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Ex-constable must again prove RCMP harassment

A former RCMP constable in Merritt who has fought for 10 years for compensation after being harassed by her commander, is going to have to prove her case yet again.

The RCMP, the Attorney-General of Canada and the province of British Columbia filed an appeal late last week of a ruling last month that awarded Nancy Sulz a total of $950,000 in damages.

The necessary documents were filed with the B.C. Court of Appeal as the 30-day deadline to appeal the Jan. 19 ruling was set to expire.

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"I feel like this is never going to end," Ms. Sulz said. "They just keep dragging it out." She noted that an internal RCMP investigation agreed she had been harassed and a judge reached the same conclusion, yet the federal and provincial governments still decided to appeal.

"What is going to make them stop? " Mr. Sulz asked. She suggested the appeal is sending a message to other female RCMP officers that if they believe they are the victims of harassment, "don't even bother to file a complaint."

The filing of the appeal, after a costly 24-day trial last fall, means that Ms. Sulz will not receive any of the damages awarded to her until the appeal process is over. Ms. Sulz, who received a medical discharge from the RMCP in 2000, said she receives a net pension of about $15,000 annually. "The appeal hurts nobody but me," she said.

"I am disappointed, but not surprised," said Kamloops lawyer Barry Carter, who successfully represented Ms. Sulz at the trial. He noted that this was not a case of the RCMP failing to have adequate anti-harassment policies, but of an officer who did not follow the procedures in place.

In his ruling, Mr. Justice George Lamperson of the B.C. Supreme Court agreed with an internal RCMP finding several years earlier that Ms. Sulz had been the victim of harassment while posted at the Merritt detachment in the mid 1990s.

The judge concluded that there was "no question" that Staff Sergeant Donald Smith violated the RCMP harassment policy. "The evidence demonstrates that he was prone to angry outbursts, particularly when it pertained to the plaintiff [Ms. Sulz]"the judge wrote. Staff Sgt. Smith, who is now retired, "should have known that his intemperate and at times, unreasonable behaviour would have negative consequences for the members of the detachment generally and the plaintiff in particular."

Before he was transferred to Merritt, an earlier investigation in Yukon concluded that there was merit to allegations that Staff Sgt. Smith harassed a native female RCMP officer in the late 1980s.

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Ms. Sulz, who joined the RCMP in 1988, initially went on medical leave in 1996 while she was pregnant with her third child.

She was diagnosed as suffering from a major depressive disorder and was underweight.

During the trial, lawyers for the RCMP and the federal and provincial governments argued that Ms. Sulz's health problems could have been a result of having three young children.

It was also suggested that she had a family history of mental problems, an argument rejected by the trial judge.

"The evidence indicates that the plaintiff was, prior to her problems at work, a healthy, capable woman," Judge Lamperson wrote in his ruling.

A spokesman at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa declined to comment because "the matter is before the courts."

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Representatives of the Attorney-General of Canada and the provincial Ministry of the Attorney-General did not return calls seeking comment.

The B.C. Court of Appeal hearing is unlikely to take place for at least 12 months.

If the federal and provincial governments are again unsuccessful, they can seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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