Politics

Top court quashes Ottawa's attempt to throw out RCMP harassment lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected the federal government's latest attempt to stop a massive class-action lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from going ahead.

A Federal Court judge certified the class-action lawsuit in 2020

The lead plaintiffs allege that internal channels within the RCMP to handle complaints of bullying and harassment are ineffective because they depend on the chain of command. (Leah Hennel for CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected the federal government's attempt to stop a massive class-action lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from going ahead.

The two lead plaintiffs, veteran RCMP members Geoffrey Greenwood and Todd Gray, allege "systemic negligence" in how the national police force has handled bullying and harassment allegations.

A Federal Court judge certified their lawsuit — which is seeking more than $1.1 billion — as a class action in 2020. Last fall, another judge dismissed the Crown's arguments seeking to de-certify the class-action claim.

The Attorney General of Canada then appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing an RCMP member's claims of harassment and bullying can be addressed by filing a grievance or harassment complaint or through an internal RCMP Code of Conduct investigation.

Greenwood and Gray allege that internal channels within the RCMP to handle complaints of bullying and harassment are ineffective because they depend upon the chain of command. Their statement of claim says that chain of command is often made up of people who were either responsible for the offending behaviour or acted to protect others.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the federal government application for leave to appeal. As usual, the top court didn't give its reasons.

"Our clients are needless to say thrilled with the court's decision and look forward to moving ahead and addressing the case hopefully on its merits," said the plaintiffs' lawyer Megan McPhee.

"To move ahead the force really needs to put this issue behind them. This class action is a way for them to do so and we're hoping now that this will lead to closure for the class members."

In a statement, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she respects the decision.

"Separate and apart from the court proceedings, I recognize there is always more we can do to improve our workplace," she wrote.

"Ensuring a more equitable workplace, free of harassment, violence, and discrimination, is a top priority for the RCMP."

The federal government settled another class action against the force — the Merlo-Davidson settlement — back in 2016. That case involved women in the force who faced harassment, discrimination and sexual abuse claims.

In the end, more than $125 million was paid to more than 2,300 plaintiffs.

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