belong to the group. It’s not to badmouth them, it’s to help them out.”