OTTAWA – A Mountie 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 manure by colleagues.
In a statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court, Staff Sgt. Caroline O’Farrell and her lawyers say the cruel treatment she suffered in the 1980s left her with post-traumatic stress, led to a marriage breakdown and stunted her prospects with the force.
“The events on the Musical Ride are responsible for stalling Caroline’s career at the RCMP,” says the claim.
O’Farrell, 52, argues an internal investigation at the time substantiated over 100 instances of harassment but no real action was taken by her supervisors.
“Some of the harassers received informal discipline (counselling and warnings); others received no form of censure at all,” says the statement.
The lawsuit, which names the force and several current and former Mounties, says many of O’Farrell’s tormentors continue to work in the RCMP today, some in senior positions.
O’Farrell, who also still serves with the RCMP, is seeking millions of dollars in damages for assault, sexual assault, infliction of mental suffering, loss of income and pension entitlement and breach of contract.
The allegations have not been proven in court and the RCMP has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
O’Farrell dreamed of joining the Mounties from a young age and hoped to be part of the Musical Ride – the team of accomplished equestrians who perform across the country and serve as a positive symbol of the force.
The statement says O’Farrell was repeatedly subjected to a ritual known as horse-troughing – grabbed by the arms and legs, sprayed with cold water, then dragged face-down through riding school shavings mixed with manure and urine. Members then kick the mixture onto the subject’s head so it is caked onto their body, face and hair.
While other members endured this hazing ritual in the past, the practice had been discontinued for years before O’Farrell arrived, the claim adds.
On one 1987 bus ride, says the statement, a member used his finger to simulate a penis protruding from the fly of a pair of pants, rubbing it against her head as she slept while another member videotaped the incident.
The statement also alleges bullying and sabotage.
One morning O’Farrell found her riding boots packed to the brim with manure. On another occasion, she discovered the straps on her horse’s bridle were threaded but not buckled, which could have caused serious injury.
At one point, other members of the Musical Ride started a pool on when O’Farrell might commit suicide, says the claim.
“The impact of these events and the failure of those in authority to protect her and to hold the perpetrators accountable have severely damaged our client and have substantially compromised her life and career,” said Peter Cronyn of Nelligan O’Brien Payne, counsel for O’Farrell.
Several RCMP officers have complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public in 2011 with allegations of harassment within the force.
The watchdog that oversees the RCMP said in February the force must take “swift and effective action” on complaints of workplace bullying and harassment to restore the shaken confidence of both members and the public.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP recommended basic changes to the way in which internal grievances about harassment are handled by the Mounties.
It called for a more independent process, strict timelines for responding to accusations and force-wide training.
© The Canadian Press, 2013