RCMP harassment and bullying case offers disturbing insights

An RCMP sergeant's fight against his bosses has revealed more than the force would like to admit about how the RCMP does or doesn't work.

Sgt. Pete Merrifield's 10-year battle for justice pulls back curtains on RCMP behaviour

Peter Merrifield, president of the Mounted Police Association of Ontario, appears at Senate national security committee to discuss harassment in the RCMP on Monday, May 27, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Christine Merrifield is sitting outside a courtroom in Newmarket, Ont., explaining to a seat mate that she has two sons. One is quiet and laid back like his father. Then there's Peter, whom she describes as "very proud to be a member of the RCMP."

He takes after his mother, says the septuagenarian: "He speaks up."

Many of the Mountie white-shirts wish Sgt. Peter Merrifield had kept quiet. For the last 10 years, Merrifield has said he was harassed and bullied by his superiors, all because, he claims, he irked them by running for a federal Conservative nomination in Barrie in May 2005.

His civil suit against the RCMP that alleges bullying and harassing him finally commenced at trial last November. There was some media coverage when RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was called to testify in December, but it waned after Department of Justice lawyers successfully put a clamp on controversial affidavits, submitted for the case, which — among other things — purportedly revealed personal information about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's family.

Although it is not a typical harassment case like those filed by several female RCMPs officers across the country, the revelations of the Merrifield case are still troubling.

By all accounts, Merrifield was an exemplary officer who joined the force in 1997. He stood out in each department where he worked: he resolved a case involving a threat to the life of Prime Minister Paul Martin and U.S. President George W. Bush; completed a large-scale cross-border gun smuggling investigation; and obtained the first conviction under the United Nations act dealing with nuclear counter-proliferation by stopping an Iranian man from shipping devices to Iran to aid in uranium enrichment.

Merrifield ran in the 2004 federal election for the Conservatives, but it was his campaign literature while seeking a nomination for the upcoming 2006 election that would turn his life upside down. He was called on the carpet and asked to defend the Conservative campaign tenets. Recent testimony at his hearing confirmed that he was asked if he was being fair to his constituents in advocating the abolishment of the gun registry,supporting the traditional interpretation of marriage and calling the then Liberal government corrupt.

Multiple code of conduct investigations

Unbeknownst to Merrifield, and against RCMP policy, a secret code of conduct investigation was opened because he had stood for the nomination (which he lost) without being on leave, and because in a subsequent radio interview he gave — as a private citizen — the RCMP claimed he was discussing national security and terrorism without prior authorization.

He was told all the issues were resolved, but he had lost three plum assignments and was transferred out of his area of expertise, national security. He began seeking answers through requests under the Access to Information Act, but those requests came back with little information.

Then on Jan. 5, 2006, court heard, he told his superior officer, Insp. Marc Proulx, that he was going to take his treatment to another level and seek legal help. The next day, Proulx initiated a code of conduct investigation into his use of his force-issued American Express card.

Later that month, when it was learned that Merrifield had handed over his performance reviews to his lawyer, another code of conduct investigation against him was commenced for "his release of protected and classified information."

A fourth code of conduct investigation was opened against Merrifield when he received London Police Service documents that revealed that Proulx, his superior officer, had been talking to an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.

(Proulx testified last week that the contents of the leaked London police document were true, and he tearfully apologized to the Merrifield hearing adjudicator, Judge Mary Vallee.)

All four investigations into Merrifield were closed with no discipline meted out. But Merrifield only learned of the first investigation — the so-called "secret file"— through an ATIP request, just before his trial was to begin in 2014.

Getting evidence from the Mounties in his case has been a Herculean task, says his lawyer John Phillips.

"When we get stymied from the beginning, on key things like the secret file that wasn't disclosed, the various notes that were not disclosed from the cops, not only does it jeopardize the civil process that we're engaged in, but it makes it difficult to run a fair hearing for Merrifield," said Phillips. "If the RCMP can't make proper disclosure in a civil case, what does it tell you about what they're doing in criminal law?"

'We have to admit our own flaws'

Some officer's notes, that were sought in the 2005 ATIP, were only submitted to the hearing two weeks ago. But what irks Phillips the most is the "secret file" against Merrifield that Department of Justice lawyers have had since 2010, but didn't produce in disclosure.

"That is horrifying," said Phillips.

Phillips also said the entire investigation into Merrifield's political activities was a breach of a ministerial directive that the RCMP not venture into sensitive sector investigations without an okay from an assistant commissioner. Politics, the media and trade unions are some of the areas the RCMP is forbidden to venture into without proper approvals. One officer who testified at the hearing admitted that they should have restricted their questions to whether Merrifield was on a leave of absence or not.

On top of that the testimony of Commissioner Paulson clashed with the testimony of Assistant Commissioner Stephen White, which left observers wondering how well his subordinates had informed Paulson about the issues raised by Merrifield, and how badly his sergeant's reputation continued to be maligned years after he was cleared of any wrongdoing. 

After six weeks of testimony the hearing paused Friday and will continue in November.

Merrifield, despite all his successes in national security work, has long been removed from operations, and is now an RCMP staff relations labour representative. Asked whether speaking up, and enduring a decade-long fight was worth it, Merrifield said outside court: "If we're going to get better—if we're going to be better—we have to admit our own flaws and mistakes first. You can't judge others if our house isn't clean.

"The RCMP motto is maintiens le droit—maintain the right," he continued. "Police are to be held to a higher standard. I always accepted that."

For tips on this or other stories, contact John Nicol