Reviews of "Woman in Scarlet"
Karen Adam’s autobiographical "Woman in Scarlet" is an important work on several levels. Like many students Karen did not know exactly what she wanted to do and it was only when she took courses in sociology and criminology at the University of Winnipeg that she determined to pursue a career in law enforcement. And luck would have it that her decision came just at the time when the RCMP, one of the last holdouts in Canadian policing, finally agreed to allow women to become Mounted Police officers.
There were many unexpected surprises along the way as the Mounties, in response to pressure from then Solicitor General Warren Allemand, reluctantly opened what was unashamedly a boy’s club. Karen was a keener and wanted to do well on the admission exam. She was annoyed at being stumped by a question any red-blooded Canadian man could answer: What is the Lady Byng Trophy? Despite that “failing,” she was allowed in, enrolling in the tough Mountie training program at “Depot” in Regina. Initially, though, the women cadets were a separate troop, with uniforms more like the outfit of a Via Rail conductor, far from the scarlet, Stetson and high leather riding boots worn by Dale of the Mounted or Sergeant Preston. Their firearms were to be inconveniently stowed in a service purse.
Much has changed in the intervening 40 years and more and a female officer now can be the Full Mountie. But as the force adapted to having women in its ranks, there was much injustice, abuse and discrimination against female recruits who so wanted to be part of the fabled Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Some male members made clear they were not wanted. Karen recounts how at first she carried on, not revealing the abuses she suffered, being almost “one of the boys.” Later in the book she does reveal details of unwanted sexual assault by a senior officer on her first posting and her internalizing of that hurt for years with consequences on her own life.
The book is also a reminder for those of us who are not in law enforcement of the important role police officers play in our society and the personal cost they pay to maintain the law; dealing with death, destructive behaviour and unpleasant tasks that must done to preserve our civilized society. She could resort to her womanly wiles, batting her eyelashes, rather than using force, to persuade an offender to co-operate. But if she had to, Karen could also bring down a reluctant or violent suspect with brute force.
Karen went on from her challenging assignments in rural Manitoba and Winnipeg to become a teacher, first at Depot, where she was among a new breed of instructors taking a more human approach, in a break with the regimental tradition of the RCMP. From there Karen moved on to teach policing at MacEwan University in Edmonton, before embarking on the writing of this book.
Independent journalist and editor