Harassed and belittled at hands of RCMP, says Couture in lawsuit

By KEITH FRASER, The Province December 5, 2011

A Surrey RCMP officer is suing the B.C. solicitor-general’s ministry, the Attorney-General of Canada and three RCMP officers, alleging she was harassed, demeaned and belittled by bosses who operated in an atmosphere of “fear and control.”

Elisabeth Mary Couture says her problems began in May 2009 when she was promoted to corporal and appointed to work in the Surrey detachment’s branch of the Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service (DOCAS).

In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Couture says she was told that contact between co-workers was “highly discouraged” and that all conversations among co-workers had to be approved in advance.

She says she was questioned about her personal and social consumption of alcohol and informed that members of the management team abstain from alcohol socially and wish others to do the same.

Couture says she was warned against “rumour-mongering” and told not to contact two DOCAS colleagues she knew from previous work for the RCMP.

In September 2009, while receiving field training, Couture overheard an officer speaking with his daughter on the telephone, with the daughter referring to Couture as the “crazy lady,” she says.

The officer then phoned a superior officer on the speaker phone to advise him of the incident and the superior officer laughed and said Couture should be nicknamed “CB” for “Crazy Beth,” she added.

“Couture was very offended and insisted that such talk cease,” says the lawsuit.

In the same month, while on the phone with a co-worker, a superior officer overheard the call and confronted her, motioning across her throat to “cut off” the call, says Couture in the suit.

“Members of the management team continually told Couture that she should focus solely on work and not gossip or “chit chat” with others in DOCAS, including directing Couture to refrain from extended morning greeting talk except for basic hellos upon arriving at the office,” it says.

“During Couture’s previous postings with the RCMP, she had no forced restrictions on her interactions with colleagues.”

In May 2010 she was told that she was “too wordy” and that she must communicate with her superior in one minute or less, despite a performance appraisal indicating her communications were excellent, she says.

Throughout her tenure at DOCAS, but increasingly after May 2010, two of her superiors began to eavesdrop on her telephone conversations and comment on the length or content of the calls, Couture says.

When she tried to privately contact her colleagues for support in dealing with the problems, her calls came to the attention of management and she was told she was being watched, she says.

She was no longer confided in by management and “began to feel fear of reprisal,” she says.

Couture began to suffer “almost daily” symptoms of anxiety and panic upon arriving at work, including heart palpitations, sweating and clammy hands.

In September 2010, while attending a workshop for the entire DOCAS team, she whispered a question to a colleague but was immediately chastised by a superior officer, who yelled her name loudly and harshly, embarrassing her in front of her colleagues.

Shortly afterwards she experienced a panic attack and high anxiety on the way to work and went off duty sick. She remains off work.

The surveillance of her emails and business cellular phone contributed to an atmosphere of “fear and control,” she alleges.

“The defendants breached their duty to Couture by harassing, demeaning and belittling her, micro-managing her work and restricting her free speech.”

Couture claims she attempted to seek remedies through an internal RCMP harassment policy but that the remedies available are “very limited.”

“Complaints cannot receive compensation for losses due to mental suffering under the policy.”

She is seeking unspecified general, special, punitive and aggravated damages.

Reached by phone Monday, she declined to comment further on the allegations contained in the lawsuit.

Named as defendants are the B.C. solicitor-general’s ministry, the Attorney-General of Canada and three named RCMP officers: Anthony Choy; Sharon Cooke; and Bob Hall.

RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Annie Linteau said she was not aware of the case and added that the RCMP don’t usually comment on lawsuits.

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