Calgary

Federal Court approves next $100M RCMP sexual harassment class-action lawsuit

The Federal Court of Canada has approved a $100-million class-action lawsuit for women who worked for the RCMP in non-policing jobs and were subjected to gender-based discrimination. 

Settlement covers women who worked in non-policing roles from September '74 to July '19

Lawyers Angela Bespflug, centre, Janelle O’Connor, left, and Patrick Higgerty speak to media during the announcement of a settlement last year from RCMP for former non-policing female employees who were discriminated or harassed while working. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Federal Court of Canada has approved a $100-million class-action lawsuit for women who worked for the RCMP in non-policing jobs and were subjected to gender-based discrimination. 

Women who experienced harassment based on gender or sexual orientation between 1974 and 2019 are eligible for between $10,000 and $222,000 each. After a 60-day appeal period, they can submit claims from May 10 until Nov. 5, 2020.

In 2016, the first RCMP class-action settlement — known as the Merlo-Davidson settlement, after plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson — covered female officers who faced the same kind of discrimination, harassment and assault.

Now, women who were RCMP employees, consultants volunteers, even students are covered by the same kind of compensation plan. 

Tara's story

Tara Green falls into one of those categories; in 1997, she was a Grade 12 Grande Cache High School student with a dream to pursue a career in policing when she was offered a placement with the RCMP through a work experience program.

The sergeant — an older man who was a friend of her father's — who supervised the program groomed Green and eventually began having sex with the 17-year-old, including in a police vehicle.

"I went from being a happy and successful high school student with a full life ahead of me, to a student that was sneaking my father's liquor — or when I was old enough, my own — on my lunch hours. I ended up drinking for a lot of years."

"This whole endeavour is about exposing an institution who was there to protect us but instead protected their own who did wrong.

Patty's story

Patty — not her real name — is another plaintiff who was subjected to repeated abuses at the hands of RCMP members when she worked in a detachment in British Columbia's Lower Mainland for 12 years. She spoke with CBC News on the condition of confidentiality. 

The sexual harassment was constant and intense to the point that she would "just shut off" when she pulled into the detachment parking lot for a shift. 

"It was very much a man's world," she said over the phone, detailing a number of incidents she was subjected to.

She was hit on so constantly by one corporal, co-workers would help her hide from him when he was in the detachment.

'Be a team player … or quit'

One night shift, three coworkers once asked Patty if she would engage in a sexual act which involved urinating and defecating.

"The way that they treated women was very disrespectful and that you just had to learn to be a team player or basically bury everything deep inside or just quit."

Included in the class are women who worked as municipal staff, contractors and volunteers who faced many of the same discriminatory behaviours as their female policing co-workers.

"They were subjected to the same types of harassment, they had the same experiences," said Jill Taylor, a lawyer with Calgary's Higgerty Law, which along with Vancouver-based Klein Lawyers LLP, is one of two firms representing the bulk of the plaintiffs.

"There's no difference now between the policing and non-policing women."

It was a sentiment echoed by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who called the harassment and retaliation faced by the women "unacceptable."

"These women worked alongside us, within our walls, and were entitled to a safe and respectful workplace," said Lucki in a written statement.

3 retired female judges hired as assessors

Taylor said her firm has between 100 and 120 women signed up to be part of the suit but estimates the number could balloon to up to 4,000.

In the 2016 Merlo-Davidson settlement, with the announcement of a $100-million compensation package, then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to female Mounties for the harassment, bullying and assaults they endured while on the force.

At the time, RCMP expected about 1,000 women to submit claims but in the end there were more than three times that number, necessitating a $50-million top-up from the federal government last year.

Now, three retired female judges have been hired as assessors acting as independent adjudicators. The panel will decide if each claimant qualifies for compensation and will assign a level of harassment.

'Way beyond the money'

Compensation will be awarded based on a scale of harassment from one to six with a level one claim being subjected to sexualized comments to a level six claim involving forced penetrative sex acts.

In what Taylor believes to be a legal-world first, Higgerty is using a trauma-informed process — typically seen in health care — in its dealings with plaintiffs.

An all-female team is involved in processing claims with each woman assigned a primary care advocate to walk them through the experience. Primary care advocates have backgrounds in nursing, counselling and social work.

Patty said it's only since she became part of the class-action that she feels she's beginning to process the trauma and "starting to feel alive again." 

"It's way beyond the money," said Patty of the lawsuit. "It's finding that I had a lot of demons deep inside that were buried that I hadn't dealt with."

"You realize all the damage you've actually done to yourself by not coming forward so I hope people come forward so they can repair the damage sooner than later."

 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said there was a two-month window beginning immediately for women to submit claims. In fact, there is a six-month window, from May 10 to Nov. 5, 2020, for claimants which begins after a 60-day appeal period.
    Mar 11, 2020 9:59 AM MT

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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