British Columbia

RCMP face sexual harassment class-action suit

Lawyers representing a former Nanaimo RCMP officer have filed a class-action lawsuit for alleged sexual harassment against the RCMP.

RCMP lawsuit launch

12 years ago
Duration 3:05
Many women say they were sexually harassed or discriminated while working for the RCMP

Lawyers representing a former Nanaimo, B.C., RCMP officer have filed a class-action lawsuit for alleged sexual harassment against the RCMP.

In the statement of claim filed on Tuesday morning, Janet Merlo alleges she endured 20 years of sexual harassment, sexual pranks, lewd comments and double standards from male supervisors.

Among the allegations are that sex toys were placed in her desk and she was yelled at to keep her legs closed after she announced her first pregnancy.

Former Nanaimo RCMP constable Janet Merlo has initiated a lawsuit alleging widespread systemic discrimination by the RCMP against female members, civilian members and civil service employees. (CBC)

"I have heard some horror stories from women who have been pushed almost to the brink of suicide, yet had nowhere to turn," Merlo told CBC News.

"Where do they turn? To the police, and the police investigate themselves and they come back and they say, 'No, never happened. Sorry, you have no witnesses.'"

"It's too late for me," Merlo added in a statement issued by her lawyer on Tuesday. "But I hope that this lawsuit will bring about some positive change for women who are still with the RCMP and women who join in the future."

The lawsuit names only Merlo as the plaintiff, but the legal team which put together the lawsuit has told CBC News up to 150 women are ready to join the suit with their own stories of harassment and gender-based discrimination in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Class-action sought

The lawsuit was filed by the law firms of Klein Lyons of Vancouver and Watkins Law of Thunder Bay, Ont., which will now try to get a judge to certify it as a class action, a process that can take up to two years.

The lawyers say they started getting calls from female RCMP officers after CBC News published allegations of widespread sexual harassment in the force.

"For many of these women the consequences of the bullying, harassment and discrimination have been devastating, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, attempted suicides, depression, broken relationships, failed marriages," said counsel Sandy Zaitzeff of Watkins Law.

"This is caused by the systemic paramilitary culture of the RCMP and resultant abuse of authority literally across Canada from detachment to detachment."

Cpl. Catherine Galliford was the first to come forward with complaints of continual sexual harassment during her career in the RCMP, but she is not part of the lawsuit.

RCMP respond

The RCMP issued a statement on Tuesday saying they were aware of the claim and would be reviewing it.

"As with any large organization, conflict situations can arise, including harassment. The RCMP is committed in providing to all its employees a work environment free from harassment, discrimination and any resulting conflict, where all employees are treated with respect and dignity," said the statement issued by Sgt. Greg Cox.

Last year RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson promised to investigate the allegations.

With files from the CBC's Natalie Clancy