RCMP to probe sexual harassment claims
New Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 16, 2011. Reuters

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will probe allegations of widespread sexual harassment at the storied Royal Canadian Mounted Police, looking into the latest in a string of problems that have tarnished the reputation of the national force.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Wednesday he was greatly concerned by complaints from a number of present and former women officers, who said they had been mistreated and their superiors did nothing to prevent it.

This not about dealing with individual complaints but getting to the bottom of a system that seems to be failing members of the RCMP, Toews told reporters. Matters which affect the ability of members to discharge their sworn duties must be addressed without delay.

Toews named veteran Mountie Bob Paulson as new head of the force, a replacement for a civilian leader whose aggressive management style had prompted a revolt among senior officers.

I am not a yeller and a screamer, said Paulson, expressing concern about the female officers' complaints.

I want a full, fair and thorough look at how we handle allegations of sexual harassment so we can get to the bottom of the problem and fix it.

The RCMP has suffered a series of high-profile problems in recent years, most noticeably when four officers repeatedly Tasered and then subdued an unarmed Polish immigrant at Vancouver airport in 2007. He died shortly afterward.

The federal government's police watchdog investigated the incident, concluding that the officers acted prematurely and inappropriately.

The force was also heavily criticized for failing to prevent a riot in downtown Vancouver after a hockey game in June and for taking too much time to track down British Columbia serial killer Robert Pickton.

I recognize I have a lot of work ahead of me as we continue to transform the RCMP, said Paulson.

I am not prepared to say the (force's) image has been tarnished to the extent that there is no hope out there.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman)