November 23, 2017 2:32 pm
Updated: November 23, 2017 8:36 pm

RCMP facing sexual harassment, discrimination claims from roughly 1,100 women

WATCH ABOVE: A year after the RCMP announced a landmark settlement with victims of sexual harassment and discrimination, there's been an astounding number of women who have come forward. Vassy Kapelos reports.

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Global News has learned that as many as 1,100 women have begun the process of opening sexual harassment or discrimination claims against the RCMP.

In total, 353 women have finalized and submitted sexual harassment, discrimination or intimidation claims against the RCMP since the process started in August.

As many as 780 additional women have opened a claim but have not yet submitted the documentation necessary to complete their file.

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According to the office of Michel Bastarache – a former Supreme Court of Canada justice and the independent assessor tasked with overseeing the settlement agreement – there’s no way of knowing how many of the 780 pending files will lead to actual claims.

“We cannot be certain that each and every one of the people who have opened a file will in fact be submitting a claim,” said Guy Versailles, a spokesperson for Bastarache. “Anyone can go [online] and open a file. You might have people who are just curious about the process… you might have reporters who tried the system to understand how it works.”

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Of the 353 claims submitted, 72 decisions have been rendered. According to Versailles, most of the cases where decisions were rendered are legitimate and would therefore have resulted in a settlement.

“The only thing I will tell you is the majority are claims that fall within the agreement,” he said. “But I will definitely not go anywhere beyond that, we don’t want to enter into that type of discussion. At the end of the processes the assessor will produce a full report with a full breakdown of what was awarded.”

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With roughly three months remaining for possible victims to submit claims, these figures already surpass the initial estimate of 1,000 potential claims put forward by the government when then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to the force’s female employees in October 2016. At that time, the government announced it would set aside $100 million to settle sexual harassment and discrimination claims made by female employees.

The claims stem from two class-action law suits filed against the RCMP – one from 2012 and another from 2015. The suits alleged a long history of sexual harassment, intimidation and gender-based discrimination perpetrated by male members of the RCMP against their female colleagues.

A settlement agreement was approved by Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald in May.

VIDEO: Bob Paulson lays out in stark terms how the RCMP failed women

As many as 20,000 women employed by the RCMP between September 1974 and May 30, 2017 are potentially eligible to receive compensation under the agreement.

Victims who suffered the most egregious forms of discrimination or harassment could receive as much as $220,000 in compensation. In certain cases, immediate family members of victims may also qualify for financial awards.

RCMP refuses to provide details of settlement costs

Despite having formally apologized for nearly five decades of discrimination and sexual harassment carried out members of the RCMP against their female colleagues, officials from the RCMP refused to provide specific details on the number of settlements agreed to or the amount of tax dollars used to resolve these complaints.

Global News asked the RCMP to provide figures showing how much money has been awarded in each individual claim so far, but a spokesperson for the force said they would only release details already provided to Public Accounts of Canada. These numbers do not, however, differentiate between sexual harassment claims and awards for other types of employment disputes.

“Numerous employment-related settlements include non-disclosure clauses that prevent us from providing details about the terms of settlement,” said Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan, a spokesperson for the RCMP. “In addition, there are privacy considerations protecting personal information in settlements.”

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Meanwhile, critics of the RCMP say it’s simply not good enough for the force to remain silent on this issue – particularly given the organization’s influence and the current push toward ending sexual harassment and discrimination against women.

“There’s been a complete culture change in the public – they expect this information, they demand it,” said Michael Kempa, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and a long-time advocate for police transparency.

He says if the RCMP were truly committed to regaining the public trust and that of their employees, they’d be as open and honest as possible with respect to the amount of tax dollars being used to settle sexual harassment and discrimination claims made against police officers entrusted with enforcing the law.

 

“People lose faith in public institutions if they’re not given that information,” he said. “Given that we know there’s a crisis of faith and legitimacy in the RCMP, it would be in the interest of ground level officers for management and the government – Public Safety Canada – to give it up.”

But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the settlement was purposefully set up so the RCMP did not have control over the agreement. He says the “arms-length” assessment process precludes the RCMP from releasing any specific information.

WATCH: Ralph Goodale answers questions about new figures on RCMP sexual harassment

“They [the RCMP] are not making the decisions here,” Goodale said. “Those decisions are being made under the very careful supervision of a completely independent person, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada… that is the court approved process for making sure this matter is handled in an absolutely proper manner.”

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The RCMP, meanwhile, says it takes these claims very seriously and is working hard to fix the errors of the past while ending sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

“The RCMP remains committed to its continuing efforts to address harassment in all its forms and to take steps to ensure that all persons working within the RCMP have a safe and respectful workplace,” said Vaughan.

NDP MP Matthew Dubé says both the government and RCMP should be as transparent as possible. He says the new numbers are further evidence of just how bad things had become within the RCMP.

“It’s just mind-boggling,” Dubé said. “It’s really completely unacceptable and quite discouraging to see the magnitude of the situation. The fact that it could continue to grow and it’s a stark reminder that work needs to be done — both on the part of the government and the RCMP.”

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Kempa agrees. He says the RCMP has a responsibility to make itself open to the public. Certainly there are issues of privacy and confidentiality, but in general, he says when managing a crisis of public confidence the force should be more transparent.

“If you’re expecting major reform – even if it’s bad news – you want to get it out in the public,” Kempa said. “To deal with precisely the problems we’re acknowledging. Breaking with the past and not trying to keep quiet about things.”

 

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