January 26, 2018 7:00 am

Number of RCMP sexual harassment, discrimination claims rises to 2,400 women

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New figures published online show as many as 2,400 women have begun the process of opening a sexual harassment or discrimination claim against the RCMP. This figure is more than double the initial estimate of 1,000 claims put forward in October 2016 when then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson tearfully apologized for the bad behaviour of a “potent minority” of RCMP members.

In total, 952 women employed by the RCMP have successfully filed a claim of sexual harassment, discrimination or intimidation since the claims process began in August, according to the same online data.

In November, Global News first reported this figure as 353 women. That means nearly 600 women have successfully submitted claims in the last two months alone – nearly double the number of claims from the previous four months combined.

As many as 1,451 additional women have opened a claim but not yet submitted the documents necessary to complete their files. In November, this figure was 780 women.

READ MORE: Alleged sexual abuse by doctor against RCMP members includes ‘cavity examinations, groping’

Former Supreme Court justice, Michel Bastarache, is responsible for overseeing the claims process. As the “independent assessor,” he must review each case before giving final approval. In the more serious claims, Bastarache must meet with each victim before making a determination.

According to Guy Versailles, a spokesperson for Bastarache, there’s no way of knowing how long this process could take. He says the timeframe is based upon the total number of claims received and the nature and severity of each individual complaint.

“Going in, we knew it would be a fairly long process,” said Versailles. “More than one year seems like a reasonable assessment, but honestly, I don’t know.”

He also says it’s important to note there’s no way of knowing how many of the 1,451 pending claims will result in a claim being filed.

Bastarache has been given a budget for two years to conduct his work with the possibility of an additional one-year extension if needed.

Of the 952 claims submitted so far, 124 decisions have been rendered. Although not all claims have resulted in a settlement, Versailles says the majority of complaints are legitimate.

“That is my understanding,” said Versailles, referring to how many claims have been proven. “There will be a very full and complete report at the end of the process. Obviously, all of the numbers will be in there.”

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

The claims stem from two class-action lawsuits 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 female colleagues.

A settlement agreement was approved by Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald in May 2017. As many as 20,000 women employed by the RCMP between September 1974 and May 30, 2017, could be 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.

Women who experienced less severe forms of harassment, intimidation or discrimination could be entitled to amounts between $10,000 to $150,000. The amount of these awards depends upon the severity of each claim.

“If there had not been this process, these claims might have gone to the courts,” said Versailles. “And God knows how long that would have taken, and at what cost. The monetary cost, the human cost.”

He says the process was designed to give women a sense of closure, to ensure their grievances could be heard and to protect their privacy. Ultimately, he says, everyone involved has agreed this is a fair and reasonable process.

RCMP work environment ‘toxic’

Jane O’Reilly is an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. She specializes in sexual behaviour within the workplace and other organizations.

O’Reilly says it’s no surprise so many women have come forward with claims of sexual harassment and discrimination against the RCMP.

“It comes across as a very toxic work environment,” said O’Reilly. “I’m not the least surprised that it’s hitting 2,400 [claims].”

O’Reilly says sexual harassment can occur in any job setting, but it gets particularly bad when “leadership just turns a blind eye to what’s happening.”

“It can spread like wildfire,” she said. “It can have a huge effect on the decisions people make, whether they decide to stay in a particular career or whether they decide to forego their dreams because they face these sorts of toxic interactions.”

No limit to how much RCMP harassment could cost

In October 2016, the government announced it had set aside $100 million to settle sexual harassment and discrimination claims against the RCMP. At the time, Paulson estimated there would be roughly 1,000 claims.

But with less than two weeks left before the Feb. 8 deadline to submit a claim, as many as 2,400 women have begun this process.

READ MORE: N.S. doctor accused of sexual abuse of RCMP officers says he did nothing wrong

Asked if the amount of money set aside for these claims needs to be increased, both the government and RCMP said they would not place a limit on the funding needed. That means it’s unclear exactly how much the bad behaviour of RCMP officers is going to cost taxpayers.

“It is important to note that the $100 million which has been allocated is not a cap,” said Annie Delisle, a spokesperson for the RCMP.

“Every claimant who is determined by the independent assessor to be eligible for compensation will receive the amount she is entitled to under the settlement.”

Neither the RCMP nor the government would provide an updated estimate on what the settlements could cost based on the current number of claims. They also refused to answer whether the government plans to increase the $100-million figure.

“Unfortunately, we do not have that information at this time,” Delisle said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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