June 1, 2019 6:00 am

Lawyer calls for action as more disabled Mounties allege they were forced out

WATCH: Former RCMP officer Chris Williams alleges the force is attempting to get rid of Mounties with disabilities. He speaks exclusively to Global News about his experience.

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Five years ago, the RCMP employment requirements were changed, allowing for dismissals on the basis of disability.

Dozens of Mounties allege the changes have been used to force out members with disabilities, a Global News investigation revealed last week.

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Since then, the law firm that was already consulting with three dozen RCMP officers in these situations says its received many more requests for help. Global News has also been flooded with similar stories from Mounties — some dating back decades.

READ MORE: An exclusive look at the RCMP’s alleged campaign to get rid of Mounties with disabilities

One person said he was harassed and bullied to take a medical discharge, while another said he was told by a division commander: “If you are not 100 per cent fit for duty, you do not belong in the RCMP.”

Another person wrote to say that he had been ordered to report any of his subordinates who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that when he did, several were discharged. And yet another man wrote in to say that reading other people’s experiences so similarly mirrored his own that he felt compelled to reach out.

He wrote:

“If you are maintaining a list of people wronged by the RCMP, please add my name.”

Global News has not independently verified those allegations. The RCMP has said repeatedly it does not comment on specific circumstances. However, in a statement to Global News last week, it denied a campaign to remove members with disabilities and said it makes every effort to accommodate.

“Dismissal is a last resort,” a spokesperson said.

WATCH: ‘They got rid of us’ Mountie talks about the experience the RCMP is losing when it discharges members

Sebastian Anderson, whose law firm is representing ex-Mounties Chris Williams and Kevin Picard as they challenge their discharges and the constitutionality of the RCMP’s employment requirements, is now appealing directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene. A spokesperson for the force said it can’t comment on specifics pertaining to Williams’ case, but in a letter, a government official asked for more time to respond to the claims. Similarly, a spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of Picard’s case, which is ongoing.

Anderson wants action following Trudeau’s comments last week that “it is unacceptable for anyone to be removed from their job and their livelihood on the basis of disability.”

He has specifically asked for a review of Picard’s case, writing that “these discriminatory actions by the RCMP must stop, but neither the RCMP nor Minister (Ralph) Goodale’s office have done anything to stop this shamefully unlawful process — they have allowed it to continue.”

READ MORE: Marina Cumming alleges she was repeatedly harassed to take an RCMP discharge. Read her story

Trudeau has yet to respond to Anderson, he says, although in a statement to Global Neews, Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Goodale, said the government is “working with the RCMP to make sure that employees’ rights are always properly defended and upheld.” Bardsley mentioned the legislation the government passed allowing Mounties to unionize, but did not address concerns levelled at the force for months that it is leaving members without protection in the intervening period before a union bargaining agent is certified.

Bardsley did not say whether the government would consider reviewing Picard’s case. “We are not able to comment on individual cases due to privacy considerations or on matters before the courts,” he said.

The accommodation process for police is unique but not impossible, explained Nini Jones, a lawyer with Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, in a previous interview with Global News.

Where accommodating an employee with disabilities causes “undue hardship,” an organization can, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, legally forgo doing so. But getting such a pass is not easy.

“That is a very high bar,” Jones said.

Kelli Butler, director of the RCMP’s occupational health, disability management and accommodation program, spoke with Global News in an attempt to shed light on how Canada’s national police force handles accommodations.

WATCH: ‘Basically fired’ Listen to the RCMP explain disability accommodation process to a Mountie

The RCMP launched a disability management and accommodation program in 2017. In that first year, the program opened more than 2,400 case files for Mounties, including civilian members and special constables. It says 700 of those people have returned to full duties, while more than 1,000 have returned to modified duties and hours, more than 1,130 members needed temporary accommodation and 58 needed permanent accommodation.

While Butler says the program, which includes roughly 26 case managers spread across Canada, is not in charge of discharges, it is in charge of evaluating when the RCMP has reached a point of “undue hardship” in a particular member’s case. What happens after that evaluation, Butler says, is a management decision.

WATCH: Are the Mounties equipped to support members with disabilities?

The process is initiated when a Mountie is off duty and sick for more than 40 hours, she says. The officer fills out a form that gets passed onto the local members of Butler’s team, which then begins the process of “determining ongoing fitness for duty.”

If a person can’t go back to their original job, the search for accommodation begins.

“We would do a thorough search,” Butler said.

The disability manager caseworkers, who are not Mounties and have backgrounds in fields like psychology and human rights, start by searching for vacancies that member is eligible to fill. And they specifically look for positions in the province where that member is already working.

WATCH: Former RCMP officer disputes discharge from service

If no appropriate jobs are identified, she says that search escalates to her level, the national level, where they search each province for suitable opportunities. They look at open jobs rather than creating new jobs or special project jobs, a force spokesperson clarified.

And yet, former Mountie Patti Reid said she was “dumbstruck” when the RCMP told her it couldn’t accommodate her. Reid, who filed one of several affidavits included in Williams’ court challenge, was discharged in 2013. She had a number of respiratory illnesses but was cleared to return to work in Alberta, where she was born and raised, provided it was a “clean-air environment.”

And yet, according to an email from the RCMP’s Alberta district commander in 2012, he wasn’t prepared to have her go to other detachments to “wait to see if it will effect her [sic].”

He went on to write that “NO LOCATION” in southern Alberta could accommodate her. The RCMP declined to comment on Reid’s case.

WATCH: Mountie ‘dumbstruck’ when force said it couldn’t accommodate her anywhere

“Undue hardship is reached when we cannot find them alternative jobs based on their functional limitations and restrictions,” Butler said.

“It’s only once we’ve reached the point where we don’t have a position vacant and available, then it’s undue hardship to further accommodate. But we exhaust that effort prior to any further action.”

Are you a Mountie with concerns about the RCMP’s accommodation and discharge processes? Global News would like to hear from you: jane.gerster@globalnews.ca. Your name will not be published without your permission.

READ MORE: $220M and counting — The cost of the RCMP’s ‘culture of dysfunction’

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