40 years of women in Red Serge


Video length: 11:12 minutes

This video features video of separate interviews with five women – three from the first female troop and two other long-serving officers – who blazed the trail for female RCMP officers. They tell stories about their inspiring careers.

(The video opens with a montage of still images of the first female RCMP recruits at the RCMP Academy, "Depot" Division, interspersed with interview clips of each of the women interviewed. Music plays in background throughout.)

(Photos of Troop 17 in uniform, in a classroom, trying on uniform hats)

Bev Busson: When they said that they were taking women, it was a like a lightning bolt, it just, I just thought like this, this is my destiny, like this has happened for a reason.

(Photo of Troop 17 in civilian clothing on the Depot base)

Karen Adams: And I remember asking my dad, "Dad, how come there's no women in the RCMP?" And he just kinda looked at me and he said: "Because there isn't." With really no explanation but again it was the 70s.

(Photo of Troop 17 marching in dress uniform on the Depot base)

Cheryl Joyce: And it was like being in a fish bowl because everywhere we walked or marched, there were cameras following us when we were trying to eat our meals and everybody was waiting to see if we would succeed or fail.

(Photo of Troop 17 eating in Mess Hall and marching in the Drill Hall)

Louise Lafrance: I also remember there were some searches where I'd hear the guys say: "We're not going there with a girl. What are we going to do with her? We'll be stuck with her."

(Photo of members of Troop 17 in firearms training)

Line Carbonneau : I think that what women brought into the organization is a different way of thinking, a different way of seeing things, a totally different approach in some situations.

(Official photo of Troop 17)

TITLE: 40 Years of Women in Red Serge

TEXT: To mark the 40th anniversary of women in red serge in the RCMP, some of the members of Troop 17, the first female troop, and other trailblazing women gathered to reflect on their early days.

(Video images of the five women interviewed sitting together in a living room, looking at photos from their early days and chatting)


Lafrance (Text: A/Commr. Louise Lafrance, Commanding Officer, "Depot" Division): The RCMP had a booth, and I still remember that member, a man, and I really had no idea what the RCMP was, but this man was so incredibly charismatic that when I looked at him, I thought, "when I grow up, that's what I want to do."

Busson (Text: Commr. Bev Busson (retired), RCMP, Troop 17, 1974): "She says we take women in the RCMP," and the guy said, "I just heard it on the news." And he had this dumbstruck look on his face like the world was coming to an end very quickly and he said "Well what do we do?" and he said, "Give her an application form." So, that was Day 1.

(Photo portrait of Adams from 1974)

Adams: So, in thinking back, I was 22 years old, very, very naive. I'd never seen a policewoman except for Eve on Ironside. And I thought, "If she can do it, I can do it too, darn it."

(Video images of the five women interviewed sitting together in a living room, looking at photos from their early days and chatting)


(Black and white video footage of female recruits marching at Depot in 1975)

Joyce (Text: Cpl. Cheryl Joyce (retired), RCMP, Troop 17, 1974): I was in awe. And I was excited. I could hardly wait to meet the other people who were coming.

(Photo of two Troop 17 members with luggage on Depot arrival day)

Busson: One of the members from Alberta who hadn't got the memo about not driving your car on base, especially up to a dorm, had pulled up and thought that the drill sergeant looked a little bit like a doorman and called him over to help her remove her bags from her car. And that did not go over very well at all. There was a lot of shouting and we ran to the window to look and found our troop mate sort of aghast and being shouted at, I think, something to the effect of, "If you can't get your bags in there yourself, you better go home." So we grabbed her bags before she could change her mind, dragged her up stairs and wouldn't let her leave.

(Photo of group of Troop 17 members polishing shoes)

Lafrance: The camaraderie that exists in the RCMP is something truly unique. We're part of one big family, and from the moment people arrive at Depot, they start talking about the RCMP family, about how close we are.

(Photo of Troop 17 in formation in Depot Drill Hall)

Busson: Our uniforms were designed by the company that designed the flight attendant uniforms for Air Canada so you can imagine that they weren't very practical for police work.

(Photo of two Troop 17 members being issued uniform, including shoes)

Joyce: We wore shoes that had about an inch-and-a-half heel. And, of course, when you go out into the field – I went to a rural area and I had a foot chase through a plowed field. I went back to my staff sergeant and I said, "You know, we need to do something about these issue shoes because they are just not appropriate."

(Photo of a Troop 17 member at the firing range)

Busson: They started off wanting us to carry a gun in a purse for operational policing which was absolutely unheard of. Our instructors at Depot told us that we'd have more luck hitting people over the head with this purse than ever getting a gun out of it.

(Several photos of Troop 17 members: at the firing range, female officer with citizen at a car, recruits lifting weights)

Carbonneau: ( Text: D/Commr. Line Carbonneau (retired), RCMP, 1975): I can't say that I have bad memories. It was tough, but it was okay, it was okay. Ultimately, it wasn't all that bad. So I tell myself, if we got through it, it bodes well for the future of the organization.

(Video images of the five women interviewed sitting together in a living room, looking at photos from their early days and chatting)


Adams (Text: Cpl. Karen Adams (retired), RCMP, Troop 17, 1974): The secretary came to the counter and she said, "Oh, can I help you?" And I said, "Yes, you certainly can." I said, "I'm Karen Somers and I'm the new member." She kinda looked at me, she was a little bit flustered and said "Okay, okay, okay." She said, "I'll get the detachment commander." I said, "Okay" so I just kinda stood there very patiently and all of a sudden I could see out of the corner of my eye all these heads kinda peeking around the corner at me. Kinda looking and saying, "Oh so that's what she looks like."

