Hundreds of current and former female Mounties have come forward from across Canada to join a class-action lawsuit alleging harassment within the ranks of the RCMP.
Lawyers expected dozens of women to contact them with allegations after Janet Merlo, a 19-year veteran of the force, filed suit in March but attorney Jason Murray said Monday that more than 200 people have called his firm in Vancouver.
"It's a significant number. It says to us there's a significant problem that people feel has happened within the RCMP with respect to how women are treated," Murray said in an interview.
And more people are expected to join the class action.
"We're still hearing from women who either are currently members of the RCMP or who have retired or left the force in other ways," Murray said. "On a week-to-week basis we're hearing from people coming forward who have complaints about how they feel they were treated when they were with the RCMP."
Sexual harassment alleged
The civil suit filed by Merlo alleges she suffered bullying and verbal abuse throughout a career that began in March 1991 and ended in March 2010, all but a few months of it at the detachment in Nanaimo, B.C.
In her statement of claim, Merlo says male members of the detachment repeatedly made statements to her then-boyfriend and now husband, Wayne Merlo, that they'd had sex with her.
"The supervising corporal on Ms. Merlo's night shift watch commented to Wayne Merlo words to the effect... 'Janet is the right height because you can lay a six-pack of beer on her head while she gives you a blow job,"' says the claim.
Merlo claims offensive items were left in her mail slot by colleagues, including a dildo and a fictional manual titled "Training Courses Now Available for Women," comprising a list of 30 derogatory courses.
The court document claims Merlo left the force in March 2010 suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Several lawsuits filed
The case will officially get underway with a first appearance before B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday, but a class-action suit typically takes several years to wend its way through the justice system.
Merlo's is just one of several lawsuits filed against the national police force by women who say they suffered abuse and harassment on the job.
Cpl. Catherine Galliford is suing the RCMP in a separate case claiming she suffered post-traumatic stress because of harassment that spanned two decades. She claims she was sexually assaulted, harassed and intimidated during a career in which she was the public face of the Air India investigation and the task force that arrested serial killer Robert Pickton.
The federal government, which represents the RCMP, denied all of Galliford's allegations in a response to civil claim in her case, but the rash of allegations since she came forward last fall prompted the force to announce earlier this year that it would train 100 officers to investigate internal complaints of sexual harassment.
Murray said the women who have contacted his firm concerning Merlo's suit will not be named in the lawsuit at this time, but their allegations may be heard in court as the cases progresses.
"Everyone's experience is different, obviously, but [the allegations] range from people who feel they've been passed over for an assignment or promotion because of their gender to people who have had words and taunting all the way up to incidents of sexual assault and physical assault."