British Columbia

New $100M settlement reached in RCMP sexual harassment case

Three years after settling a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit with female officers for $100 million, the RCMP has reached a second settlement — for about another $100 million — with women who worked for the force in non-policing roles.

2nd agreement covers women who worked in non-policing roles over past 45 years

Lawyers Angela Bespflug, centre, Janelle O’Connor, left, and Patrick Higgerty speak to reporters during the announcement Monday of an RCMP settlement for former female employees who were discriminated against or harassed while on the job. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Three years after settling a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit with female officers for $100 million, the RCMP has reached a second settlement — for about another $100 million — for women who worked for the force in non-policing roles.

The settlement was announced Monday morning by Klein Lawyers LLP, the same Vancouver law firm that handled the first settlement in 2016. The latest pact is subject to approval by a federal court.

Cheryl Tiller, who worked for the force as a stenographer in Yorkton, Sask., and is lead plaintiff, said she was sexually harassed at a retirement party for an RCMP corporal in 2007.

Tiller said a sergeant touched her in a sexual manner while other officers watched.

The Yorkton, Sask., municipal RCMP detachment is in the same building as Yorkton City Hall. The lead plaintiff on a recently settled lawsuit against the RCMP says she worked for the force in Yorkton as a stenographer when she was sexually harassed. (Google Streetview)

An emailed statement from the law firm said women who experienced gender or sexual-orientation-based harassment or discrimination while working as municipal staff, contractors and volunteers on or after Sept. 16, 1974, might be eligible for compensation.

Compensation for proven claims over the 45-year period would range from $10,000 to $222,000 each. There is no cap.

Statistically, the law firm estimates about 1,500 claims will be made to the settlement.

"This settlement is an acknowledgment of the pain experienced by women who were subjected to harassment and sexual assault while working or volunteering with the RCMP," Angela Bespflug, a Vancouver-based lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

"No amount of money can compensate these women for the harms that they've endured, but the settlement gives a voice to their experiences."

'This settlement is an acknowledgment of the pain experienced by women who were subjected to harassment and sexual assault while working or volunteering with the RCMP,' says Bespflug, a Vancouver-based lawyer for the plaintiffs. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Bespflug said some of the stories she heard working on the case were "horrific."

"We want to thank the plaintiffs for their bravery in commencing this action and sharing their deeply personal stories," the lawyer said, adding her clients' "resilience was humbling."

Asked if there was any resistance to the settlement from the RCMP, Bespflug paused, and said: "It's always a lot of work to reach a settlement. This case was no different."

In a statement Monday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she was "pleased" a settlement was reached.

"While the women were not RCMP employees, they worked with us on our premises and had every right to feel safe and be treated with respect and dignity," Lucki wrote.

"Harassment and discrimination do not have a place in our organization. On behalf of the RCMP, I would like to thank the representative plaintiffs, Cheryl Tiller, Mary Ellen Copland and Dayna Roach for their courage in coming forward. I deeply regret that these women were subject to inappropriate behaviour in our workplace and apologize for the pain caused to them and their families."

More than 3,000 claims filed

In 2016, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to female Mounties who were harassed, belittled, demeaned or assaulted in the force as he announced a $100 million compensation package at a news conference in Ottawa.

"We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry," Paulson said.

Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson led the class action lawsuits settled in 2016. At the RCMP apology, they said it was a small but "potent" minority of men who are perpetrators.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, left, wipes his eyes after hugging Janet Merlo, lead plaintiff in the class action for harassment against the RCMP, after the first $100-million settlement was announced in October 2016. (CBC)

More than 3,130 claims had been filed with the Merlo-Davidson settlement as of June 20, 2019. 

"Merlo-Davidson helped pave the way for a different cultural environment within the RCMP that perhaps made this case a little more likely to settle," Bespflug said Monday.

The lawyer said the amount of each individual settlement will vary depending on the nature of the harassment endured and the impact it had on a woman's life, as decided by an assessor.

With files from Yvette Brend

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