12/03/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 02/01/2015 05:59 EST

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to testify in harassment civil case

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson inherited workplace harassment issues when he took over the force in November 2011, but a Newmarket, Ont., court will hear today whether he helped perpetuate them in the case of Sgt. Pete Merrifield.

In June 2013, before a Senate committee studying harassment in the RCMP, Paulson portrayed Merrifield as a rule-breaking, union-organizing malcontent who accused his bosses of harassing him and cavorting with prostitutes.

Until then, the men had never crossed paths, but Merrifield had gained notoriety for taking on the RCMP in a civil suit over events dating back nine years.

The lawsuit, which alleges harassment, breach of fiduciary duty and abuse of authority, is seeking more than $500,000 in damages and costs, as well as special damages to be determined at trial. The claims have not been proven in court. 

When Merrifield's case finally came to a hearing two weeks ago, his lawyers successfully argued that Paulson should be subpoenaed, because he perpetuated unfounded smears against Merrifield that began in 2005, when Merrifield, then a constable, ran afoul of his boss for seeking the nomination to run in a federal riding.

RCMP chief had mandate to deal with harassment

The lawyers will question how Paulson was prepared for his Senate appearance, because he had no first-hand knowledge of Merrifield, now a 48-year-old sergeant.

"Paulson anounced before Parliament that his mandate is to deal with harassment in the force," John Phillips, one of Merrifield's lawyers, told CBC News. He wonders whether Paulson is also a victim, with mid-level officers feeding "bad information, incomplete information or even false information about Merrifield and poisoning the guy at the very top, and poisoning the guy at the very bottom’s career." 

Since his takeover of the force, Paulson has implemented a "gender and respect action plan," and on Monday, he announced with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney the debut of the RCMP accountability act, which includes improvements in human resources management and addresses harassment specifically as a contravention of the RCMP code of conduct.

Merrifield, during almost eight days of cross-examination by counsel for the attorney general, said that he had an exemplary record as an RCMP constable since he joined the force in 1997.

In the 2004 federal election he ran for the Conservatives and lost, without any repercussions at the time while he was working in the RCMP's air marshal's unit.

In the spring of 2005, when he ran for the nomination in the Barrie, Ont., riding, he claimed his new boss in the national security unit took exception to his campaign literature. What ensued, he said, was a witch hunt, including four code of conduct investigations against him, all of which turned up nothing.