06/03/2015 04:02 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT

Federal government argues against class-action suit aimed at RCMP

VANCOUVER - RCMP members may be individually answerable for complaints of mistreatment alleged by hundreds of the force's female employees, but the government as a whole bears no responsibility, a Crown lawyer says.

Mitchell Taylor asked a British Columbia judge on Wednesday to throw out claims by the group of 375 women — whose numbers keep growing — attempting to sue over claims of harassment, bullying and gender discrimination.

The federal attorney general and B.C. justice minister, named as defendants for operating the RCMP, are trying to block a proposed class-action lawsuit from certification.

About 30 of the women from across the country are attending the hearing.

But the proposed legal action ties together disparate allegations of workplace discrimination and harassment better resolved on a case-by-case basis, say written submissions argued in court by Taylor.

"The proposed class is overly broad, encompassing every woman who has ever worked in one of three categories within the RCMP in the history of this organization," the submissions say.

It describes the plaintiffs' litigation plan as overly simplistic for attempting to pack together multiple wrongdoers, locations and periods of time.

"The proceedings would inevitably devolve into a series of individual actions."

Taylor's multi-pronged argument, which began Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court, also contends time is up for the women to seek redress.

Until this week's proceedings, the government had largely stayed silent about waves of allegations that began when former Mountie Janet Merlo went public about years of harassment. Merlo is the representative plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Taylor has argued all the complaints refer to incidents that allegedly occurred more than two years before the 19-year veteran from Nanaimo, B.C., filed her initial claim in March 2012.

He told the court the government isn't arguing the merits of the allegations. But he suggested the law firm representing the women is trying to use a class-action procedure as a proxy for a commission of inquiry.

Justice Miriam Gropper pointed out that a commission would not lead to any damages, which the plaintiffs are seeking in the millions of dollars.

David Klein, who is arguing for the class action, said there are systemic problems within the RCMP ranks and the women's claims should be combined.

"The courts should look at this as an organizational problem," Klein said outside court. "The responsibility to women in the RCMP is owed by the government itself."

He said nearly 100 new women have contacted his firm since its first submissions were filed two years ago.

"It climbs every time there's publicity about the case," he said. "There are a lot of women who, when they read about this case, it gives them the courage to come forward."

A decision isn't expected for several months.

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