RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he knew little of officer's harassment claims

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, testifying at the civil harassment trial of Sgt. Pete Merrifield, said he knew little of the details of the officer's fight against alleged harassment within the national police force.

Sgt. Pete Merrifield alleges he was harassed by some of his superiors within the RCMP

Sgt. Pete Merrifield (above) is suing the RCMP alleging harassment, breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of authority. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is testifying in the case today. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, testifying at the civil harassment trial of Sgt. Pete Merrifield, said he knew little of the details of the officer's fight against alleged harassment within the national police force.

Paulson admitted he received a lengthy, detailed account in an email from Merrifield in January 2012, six weeks after Paulson became commissioner, but he left it to subordinates to deal with the allegations.

He said his main source of information was O Division commanding officer Steven White, who was in charge of Ontario for the RCMP. He said White told him attempts were made to resolve the issues with Merrifield, but White’s advice to Paulson was that Merrifield “was a very smart, very accomplished officer who had become solidly and irretrievably embittered with the organization."

Paulson was subpoenaed in Merrifield's Newmarket, Ont., trial last week and is being asked about the information provided to him on the officer.

Merrifield, 48, is alleging that he was harassed by some of his superiors within the RCMP and that they employed aggressive and intimidating means to silence him.

The lawsuit, which alleges harassment, breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of authority, is seeking more than $500,000 in damages and costs, as well as special damages to be determined at trial. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Paulson told court he knew that Merrifield was the subject of four code of conduct investigations, but he did not know Merrifield had not been disciplined for any of them.

When subordinate officers reported to Paulson on the allegations contained in Merrifield’s email from January 2012, Paulson said he was told there was “no malfeasance of bringing about those codes of conduct investigations,” and any harsher allegations made by Merrifield were “unsubstantiated” and amounted to a “to and fro of throwing dirt at each other.”

But Paulson did say that the first code of conduct investigation was done improperly, without the proper documentation and that Merrifield should have been informed about the probe.

In June 2013, before a Senate committee studying harassment in the RCMP, Paulson portrayed Merrifield as a rule-breaking, union-organizing malcontent who accused his bosses of harassing him and cavorting with prostitutes.

Until then, the men had never crossed paths, but Merrifield had gained notoriety for taking on the RCMP in a civil suit over events dating back nine years.

When Merrifield's case finally came to a hearing two weeks ago, his lawyers successfully argued that Paulson should be subpoenaed because he perpetuated unfounded smears against Merrifield that began in 2005, when Merrifield, then a constable, ran afoul of his boss for seeking the nomination to run in a federal riding.

The lawyers said they wanted to know how Paulson, who took over the force in November 2011, had been prepared for his Senate appearance, because he had no first-hand knowledge of Merrifield.

RCMP chief had mandate to deal with harassment

John Phillips, one of Merrifield's lawyers, told CBC News he wonders whether Paulson is also a victim, with mid-level officers feeding "bad information, incomplete information or even false information about Merrifield and poisoning the guy at the very top, and poisoning the guy at the very bottom’s career." 

Judge Mary Vallee ruled that Merrifield’s lawyers couldn’t ask Paulson if he thought he was properly informed about Merrifield’s issues, but Phillips said it was clear from the responses of the commissioner that he wasn’t.

“The RCMP has a good guy at the top, and a great guy at the bottom,” Phillips told CBC News outside the courtroom. “The rot is in the middle, preventing Paulson from dealing with this issue properly.”

Since his takeover of the force, Paulson has implemented a "gender and respect action plan," and on Monday, he announced with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney the debut of the RCMP accountability act, which includes improvements in human resources management and addresses harassment specifically as a contravention of the RCMP code of conduct.

Merrifield, during almost eight days of cross-examination by counsel for the attorney general, said that he had an exemplary record as an RCMP constable since he joined the force in 1997.

In the 2004 federal election he ran for the Conservatives and lost, without any repercussions at the time while he was working in the RCMP's air marshal's unit.

In the spring of 2005, when he ran for the nomination in the Barrie, Ont., riding, he claimed his new boss in the national security unit took exception to his campaign literature. What ensued, he said, was a witch hunt, including four code of conduct investigations against him, all of which turned up nothing.

With files from The Canadian Press