RCMP head Bob Paulson could be required to testify in harassment case

A harassment civil suit launched by RCMP Sgt. Pete Merrifield against his superior officers could draw Commissioner Bob Paulson to testify in a Newmarket, Ont., courtroom next week.

Sgt. Pete Merrifield says he is the victim of 'backroom, backstabbing, throat-slitting' by the RCMP

Sgt. Pete Merrifield speaks to his lawyer Laura Young at the trial in Newmarket, Ont., for his civil suit against the RCMP. (John Nicol/CBC)

A harassment civil suit launched by RCMP Sgt. Pete Merrifield against his superior officers could draw Commissioner Bob Paulson to testify in a Newmarket, Ont., courtroom next week.

Paulson became involved in the file in the summer of 2013 because he repeated unproven accusations against Merrifield in Senate hearings on the topic of harassment in the national police force.

The lawsuit, which dates back to 2005 before Paulson was commissioner, finally started this week despite several attempts by the Department of Justice to quash it.

Judge Mary Vallee will rule later this week on whether Commissioner Paulson must attend the hearing. 

In Newmarket this week, Merrifield, 48, testified that he was considered an exemplary constable until the spring of 2005 when a superior officer took exception to his candidacy and his campaign literature in a Conservative nomination meeting in Barrie.

Retaliation by senior officers alleged

That led, he said, to him being isolated, maligned and in fear of losing his job. He said his senior officers retaliated with investigations into his public speaking, accusations of kiting and fraud in his use of his corporate credit card, accusations of leaking of his own personnel records and disclosure of protective information, all of which were deemed unfounded.

Regardless, Merrifield said, he was pulled from high-profile assignments to national security details, including a threat against a cabinet minister, the arrest of key figures he was responsible for in the Toronto 17, a royal visit, and an emergency response team where he was to be one of three RCMP officers manning a round-the-clock criminal intelligence database for a terrorist threat against Toronto.

On the way to the Special Operations Centre, a superior officer called to tell him he wasn’t needed.

“Now I am told that I am not the appropriate asset when it’s all hands on deck,” an exasperated Merrifield told the hearing, saying he was as angry recalling it as he was nine years ago. He called the move a demonstration of “backroom, backstabbing, throat-slitting in the RCMP.

“The greatest thing that I was guilty of was exercising my constitutional rights to stand as another citizen to pursue politics.”

Accused of conflicts of interest

Merrifield told the court he had already run as a candidate, and lost, in the 2004 election, but he dealt with no criticism while he was in the air marshal’s unit. At the time of the May 2005 nomination hearing in Barrie, he was part of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team.

None of Merrifield’s accusations have been proven in court. Department of Justice lawyers, who have already lost an attempt to dismiss his suit, and subsequent cases in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, will cross-examine Merrifield tomorrow.

In its statement of defence, the RCMP says Merrifield should have taken leave without pay for that one-day nomination hearing (on a day off), and that he spoke publicly on national security without prior approval of his superiors. The RCMP says his political activities left him in conflicts of interest, which led to his transfers out of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team.

Merrifield’s lawyers have asked Paulson to testify on how he was prepared for his appearance at the Senate hearing on harassment.

Paulson has vowed to rid the RCMP of harassment, but Merrifield feels the commissioner’s testimony at the Senate committee on national security and defence was a continuation of the bullying that exists in the force.

He feels his standing up to abusive authorities in the force led to his election as a staff relations representative. He has joined the Mounted Police Association of Ontario, which is working toward unionization of the federal police force.

Not about money, plaintiff says

Laura Young, one of Merrifield’s lawyers, told court she is seeking general and aggravated damages totalling $500,000, costs and special damages in the amounts to be proven at trial. She said the harassment Merrifield suffered led to a “myriad” of physical ailments and depression, and he suffered financially from not being able to “pursue his promotional trajectory.”

Estimated legal costs are nearing $500,000 because of the government delays to the case. However, Merrifield said the delay gave him time to obtain documents through an access to information request, which he said shows there was a secret investigation of him that was neither legal nor previously disclosed.

Despite the setbacks in time lost and not being able to work in the field of national security, which he considered his specialty, Merrifield still managed promotions to corporal and then sergeant, and was commended by U.S. Homeland Security.

If he is successful in his case, he said, he will donate the money to charity.

“It was never about the money,” Merrifield said outside the courtroom. “It’s always been about what they did to my reputation, and the integrity of the force.”

Any tips on this or other stories, please contact John Nicol.