(Black and white video footage from 1975 of female officer driving RCMP police car through a town, exiting a detachment building and getting in a police vehicle)

Joyce: My first posting in Stony Plain I spent a lot of time on, we patrolled two reserves and we worked alone. And so I guess I became very comfortable early on because I knew that was how the job had to be done. I can honestly say that I never went into a situation where I was afraid – perhaps a little apprehensive but I had a job to do.

(Black and white video footage from 1975 of female officer driving RCMP police car through a town)

Busson: The staff sergeant pulled me into the office and said "you know your first night shift is tonight." And I said, yes, and he said "well are you scared?" And I said no, not particularly, and he said, "well I am." and he handed me a cushion, and he said "I want you to sit on this when you're working tonight," and I said why? I can see fine out of the police car. And he said "well maybe so, but you'll look bigger, and it's important to look bigger in the police car because you don't look very big. And as you're driving around, if you look bigger then people won't give you as much of a hard time."

Carbonneau: When I arrived in Quebec City, they were expecting me. But there had been someone else before. There was a girl before me. She was in another sector. I was assigned to Customs and Excise. So, they were waiting for me, but what happened was that there was a great big project under way. And that project got me integrated into the group more easily. Because we were doing a lot of surveillance. We were working 24 hours a day. That went on for about two months. So, we got to know one another really well, and it made it easier for me to integrate and I got to know my co-workers too. And there are still those who brag about it. They took good care of me. So I didn't really experience any major issues, because I trusted those guys, and they trusted me, and we meshed as a team.

(Video images of the five women interviewed sitting together in a living room, looking at photos from their early days and chatting)


Joyce: The acceptance by the majority of the guys wasn't difficult but there was always somebody who didn't think we had a place and they didn't want to work with females. Or you'd get a comment, "I want to talk to a real member."

(Black and white video footage from 1975 of a female and a male officer walking through a parking lot and getting in a police vehicle)

Carbonneau: I remember once I was on a case where there was a guy who looked at me and said: "Are you a policewoman?" and I told him: "Yes, I am both: a woman and a police officer."

Joyce: "Where's the lady cop, I want her to come and deal with me." I remember one night I was home in bed and sound asleep and there was a woman in particular who had been arrested and she was not going to go into the cells until I got there. So, I went down and it didn't take me long to get there, and when I did she said "Well finally! Okay, let's go."

(Black and white video footage from 1975 of female officer getting out of a police vehicle and walking into a detachment, two officers searching near the side of a house.)

Adams: There was a situation where we were doing a search in Winnipeg and a fellow ran out the door, and we didn't want him running out the door, and three of us took off after him and managed to struggle him down to the ground, and I was the one that put the handcuffs on, and my partner said, "Karen, you are part of this organization, you're part of this unit, and we believe in you." That was a momentous moment for me.

(Photo of a Troop 17 member working at a desk in detachment)

Lafrance: Let's say that it didn't go over so well initially, and the policemen's wives even got up a petition to try to prevent me from being hired. There were quite a few things like that that went on and, in the end, I had to talk to the police officers' wives to assure them that I was there to stay, that I was well trained and that I was actually there to work and not for anything else people might imagine.

(Black and white video footage from 1975 of two officers helping a man up from the ground)

Busson: It took about 15 years for women to have the right to wear the uniform that everybody recognizes as the icon of the Force with the Stetson and the high browns.

(Contemporary colour photo of female officers in red serge and Stetson, and troop in red serge in a Drill Hall)

Adams: And I remember coming home, and my girls were still at school, and looking in a mirror, putting my Stetson on my head and starting to cry. That was a huge, huge day for me – to have finally attained the equality in appearance as our male counterparts.

(Contemporary video footage of a female officer responding to a call)

Lafrance: But when you're a woman, often the person in front of you does not feel the need to confront you physically because they know that obviously if it were to come to a physical confrontation, and I mean an actual fight, men generally have the advantage. That's the reality.

(Contemporary video footage of a female officer entering a business office and talking with a citizen)

Busson: The Canadian policing environment in the Canadian policing tradition is much more a tradition of community policing and being a part of bigger solution. And I think that's why in Canada we call our police officers "Peace Officers" rather than law enforcement officers because law enforcement is kind of what you do when everything else fails.

(Contemporary video footage of a female officer interacting with a group of children in front of a school)

Lafrance: Today, compassion is one of our core values at the RCMP, one of our six core values. To my mind, it's the arrival of women, the first women—I'm not even talking about myself 10 years later—the first women in the RCMP who changed that attitude, who changed the way we approach people.

(Photo of Troop 17 members at a reunion event wearing T-shirts saying, "We're still number 1))

Carbonneau: And finally it stuck. It's still very much part of the division, and the current commanding officer has carried out what I started. It's rewarding to see what you tried to implement, what you started, finally come to fruition and to continue. I stop by the office regularly because I now head up the association of retired members and sometimes I have the impression that I never really left.

(Photo of Troop 17 members at a reunion event and montage of contemporary photos of female RCMP officers)

Adams: Everything is possible for women today where it wasn't possible 40 years ago. And to me, that is exciting for the next generation of women moving forward in the RCMP.

(Closing image of female member in Red Serge)

(RCMP signature, © 2015 Her Majesty The Queen the right of Canada as represented by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police)

(Canada wordmark)

This video is also available on YouTube in High Definition.

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