VANCOUVER - A former Mountie has launched a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, hoping to purge the "toxic" attitude against women within the male-dominated force, her lawyer says.
David Klein says more than 100 current and former female members from across Canada are preparing to stand behind the lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment.
The suit was filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Janet Merlo and alleges she was subjected to persistent and ongoing gender-based discrimination by male members.
The 19-year-veteran spent most of her career at the Nanaimo, B.C., detachment on the east coast of Vancouver Island and said the harassment started in 1992, just months into her job.
The lawsuit alleges she endured a series of sexist comments, sexual pranks, derogatory remarks and double standards.
In one instance, the court documents say she told her supervisor she was pregnant and he yelled at her.
"You had better get your priorities straight. You are either going to have a career in the RCMP, or you are going to pop out kids your whole life," the unnamed officer said. "I have a suggestion for you; next time, keep your (expletive) legs closed."
RCMP media spokesman Sgt. Greg Cox said the force is aware of the claim and will take time to review it carefully.
"As with any large organization, conflict situations can arise, including harassment," he said in an email.
"The RCMP is committed to providing to all its employees a work environment free from harassment, discrimination and any resulting conflict, where all employees are treated with respect and dignity."
The allegations in the court documents have not been proven in court.
Klein said the legal team has heard the same kinds of stories from women across the country.
"We've been contacted by dozens of women who are currently in the force and don't want to be part of the class action but have provided us with encouragement to assist us with the case," he said in an interview.
He said another 150 current and former members have expressed interest in participating in the case.
"They want change. They want to change this organization from one that is toxic to women to one that is accepting of them."
Klein said the organization has been dominated by men for over 100 years and while these women know it takes time to change a culture, that time has long past.
"Part of the problem is that the complaints women made were not taken seriously by the force. They need a new structure and it's something that has to occur top down."
These women are hoping the lawsuit will spur a process that creates transparency and accountability within the force, he said.
Merlo said in a statement from her lawyer that it's too late for change for her.
"But I hope that this lawsuit will bring about some positive change for women who are still with the RCMP and women who join the force."
Last year, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson vowed to address complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace when the allegations first came to light.
He agreed that all Canadians were concerned about the allegations.
Just before Paulson spoke out, former high-profile RCMP media relations officer Catherine Galliford came forward in November to say she was repeatedly sexually harassed by male officers.
A class-action lawsuit must first be certified before it's allowed to proceed. A judge must determine there is common ground between the complainants.
Klein said that process could take up to two years.
He expects dozens of women to join the legal action in that time. For now, Merlo is the representative plaintiff in the action.
The statement of claim says those involved knew or ought to have known that their conduct was the kind that would terrify a normal person, causing harm and humiliation.
The lawsuit outlines a long list of damages or injury including post-traumatic stress disorder, diminished self worth, attempted suicide, anxiety, feelings of guilt, insomnia and failed relationships.
"These injuries have caused and continue to cause the plaintiff and class members pain, suffering loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability, loss of physical, mental and emotional health and loss of earnings, past and prospective," said the statement of claim.
The lawsuit doesn't specify damages, but asks for exemplary and punitive damages and recovery of health care costs.