Settlement reached in sexual harassment lawsuits

Image via Vancouver Sun
Image via Vancouver Sun

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson announces $100 million in compensation

By Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

On October 6, the RCMP offered an official apology to female officers who have dealt with sexual harassment, sexism, and physical or sexual assault. Commissioner Bob Paulson held a news conference to make the announcement, which included the government setting aside $100 million to compensate members of the force affected by these issues.

“On behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every commissioner,” Paulson said, tearing up, “I stand humbly before you and solemnly offer you our sincere apology. […] You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community, and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I’m truly sorry.”

Compensation, which has no cap and will be awarded in relation to the severity of each individual’s experiences, will be handled through an independent claims process by retired Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache.

Sexual abuse and discrimination have long been a reality for members of the RCMP, but Paulson has been working to change this.

In a May 2015 letter to then-public safety minister Steven Blaney, Paulson said: “We have worked hard to understand the challenges, implement measures to improve our culture, and establish a system in which destructive or discriminatory behaviours are not tolerated.”

This new agreement shows that, under Paulson, the RCMP is moving towards a more respectful place for officers of both genders. As part of the agreement, the RCMP must continue to work towards an equally respectful and safe workplace through new initiatives and increased accountability.

“You can take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference,” Paulson told the women, represented by Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson. “Because of you—your courage, and your refusal to be silenced—the RCMP will never be the same.”

Merlo launched her lawsuit in March, 2012, after suffering continued harassment and discrimination during her 19 years with the force, including a commanding officer telling her to “keep [her] fucking legs closed” when she told him she was pregnant, Global News reported. Merlo was joined in this lawsuit by 500 other women. Following the announcement, Merlo spoke, tearing up as she described the feelings of herself and the women she represents.

“They all love the RCMP. They love their jobs, and they just wanted it to be a better place to work—a place for their daughters to […] have a good career; a beautiful career.”

Davidson, who has been in the force for nearly 28 years, including time spent in the prime minister’s protective detail, spoke next. She also endured continued harassment and sexual advances during her long career.

“It’s a new beginning. We are headed in the right direction. […] I will continue to watch things that develop, and I will continue to stand up and right the wrongs if I can.”