Canada appoints first woman to head scandal-plagued Mounties

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday appointed a the first permanent female head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which has been dogged in recent years by accusations of discrimination and sexual assault.

FILE PHOTO: Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) cadets await badge presentations at a graduation ceremony at the RCMP Academy, Depot Division in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Valerie Zink/File Photo

Brenda Lucki, who has been with the national police force for 31 years, will take over as commissioner in mid-April, Trudeau told a televised ceremony at the RCMP’s training academy in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The previous commissioner, Bob Paulson, retired in June after more than five years in the job. During his tenure, Paulson gave a tearful apology as the RCMP settled a series of harassment, discrimination and sexual abuse claims that deeply embarrassed the force.

The RCMP is also under fire for not doing enough to protect Canada’s largely marginalized and impoverished aboriginal population.

“We know we have a lot of work to do ... to restore the RCMP to the full position of trust that it really should have in the eyes of Canadians,” Trudeau said.

He said the RCMP needed to become better and stronger, adding that Lucki would “play a vital role in advancing reconciliation with indigenous peoples, promoting gender equality ... (and) addressing workplace harassment.”

Lucki said she would ask all the right kinds of questions, “including some difficult ones,” and would challenge assumptions about how the RCMP operates.

The RCMP has around 20,000 uniformed members.

The National Police Federation, a union group that represents more than half of the force’s members and has been pushing for reform of its leadership, welcomed Lucki’s appointment.

“We hope her selection and appointment will trigger an era of renewed investment for the 17,000-plus men and women who serve across the country, and a more supportive environment for female members in particular,” Brian Sauve, founder of the group, said in a statement.

Two cadets standing at attention behind the prime minister fainted during Friday’s ceremony, prompting Trudeau to interrupt his remarks. RCMP Sergeant Major Tammy Patterson told reporters it was not uncommon for cadets to collapse after standing still for prolonged periods of time.

“They were trying their very best, I can imagine, to look great as a backdrop,” Patterson said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for them ... and probably also very stressful.”

Trudeau told the crowd he would check on the cadets after the ceremony.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tom Brown