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Federal Court certifies $1.1B RCMP bullying, harassment class action

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Lead plaintiff discusses class action lawsuit against RCMP
EXTENDED INTERVIEW: Lead plaintiff discusses class action lawsuit against RCMP

The Federal Court has certified a $1.1-billion class action alleging RCMP leadership fostered and condoned an environment of systemic bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The federal government attempted to shut down the class action last summer, arguing that its own internal processes — updated in 2014 following numerous reports of sexual harassment — were adequate to deal with the claims.

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

But as Justice Ann Marie McDonald wrote in her January decision: “I am not satisfied that the claims could be fully adjudicated through the available internal mechanisms.”

That decision comes as a relief for Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Greenwood, one of the lead plaintiffs, who still works as a plainclothes Mountie in Red Deer, Alta.

“I have zero faith in the internal processes within the RCMP,” he said in an interview.

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“There is a systemic culture of intimidation and bullying that nobody to date has ever gotten a handle on or even, in my opinion, tried to rectify.”

Spokespeople for the RCMP have told Global News repeatedly in the last few months that it remains “focused on taking all possible steps to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for our employees.”

The class action was proposed in June 2018, calling out the RCMP for what it alleges is a toxic work environment. The statement of claim was filed one year after two workplace harassment reports commissioned by the federal government laid bare a “culture of dysfunction” within Canada’s national police force.

One of those reports, by the force’s own Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), noted pervasive problems within the force’s paramilitary structure.

“There has been no shortage of solutions proposed,” the report said.

“In the past decade alone, over 15 reviews have been conducted of the RCMP and its organizational culture, identifying a dizzying array of more than 200 recommendations for reform. Unfortunately, few have been implemented.”

How the RCMP’s efforts to protect its public image have worked
How the RCMP’s efforts to protect its public image have worked

That’s the crux of the issue, says Megan McPhee, the lawyer handling the class action.

“The RCMP has tried to characterize this as simple workplace disputes and that really doesn’t capture what the issues are or how serious and pervasive the issues are,” McPhee said. “This case is about systemic problems within the force.”

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McDonald acknowledged the many reviews and the many recommendations they generated in her decision to certify the class action.

“Against this backdrop, I do not see the proposed claims as ‘ordinary’ employment disputes,” she wrote in her decision.

“The internal processes and how they are, or are not administered, forms a core component of the claims advanced by the plaintiffs,” McDonald wrote, although she noted that certification does not mean all the claims have merit.

However, she wrote, she is “not convinced that it is ‘plain and obvious’ the claim will fail.”

READ MORE: Is civilian oversight the magic bullet the Mounties need?

Greenwood told Global News he decided to become involved in the class action because of his own experience being bullied in the force.

Greenwood joined the Mounties in 1990. In an affidavit filed in support of the class action’s certification, he says he was told he had a “bright future” in the force until he began investigating financial inconsistencies and suspected leaks within a street-level drug unit that he initiated in 2005 in Yellowknife.

One person arrested by his unit alleged he’d seen a Mountie paid $60,000 for providing information identifying undercover Mounties and upcoming drug raids, but Greenwood said in his affidavit that he kept investigating — bolstered by reassurances he wouldn’t face any repercussions.

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Former Mounties open up about RCMP’s toxic work culture
Former Mounties open up about RCMP’s toxic work culture

Except, Greenwood said in his affidavit, he found himself pinned with allegations he’d violated the force’s code of conduct — allegations that included “dereliction of duty” and allowing cocaine into the territory. As a result, Greenwood alleges he was removed from command and “confined to demeaning administrative desk duties” that he needed to procure his own equipment to do since the force took away his computer and phone.

The force did not respond to questions concerning the allegations Greenwood made in his affidavit, however the attorney general of Canada is appealing the class action’s certification.

“Honestly, the whole situation rocked me to my core as a police officer and a human being,” Greenwood told Global News.

Former Mountie explains why Canadians should care about RCMP management
Former Mountie explains why Canadians should care about RCMP management

In his affidavit, he wrote about how the bullying he faced as a result of investigating the allegations led to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, paranoia, depression, nightmares, stress headaches and “uncontrollable fits of rage.”

“I kind of lost my way for numerous years,” he said in an interview. “It impacted my family indirectly because I literally checked out of my life with them.”

READ MORE: Canadians don’t often claim class action money, but they do from the RCMP. Why?

Greenwood told Global News he’s stayed with the RCMP in part because he thought if he stayed on payroll, it would make it “harder for them to take a direct shot at me.” He also doesn’t want to back down from a fight, and he doesn’t want other members to back down, either.

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To his peers, he says: “Step forward. Use your voice, stand on your own two feet and know that you’re not alone.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of members that are standing behind you, and they will stand behind you until it is over.”

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The class action, as certified, is expected to include regular members, civilian members, special constables, special constable members, supernumerary special constables, reservists and recruits, as well as others who work in RCMP environments such as temporary civilian employees, custodial workers, cadets and independent contractors.

It will not include any claims covered by past class actions like the Merlo-Davidson settlement and the Tiller settlement. McPhee estimates tens of thousands of people will be captured by the class.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval told Global News via email that the decision to appeal “does not detract from (the force’s) important and ongoing efforts to ensure that all employees work in a respectful and safe environment, free of harassment.”

 

For a comprehensive look at the issues plaguing the RCMP, visit For the Good of the Force.

Do you have a story of harassment or bullying within the force? Contact jane.gerster@globalnews.ca.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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