The RCMP has responded to a lawsuit filed by a former Musical Ride member alleging sexual abuse, saying it addressed the claims at the time and is disappointed they have come up again.
Staff Sgt. Caroline O’Farrell claims in the lawsuit she was sexually assaulted and harassed by her colleagues in 1986 and 1987, causing her to be transferred "against her will" because supervisors "couldn’t guarantee her safety."
The statement of claim says the RCMP took "no real or substantial action against the harassers as a result of its investigation," only informal discipline such as counselling and warnings.
On Wednesday, the RCMP said it had investigated the complaint in 1987, disciplining "certain members involved" and banning inappropriate practices.
A news release pointed to a quote by then commissioner Norman Inkster in the Ottawa Citizen on June 9, 1988, which read, "To say that I am appalled and furious would be an understatement. Once we learned of it swift and appropriate action was taken."
Over $8M in damages sought
O’Farrell, who works in Ottawa, is suing 13 former colleagues and the Attorney General of Canada for over $8 million in damages.
She says in the statement of claim she was subjected to a hazing ritual that included being doused with water and dragged by her arms and legs through stall shavings mixed with urine and manure. O’Farrell was one of the few women in the RCMP's Musical Ride at the time.
When she tried to defend herself, she said she was harassed by members of the ride who took bets on when she might attempt suicide.
Another incident mentioned in the statement of claim alleges that during a bus trip someone filmed a finger pointing through the fly of his pants as if it were a penis, close to her ear.
She said this left her feeling degraded as if she had been sexually assaulted, and she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
When she was called into a provincial Crown attorney’s office to talk about potential criminal charges, she said the assistant Crown attorney refused to lay any, because "the statute of limitations for those offences had passed to proceed on a summary conviction basis, and that the criminal charge could not proceed by way of indictment."
However, O’Farrell says that assistant was the son of a former RCMP commissioner and brother of an RCMP officer and that he said the charges would be embarrassing to her and the RCMP.
None of these allegations have been proven in court.
RCMP 'disappointed' suit coming 25 years later
The RCMP said Wednesday it’s "disappointed" to see a civil suit 25 years after the alleged events.
The news release said it is committed to a harassment-free workplace and that discipline can be either formal or informal, depending on the seriousness of the incident.
O’Farrell’s statement of claim says an RCMP harassment investigation upheld her complaints and she was told it was the largest internal investigation ever conducted in Ottawa.
However, she takes issue in the statement with the scale of discipline, saying most of her alleged harassers continue to work in the RCMP today.
NDP MP calls it 'endemic' problem
NDP MP Niki Ashton said in question period Wednesday that harassment of female officers in the RCMP is an "endemic" problem.
"For too long women officers have suffered abuse and been re-victimized as they’ve come forward," she said.
"The government introduced a weak bill criticized by witness after witness for failing to put an end to sexual harassment in the RCMP."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Canadians have heard "extremely disturbing" allegations about the RCMP over the last few decades, but the Enhancing RCMP Accountability Act he put forward to address it was voted against by the NDP.