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UPDATED: Former Nanaimo Mountie files class action lawsuit against RCMP
A former RCMP member filed a class action lawsuit in B.C. supreme court today alleging workplace sexual discrimination and harassment by fellow Mounties.
Janet Merlo, who served as an RCMP constable in Nanaimo from September 1991 to March 2010, alleges she suffered ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination by male RCMP members, which resulted in symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and Merlo ultimately leaving the police force.
Merlo also alleges widespread systemic discrimination by the RCMP against female members, civilian members and civil service employees.
The suit was filed by the Vancouver office of Klein Lyons, which specializes in personal injury and class action law. Watkins Law of Thunder Bay, Ont., is also representing Merlo, who is the representative plaintiff acting on behalf of female RCMP members in the proposed class action.
Jason Murray, a lawyer with Klein Lyons, said Merlo was subjected to continuous discrimination and harassment by fellow RCMP members on the basis of her being a woman.
Merlo's Notice of Civil Claim, filed Tuesday, describes numerous incidents of sexist comments, sexual pranks, derogatory remarks, bullying and gender-based discrimination she alleges she endured during her 20 years with the RCMP.
Examples include allegations of false statements made by male RCMP members to Merlo's boyfriend, who later became her husband, that they had sexual relations with her.
She also claims a supervising corporal made it a habit to position a naked inflatable doll beside his desk and invited her to stand next to the doll.
When she was pregnant in 1992, a male RCMP member is alleged to have said, "It's busy today out there, Janet could take some calls if she wasn't knocked up."
Merlo also alleges she was falsely advised by supervisors that she was ineligible to collect additional pay for times she served as an acting corporal.
"At the very least it made it extremely difficult to do her job, for her to fulfill her career as an RCMP member," Murray said in an interview. "It impacted her life. It impacted her marriage and impacted her view of herself and her self worth on a day-to-day basis. It made it such that it became very difficult for her to come to work every day."
Murray said if the lawsuit is certified as a class action, it could be one or two years before the case goes to court.
"Unfortunately class actions, because of their nature, because the technical requirements and the size and also against whom they are brought – in this case the government, the RCMP – they're not simple and they do take a little bit longer," he said.
Murray said Klein Lyons has not previously handled cases for RCMP members or members of other police forces, but has represented clients who brought suits against governments for government negligence, specifically institutional negligence.
Murray confirmed complaints are coming in from across Canada, including B.C.
"Our co-council in Thunder Bay and our firm in Vancouver have been contacted by over 150 women as of yesterday [Tuesday]," Murray said. "We've also been contacted by a number of men as well, both being making complaints about the RCMP or being supportive of women who are making complaints and the number's growing."
None of the allegations have been proven in court. The defendants have 21 days from the date of being served to file a response.