As It Happens

Mountie who says colleagues bet on when she'd commit suicide left in limbo after RCMP apology

The RCMP has apologized to women on the force who have been harassed and announced a $100-million settlement to those who were part of two class-action lawsuits. Yet, Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell, who is suing for abuse while part of the Musical Ride in the '80s, is still waiting in limbo.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell who was once part of the famed Musical Ride is suing the national police force, alleging she was sexually assaulted, harassed, repeatedly doused in cold water and dragged through horse feces by colleagues. (CP)
Listen11:39
Earlier this month, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to women on the force who said they were harassed and abused. He announced a $100-million settlement to those who were part of two class-action lawsuits against the force.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologizes to all employees who experienced gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, bullying and harassment while in the Mounties. 2:07
But, one Mountie who is suing the RCMP in a separate claim is now left wondering where she stands. Three years ago, Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell brought a case against the RCMP for abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her colleagues when she was part of the Musical Ride in the 1980s. Her claim says colleagues even took bets when she might commit suicide.
On the right, RCMP Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell. (Caroline O'Farrell)

Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off about what she experienced while part of the Musical Ride. Here is an edited version of their conversation. 

Warning: some of the details in this interview are graphic and disturbing.

CAROL OFF: What exactly did they do to you? 

CAROLINE O'FARRELL: This was not something that was routine. This was not a common hazing. They gang up on you. They grab you. They hold you above a concrete floor by your limbs, they hose you down and then they drag you — face down — through the riding school, which is full of horse urine and feces. Then, they kick the shavings on your face. This happened to me several times. They also pulled down the zipper of the coveralls and poured cold water on my white t-shirt, wearing a bra, and said, 'let's see your high beams come out.' That was the first time they had done that in, who knows, maybe 50 years. That was acknowledged by the Commissioner at the time, Commissioner Inkster, who was outraged and appalled that this had happened in 1986 and 1987.
"It was a deliberate campaign of harassment, discrimination, abuse, sabotage of my equipment, heckling. No matter what I did, it just got worse and worse and worse." - Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell
Some of the 500 female RCMP officers and civilians with claims ranging from gender based discrimination to sexual assault on the job. (Natalie Clancy/CBC)

CAROL OFF: How soon after you joined the Musical Ride did the abuse begin?

CAROLINE O'FARRELL:  Well, that very first "s--- troughing" happened in May of 1986. But, it wasn't just the troughing that happened to me. It was a deliberate campaign of harassment, discrimination, abuse, sabotage of my equipment, heckling. No matter what I did, it just got worse and worse and worse. They locked me in a room. They made a mock trial. Two or three men stood in front of the door. They demanded I give them my underwear. When I refused, they gave me another "s--- troughing". They made an obscene video … which Commissioner Inkster labelled as an obscene video, or could be called a pornographic video of me while I slept on the bus. Then, they showed me this video of me. And it looked like a penis — so much so that it had to be digitally enhanced to prove it wasn't a penis — rubbing in my hair, while I slept. They did so many, so many things to me. I could go on and on.
RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson has apologized to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees for alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

CAROL OFF: Do you know anyone else who was treated this way?

CAROLINE O'FARRELL: Yes. As I said, that year, and that year only — 1986 to 1987 — they did this to some of the men. There was some bloodshed. There was some punches. The bully group picked on the people they felt they wanted to pick on. They were never "s--- troughed". And people who had been on the Musical Ride in the 1970s and the 1980s had never even heard of a "s--- troughing". It was just management let it get out of control and they didn't take a stand.

CAROL OFF: How did you find out that your colleagues were actually taking bets on when you might commit suicide?

CAROLINE O'FARRELL: I had two male friends who stuck with me through this. One of them came up to me and said, 'Caroline, I hate to tell you this, but I think you should know. They're starting a suicide betting pool on when you're going to kill yourself.' Also, there were notations on the chalkboard in the lounge where we would eat and relax.  It said, 'one loaded gun wanted, one Mack truck wanted.' The significance of the "Mack truck wanted" was that the Sergeant told them to stop doing this to me because a member had jumped in front of a Mack truck after being harassed.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale offers his own apology to all the victims of sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment in the RCMP. 1:10

As it Happens host Carol Off also spoke with Staff Sgt. O'Farrell's lawyer, Peter Cronyn.

CAROL OFF: Caroline O'Farrell has not joined the class action suit because she wants to pursue the case on her own … What arguments has the federal government made in court against compensating Caroline O'Farrell?

PETER CRONYN: So far, what they've done is taken what I would call a "technical approach" to her case. They haven't even filed a defense yet. They brought a motion to stay the proceedings and force her to go after a pension that she really doesn't want. The judge who heard that felt that he really had no choice given the wording of the legislation. Once she received that pension, which is really quite small — and it only goes back to 2013 — the government then brought a motion earlier this year to the effect that because she's receiving that pension her claim should be blocked IN its entirety. The judge hearing that motion gave us a decision last week, which was in our favour, indicating that it's not a block to her case and has ordered the attorney general to deliver a defense. So that's where we stand right now.

Former RCMP officers, and plaintiffs, Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson offer thanks after their two class action lawsuits are settled by the RCMP and the government. 2:51

CAROL OFF: Last week, when we heard the apology from the Commissioner of the RCMP he said that the women in the class action suit would be compensated but we heard nothing about Staff Sgt. O'Farrell. Does that mean that she is not going to be compensated?

PETER CRONYN: I don't know. We haven't heard anything from the Attorney General, so far. Caroline has approached the Prime Minister and Minister Goodale and has not received a response.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell and her lawyer, Peter Cronyn.

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