February 22, 2018 4:40 pm
Updated: March 1, 2018 2:10 pm

Lead plaintiff in sexual harassment suit says RCMP has ‘done nothing’ to make female employees safer

A former Mountie, who led a legal battle against harassment and sexual abuse in the RCMP, says a dramatic increase in compensation claims proves the problem is prevalent. And, yet another controversy in the organization is being called shocking. Ross Lord reports.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story said Cst. Cathy Mansley was suspended for being drunk on the job. The RCMP have confirmed Mansley was off-duty during separate alcohol-related incidents in 2009 and 2010.

Former RCMP Constable and lead plaintiff in one of two sexual harassment lawsuits, Janet Merlo, says the force is “failing” in its responsibility to make female employees safe and to end the ‘toxic’ work environment that’s plagued the RCMP for more than 40 years.

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Merlo says she’s “blown away” that more than 4,000 women have now come forward with claims of sexual harassment or discrimination following the 2016 settlement of the two class action lawsuits.

The volume of claims is so large that former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache – who’s tasked with overseeing the process under which women can file claims for compensation – has extended his two-year mandate for an additional year, a spokesperson for Bastarache told Global News earlier this week.

“When we settled the lawsuit [in 2016] and announced the settlement – the day of the apology – there were 500 [women],” Merlo said. “We thought it would double, that’s what we had anticipated. But to see the number quadruple – it’s shocking but it’s not shocking,” she said. “It’s sad, really.”

READ MORE: Complaints against former RCMP doctors accused of sexual misconduct hit 80

Like thousands of other women employed by the RCMP, Merlo says she faced near daily discrimination and sexual harassment from male counterparts. This behaviour included unwanted sexual advances, lewd and inappropriate comments, male officers leaving sex toys at her desk and warnings to “keep your f*ing legs closed” when she became pregnant.

In one particularly traumatic experience, she says someone left a vacuum cleaner attachment at her desk with a note that read, “It’s long, black and thick … take it home and have some fun with it on your days off.”

READ MORE: RCMP recruits ‘deeply afraid’ to speak out about alleged sex abuse: Lawyer

Merlo says the mistreatment was so awful she could no longer work and was forced to give up a career she loved.

“Policing wise, I loved it,” she said. “[But] within the office itself, the harassment, it took such a toll on me that I ended up taking medical pension years before I had planned to. … My hair was falling out in clumps. When I’d go into the police station, I would just get physically sick.”

WATCH: Former RCMP officer says force has ‘done nothing’ to make female employees safer

RCMP not changing behaviour quick enough

Merlo and fellow RCMP officer Linda Davidson launched separate class-action lawsuits against the RCMP, alleging the force failed to uphold its responsibilities to ensure employees could work in an environment free of discrimination, intimidation and harassment.

These lawsuits were settled and the government agreed to set aside $100 million to pay victims and family members between $10,000 and $220,000, depending on the severity of each claim.

As part of the agreement, the RCMP also pledged to clean up its act and discipline those who continued to mistreat female colleagues. During a tearful press conference in October 2016, then-RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson, said the “fist of God” would descend upon anyone who violated these promises.

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

But a year and half later, Merlo says the force has not made efforts to make things better for current female employees. She says the organization remains rudderless, without a Commissioner, and with no real plan to solve the problems of sexual harassment and discrimination.

“I think there’s a lot of people waiting for that fist to show up,” Merlo said, adding that finding a new commissioner would make solving this problem a lot easier. “Talk is cheap if you’re not going to follow through and do it.”

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

She says she regularly hears from female RCMP members – as many as one or two a week – who continue to face harassment and discrimination similar to what she experienced. Many of these women feel hopeless and as if there’s nowhere to turn, she says.

The RCMP would not comment on the appointment of a new commissioner, directing a Global News request to the Ministry of Public Safety. A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, said the task of finding a new boss for the RCMP is “moving forward” and suggested Global News contact the Prime Minister’s office, which appoints the commissioner.

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

Meanwhile, both the RCMP and Public Safety say there’s no limit on the amount of money the government will spend to settle claims. They say any woman whose claim is approved will receive the compensation owed to her.

“To date, the funds already allocated have been sufficient to meet this obligation. If, in the future, it is determined that additional funds will be required … the necessary steps will be taken to allocate the appropriate amount of additional resources,” said Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale.

WATCH: Employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh explains why it is such a challenge to address harassment allegations within the RCMP

RCMP still an ‘old boys’ club’

A recent report by the CBC described an all-male Facebook group in which RCMP officers are alleged to have posted derogatory photos and comments about women. These are an example of continued bad behaviour within the force, Merlo says.

“It just goes to show just how toxic it is and how prevalent it is,” she said. “It’s not just an isolated incident, or a bad joke, or women who shouldn’t be in a man’s world,” she said. “I think it goes far deeper than that.”

Constable Cathy Mansley, 51, joined the RCMP in 1996. She was stationed in various communities across Nova Scotia and says she faced sexual harassment and discrimination from male colleagues on a regular basis.

READ MORE: Halifax police say sexual assault allegations against RCMP doctor doubled in 24 hours

In 2010 she was suspended with pay. RCMP spokesperson, Jennifer Clarke, says this was because of a “conduct issue.”

Mansley was involved in two separate drunk driving incidents in 2009 and 2010. She was acquitted in the first case and given a curative treatment discharge and 12 months probation for the second charge. The RCMP says she was off-duty during both incidents.

She’s now recovering from alcoholism and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – both caused by the humiliating treatment she says she was forced to endure while at work.

Mansley has seen media reports detailing alleged misconduct in the all-male Facebook group – including the image of a painting in which a burlesque dancer appears to be performing oral sex on a frontier-style Mountie.

She says this type of behaviour is typical of what she and other female officers experienced while serving with the RCMP.

“Anger was the very first thing I felt,” she said, describing her reaction to the media reports. “It brought me immediately back to some moments in my career when I endured some sexual harassment. … Looking at that picture brought back something I’ve been trying to forget for a long, long time.”

Mansley hopes the RCMP takes these allegations seriously and moves quickly to discipline any officers involved with the alleged misconduct contained in the media reports. But she says she’s not holding her breath.

“We’re still at that spot where it just doesn’t look like it’s moving ahead,” she said. “I’m really disappointed about that.”

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The RCMP wouldn’t comment on the specific Facebook group, but said it’s looked into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by officers on social media in the past and will continue to do so.

“The Facebook post reproduced [in media reports] is antithetical to the standards of the RCMP and the manner in which its employees are bound to conduct themselves,” said Sgt. Marie Damian, a spokesperson for the force. “The Facebook group cited is not managed or administered by the RCMP. Regardless, when concerns about disrespectful content believed to be written by an RCMP employee are brought forward, they are and will be investigated.”

READ MORE: RCMP earmarks $100M in compensation for sexual harassment against female Mounties

Both Merlo and Mansley say this type of demeaning behaviour is proof the “old boys’ club” mentality within the RCMP still exists, adding that much more needs to be done to stop the “potent minority” of officers who’ve ruined the lives of so many women and badly tarnished the force’s reputation.

“I thought by now they would have got the message; that this isn’t okay and it’s not gonna be tolerated,” Mansley said. “This is exactly what we’ve been trying to tell everybody. And here it is again, resurfacing.”

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

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