$100M RCMP class-action team hears 'horrifying' stories of abuse and rape but claimant numbers low
Settlement covers women who worked in non-policing roles from 1974 to 2019
With a January deadline looming, only a fraction of the women expected to register claims have come forward to be part of the $100-million class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the RCMP, but according to a law firm involved in registering claimants, the stories emerging are "horrifying."
The lawsuit will compensate former civilian RCMP employees, volunteers and even students who faced gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault between 1974 and 2019.
Although it was estimated that about 3,500 claims would be registered, only 168 women have come forward, and with a Jan. 12 deadline, time is running out.
But the experiences of the women who have thus far come forward are extreme — they include grooming, stalking and rape.
Eligible women may not be aware of deadline
The federal court approved the class action suit on March 11, the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The media attention devoted to the worldwide crisis means some of the eligible women might not have heard about the lawsuit, says Jill Taylor, a lawyer with Higgerty Law, which along with Vancouver-based Klein Lawyers LLP, is one of two firms representing the bulk of the plaintiffs.
"They may not be aware that this class action is occurring and they're certainly not aware that there's a timeline to it, so that's a concern that I have," said Taylor.
In 1999, Joyce was 30 years old and in an unhappy marriage. She wanted out but needed to line up a job first so she and her son could be self-sufficient.
Joyce, not her real name, still lives in the same East Coast town where she worked for the RCMP in 1999.
'Who's going to believe me?'
Though it was a volunteer position, Joyce felt working for the RCMP would look great on her resume. She saw working for the Mounties as "prestigious."
But it wasn't long before an officer, 15 years her senior, began targeting her. First, it was comments about her appearance, sexual advances and unwanted touching.
One day, the officer showed up in uniform at Joyce's apartment. He forced his way inside and raped her.
"I knew I'd get it sooner or later from you," he said. "I'll see you later. I'll be in touch."
After that, the officer began showing up at Joyce's new job, stalking her.
Joyce says she felt fearful and powerless. Her attacker was a police officer. He knew everyone in town.
"I had nowhere to go," she said in a phone interview. "Who's going to believe me?"
That's a common thread the all-female team working with claimants hears.
Violet is a social worker and a primary claims advocate (PCA) working with claimants, gathering their stories and supporting them.
"There's so much careful thought and precision put into the grooming of these women," said Violet, who doesn't want to be identified by her real name because of the sensitive nature of the work.
"It's very clear that these members, the perpetrators, were quite practised in what they've done. Whenever I hear a story I can't help but think this person has done this to someone else before."
'I'll always carry the scars'
Cara Fall, who also has a background in social work and is overseeing the PCAs, says the level of fear the claimants come to the table with is significant but not surprising.
"If this is the RCMP and what they're capable of, who do you turn to?"
"There is no safe place to go when the place that we're taught as children as the safe place to go becomes the place of danger and abuse."
Now, 20 years later, Joyce is still terrified to be alone. She calls her new husband her "security blanket."
"I'll always carry the scars," she said.
Eligible claimants to receive $10K - $222K
In 2016, the first RCMP class-action settlement — known as the Merlo-Davidson settlement — covered female officers who faced gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault.
In Merlo-Davidson, more than 3,000 women came forward, 15 per cent of the potential class.
In this case, with the potential class at 41,000, so far only 0.5 per cent of eligible women have registered.
"Something's happened," said Taylor. "We don't know what it is. It could be COVID, it could be fear. But it doesn't make sense to me that when you have the same members, the same perpetrators … the same environment."
The law firms are using a trauma-informed process — typically seen in health care — in its dealings with plaintiffs.
Women who experienced harassment based on gender or sexual orientation are eligible for between $10,000 and $222,000 each.
Three retired female judges have been hired as assessors to act as independent adjudicators. The panel will decide in each case if the claimant qualifies for compensation and will assign a level of harassment.
Joyce says it's not about the money, though.
"I needed to tell my story," she said. "I really hope this movement drives change."