VANCOUVER – The federal government has filed a statement of defence in one of several sexual harassment lawsuits filed by female officers, denying the allegations and suggesting the courts aren’t the appropriate venue to air such complaints.
The statement was filed earlier this month in a case involving Const. Karen Katz, who launched a lawsuit in January alleging years of harassment and eventually sexual abuse by one of her colleagues when the pair worked for the RCMP in Vancouver.
The lawsuit is among several filed in the past year alleging verbal, physical and sexual abuse within the RCMP, which have prompted the force to pledge to root out such “dark-hearted behaviour.”
Katz’s lawsuit claimed Corp. Baldev (David) Singh Bamra complained about her to other officers, engaged in inappropriate roughhousing and on one occasion pushed his genitals against her. Those allegations have not been tested in court.
In its statement of defence, the federal government, on behalf of the RCMP, denies all of Katz’s allegations and says she did not complain to her superiors until April 2011, which prompted an investigation.
The statement of defence says Katz should have filed a grievance under the RCMP’s formal grievance process rather than filing a lawsuit.
“If the plaintiff was dissatisfied with any administrative decisions or actions of (an) RCMP member or a responsible officer, the plaintiff was obliged and had opportunities to grieve those in a timely way,” says the statement, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 15.
The statement of defence said the court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to hear the allegations from Katz and that the matters ought to have been the subject of grievances.
Katz’s statement of claim says she and Bamra worked together in the RCMP’s protective services division in Vancouver, where she alleged Bamra started a “campaign” of complaining about her to their colleagues.
She claims the behaviour escalated to inappropriate physical behaviour, such as slamming into Katz’s chest while wearing his bullet-proof vest and grabbing Katz in a bear hug.
Her lawsuit claims that behaviour culminated in 2007, during an incident in which she alleges Bamra pinned Katz on a desk and pushed his genitals against her until she was able to free herself.
Katz, who is currently on medical leave, has said she suffers from post-traumatic stress. The government’s statement of defence accuses Katz of failing to follow medical advice.
Katz also launched a second lawsuit in July, alleging more widespread harassment and abuse, but no statement of defence has been filed in that case.
In an interview, Katz said the RCMP’s statement of defence was predictable.
“I’m not surprised at their response, because it’s typical: deny, deny, deny,” she said.
Katz said the RCMP’s position that she should have filed a grievance, not a lawsuit, was unreasonable.
“It (the RCMP’s grievance process) is ineffective, but you wouldn’t file a grievance for a sexual assault,” she said.
Several lawsuits from current and former officers have alleged sexual harassment and in some cases sexual abuse from their colleagues and superiors.
They include a proposed class-action lawsuit in British Columbia, as well as a high-profile case launched by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, a former police spokeswoman who alleged years of abuse from numerous officers.
The federal government filed a statement of defence in Galliford’s case in July, denying all of her allegations and casting her as an alcoholic who refused treatment and rejected the RCMP’s efforts to keep her away from one of the men she alleged harassed her.
The lawsuits prompted the force to promise to weed out abusive officers and make it easier for victims to report such behaviour.
The RCMP’s B.C. division has appointed 100 specialized investigators to look into harassment complaints, introduced dozens of harassment advisers throughout the province and is developing tools for officers to report abuse.
An internal report into gender-based harassment from focus groups with more than 400 officers and civilian workers concluded such harassment, while not “rampant,” is a serious concern among women in the RCMP.
Some respondents said they believed victims, not problem officers, are more likely to be punished when complaints are made.