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RCMP taps former Supreme Court judge for sexual-harassment settlement

Former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache listens to Quebec Liberal Party lawyer Andre Dugas at the Inquiry Commission into the appointment process for judges Wednesday, September 1, 2010 in Quebec City.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

The RCMP is calling on former Supreme Court judge Michel Bastarache to settle hundreds of sexual harassment complaints by current and former female Mounties.

Mr. Bastarache will be a key player in the RCMP's efforts to "turn the page" on the dark chapter in the history of the national police force, in which female officers were routinely bullied and harassed by male colleagues and superiors.

The RCMP is set to announce a major settlement of hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment at a cost of tens of millions of dollars on Thursday, sources said.

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Related: B.C. Mountie says she was blindsided by sexual-harassment suit settlement

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RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson will appear alongside Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk in Ottawa to provide the "update on harassment related litigation." Also in attendance will be former Mounties Janet Merlo and Linda Gillis Davidson.

Commissioner Paulson took over in 2011 as the RCMP was struggling to deal with hundreds of cases of sexual harassment involving female Mounties who complained of abuse at the hands of colleagues and superiors. In 2013, he said the force suffered from "cultural dysfunction."

Ms. Merlo, who as an officer was based in Nanaimo, B.C., filed a lawsuit on behalf of other complainants, saying she suffered bullying and harassment throughout her career of nearly 20 years.

Ms. Davidson spent more than two decades in the RCMP and was the lead plaintiff in another proposed class action suit over systemic discrimination and harassment. She worked at one point in the prime minister's protective detail.

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Hundreds of other women came forward with similar complaints, which were brought into a planned class action lawsuit.

"When we hit 100, I was surprised," said lawyer David Klein of Klein Lyons, the firm handling the class action, in 2014. "As we hit 200, I was less surprised, and then 300 even less, because we were beginning to have a sense of the magnitude of the internal problem at the RCMP with women in the force."

Former B.C. RCMP Corporal Catherine Galliford, who in 2011 spoke out about sexual harassment and bullying over her then-20 years of service, is credited with having opened the door for hundreds of other women to come forward. The once-prominent spokeswoman for the Mounties in British Columbia said she hopes the complainants receive an official apology from the force.

"I am so proud of these women for coming forward in the first place, especially not knowing what the outcome was going to be," Ms. Galliford said in an interview on Wednesday.

"I want there to be some form of resolution, because at the end of the day, what all of these women and men, who have not really been acknowledged yet, what they want is an apology, an acknowledgment from the RCMP: 'You know what? We did you wrong. We're apologizing publicly. We're sorry.' If something like that happens, then I applaud it and I am holding it close to me."

Ms. Galliford had been on sick leave since 2006 and was medically discharged from the force this spring, shortly after settling her lawsuit with the force. She said she has participated in support groups for post-traumatic stress disorder developed as a result of the harassment and will begin PTSD treatment next month.

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The class action lawsuit has not been certified. The federal government argued last year in a B.C. court that the cases should be settled individually.

"The proposed class is overly broad, encompassing every woman who has ever worked in one of three categories within the RCMP in the history of this organization," the federal submission said.

An internal RCMP report released in 2012 suggested gender-based harassment happened frequently to the female officers who participated in a study of their experiences of being bullied by colleagues and superiors.

In 2013, Commissioner Paulson told a parliamentary committee that he was pushing a "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual harassment. "What it means is that there are going to be consequences for managers and leaders and supervisors who don't act when they observe traits and behaviours of people in the workplace, but also don't act when people make complaints," he said. "That's our approach to the zero tolerance idea, but what we're really shooting for is a fully engaged work force with all employees alive to the issue of workplace conflict and harassment and who are willing to intervene at the outset when these things are known or can reasonably be known."

The RCMP agreed at the time to modernize its procedures to deal with harassment complaints inside the force, setting out a 37-point action plan that includes training and a centralized process to deal with all complaints.

With a report from Andrea Woo in Vancouver

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More


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