RCMP face sexual harassment class-action suit

CBC News-Posted: Mar 27, 2012

Lawyers representing a former Nanaimo RCMP officer have filed a class-action lawsuit for alleged sexual harassment against the RCMP.

In the statement of claim filed on Tuesday morning, Janet Merlo alleges she endured 20 years of sexual harassment, sexual pranks, lewd comments and double standards from male supervisors.

Amongst the allegations are that sex toys were placed in her desk and she was yelled at to keep her legs closed after she announced her first pregnancy.

“I have heard some horror stories from women who have been pushed almost to the brink of suicide, yet had nowhere to turn,” Merlo told CBC News.

“Where do they turn? To the police, and the police investigate themselves and they come back and they say, ‘No, never happened. Sorry, you have no witnesses.'”

“It’s too late for me,” said Merlo in a statement issued by her lawyer on Tuesday. “But I hope that this lawsuit will bring about some positive change for women who are still with the RCMP and women who join in the future.”

The lawsuit names only Merlo as the plaintiff, but the legal team which put together the lawsuit, has told CBC News up to 150 women are ready to join the suit with their own stories of harassment and gender-based discrimination in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Class action sought

The lawsuit was filed by the law firms of Klein Lyons of Vancouver and Watkins Law of Thunder Bay, which will now try to get a judge to certify it as a class action, a process that can take up to two years.

The lawyers say they started getting calls from female RCMP officers after CBC News published allegations of widespread sexual harassment in the force.

“For many of these women the consequences of the bullying, harassment and discrimination have been devastating, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, attempted suicides, depression, broken relationships, failed marriages … ,” said counsel Sandy Zaitzeff of Watkins Law.

“This is caused by the systemic paramilitary culture of the RCMP and resultant abuse of authority literally across Canada from detachment to detachment.”

Cpl. Catherine Galliford was the first to come forward with complaints of continual sexual harassment during her career in the RCMP, but she is not part of the lawsuit.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has promised to investigate the allegations.

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