12/03/2014 10:42 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST

RCMP commissioner testifying in Mountie's civil harassment case

NEWMARKET, Ont. - A longtime Mountie suing the RCMP for harassment was seen as "almost unequivocally embittered towards the force" while his superiors were regarded as "blameless" despite the man's repeated allegations against them, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson testified in a Newmarket, Ont., court on Wednesday.

The head of the force was subpoenaed to testify at the civil trial of Sgt. Peter Merrifield, who alleges in his lawsuit that he was harassed by some of his superiors within the RCMP and that they employed aggressive and intimidating means to try to silence him.

Paulson's testimony is seen as significant as it provides insight on how harassment allegations are dealt with in the force, and the impact they have on internal operations.

He was questioned at length on what he was told about Merrifield, with Merrifield's lawyer suggesting the commissioner got incomplete information on the officer which led to further damage to his reputation as recently as last year.

Court also heard that Merrifield had written to Paulson raising the issue of a superior's possible involvement with prostitutes. When Merrifield's lawyer asked if an investigation was conducted into the matter, Paulson said "no."

"The view was that those officers had tried to respond to the circumstances as best they could in the moment and that there was no sort of malfeasance," Paulson said. "The allegations with respect to prostitutes and so on were ... unsubstantiated."

Merrifield had told a Senate committee last year that a senior RCMP officer "was observed by their vice unit speaking to an undercover female officer posing as a prostitute in a john sting."

His alleged issues began in 2005, when he sought the Conservative nomination to run in a federal riding in a community north of Toronto. He claims some of his superiors deemed his political views and political participation incompatible with his duties.

He alleges that led to punitive transfers, rumours about his conduct and integrity and a number of internal investigations, all of which resulted in no disciplinary action.

He also alleges his superiors took issue with certain interviews he gave to the media, claiming that they alleged he was speaking publicly on national security matters.

Paulson said while he was generally aware two years ago of Merrifield's attempts to sue the force, he requested more information on the officer last spring, after Merrifield made an appearance on a CBC television talk show, discussing alleged harassment within the RCMP.

That television appearance took place in the days around appearances by both Merrifield and Paulson before a Senate committee looking into harassment and bullying within the RCMP.

Paulson had brought up Merrifield by name before the committee as he levelled criticism at a selection of RCMP members who had lodged complaints against the force. He accused Merrifield of being upset because the force "took issue with him running for Parliament."

Paulson said he asked the RCMP's Commanding officer for Ontario Stephen White for more information about Merrifield and his allegations.

"My question was what's going on with this lawsuit, with this individual, how is it that he's in the Senate testifying about these harassment issues and he's in the public domain repeating these views, very, very critical of the force," Paulson explained.

He said it was conveyed to him that efforts to reconcile the differences between Merrifield and the force had gone nowhere.

"Steve's advice was that this was a very smart, very accomplished officer who had become solidly and almost unequivocally embittered towards the force and we would just have to let this lawsuit play out," Paulson said.

"He was locked into this view that the officers he was referring to had harassed him and he was not taking any ground back from that. He was very, very determined to have those claims of harassment from those officers validated."

Paulson went on to characterize the back and forth between Merrifield and his superiors as "a bun fight" before the officer launched his lawsuit.

Merrifield's lawyer says his client is seeking damages to be determined at trial and wants "a punitive judgment to send the RCMP a message" about harassment in the force.