RCMP to settle in workplace harassment class-action cases, apologize to victims: sources
The RCMP commissioner is expected to issue an apology on Thursday as part of a historic settlement reached with the plaintiffs in two proposed class-action lawsuits alleging systemic gender-based harassment and discrimination within the force, sources say.
Any female member who experienced harassment or discrimination will be eligible to apply for damages. Amounts will depend on the extent and nature of the injuries experienced by the members, a source said. The potential number of Mounties who could be eligible is in the thousands and compensation could reach $100 million or more.
As part of the settlement, the force will also announce new details of how it plans to change the workplace culture.
Despite efforts by the Mounties over the years to implement respectful-workplace initiatives, ongoing “harassment litigation” has continued to dog the force. The reaching of a settlement is a significant event, said Angela Workman-Stark, a former RCMP chief superintendent who played a key role in helping the force address harassment and bullying.
“For the women, it’s a resolution for them. I think it’s an acknowledgment of the issues they brought forward. I think it’s great for the organization to move forward and take responsibility. Resolution and recognition is an important piece,” said Workman-Stark, who left the force earlier this year.
Thursday’s announcement will take place at 11 a.m. ET in Ottawa. Bob Paulson, the commissioner, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will be joined by the lead plaintiffs in the proposed class-action lawsuits, Janet Merlo and Linda Gillis Davidson.
MaryAnn Mihychuk, the minister of employment, workforce development and labour, will also appear at the press conference.
Davidson, who retired in 2012 as an inspector and previously worked on the prime minister’s security detail, alleged in court documents that for most of her 27-year career, she was subjected to bullying and belittling from male officers that left her mentally anguished and even suicidal.
The harassment, she alleged, took many forms: unwanted grabbing and kissing; crude jokes, including the placement of ketchup-stained tampons in her locker; and constant questioning about her sexual orientation and abilities.
“I experienced this treatment irrespective of my detachment, posting, rank or seniority,” she wrote in an affidavit. “I never felt that I could rely on senior officers to protect me.“
Over the course of her 20-year career as a constable, Merlo said she endured bullying, crude sexual jokes and double standards, according to court records and a book she published in 2013, No One to Tell.
“We kept our mouths shut, and we allowed the horrible things we’d experienced to take root inside us, just as we allowed the rot within our organization to proceed unchecked,” she wrote.
Reached Wednesday after flying to Ottawa, Merlo said she was bound by confidentiality and unable to comment prior to Thursday’s announcement.
In order for the settlement to become official, the class-action lawsuits will have to be certified by a judge and the settlements approved.
While Thursday’s announcement is a major step forward, the force will need to continue to be mindful of barriers that prevent people from participating in the workplace, Workman-Stark said.
Members need to know that they are valued and trusted and encouraged to give feedback, she said. These things need to be monitored through surveys, audits and other initiatives, she added.
“It can’t be a one-time thing.”