Teary RCMP commissioner apologizes, announces harassment suit settlement

Teary RCMP commissioner apologizes, announces harassment suit settlement

'I'm truly sorry': Paulson to female Mounties



OTTAWA — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has delivered an abject apology to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees who were subjected to bullying, discrimination and harassment dating back as long as four decades.

Paulson made the historic apology Thursday as he announced the settlement of two class-action lawsuits stemming from harassment that has cast a dark pall over the storied police force.

“To all the women, I stand humbly before you today and solemnly offer our sincere apology,” an emotional Paulson told a news conference in Ottawa.

“You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Paulson said the settlement would provide financial compensation for the women and lead to resolution of potential class-action lawsuits brought forward by former RCMP members Janet Merlo and Linda Gillis Davidson.

The federal government has earmarked $100 million for payouts, but there is no cap on the overall compensation that could be awarded. The settlement is expected to cover hundreds of women who served in the national police force from Sept. 16, 1974, when the first female officers were sworn in, to the present day.

It also includes creation of a scholarship in honour of the RCMP’s first female regular members as well as establishment of national and divisional advisory committees on gender, sexual orientation, harassment, equity and inclusivity. The national committee will issue a public annual report.

Paulson was joined at the news conference by Merlo and Davidson, as well as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.

“The impact this has had on those who have experienced this shameful conduct cannot â€” must not â€” be solely understood as an adverse workplace condition for which they must be compensated,” Paulson said.

“For many of our women this harassment has hurt them mentally and physically. It is has destroyed relationships and marriages, and even whole families have suffered as a result. Their very lives have been affected.”

Merlo took the podium after Paulson was finished, calling it “a great day for the RCMP” and thanking the commissioner on behalf of the other female members represented in the lawsuits.

“They just wanted it to be a better place to work,” Merlo said. “For them I’m really thankful that today finally arrived.”

She then embraced Paulson, who wiped tears from his eyes.  

“I love my flag, I love my country and I loved my job — I left way too early,” added Davidson, who also extended her thanks to the commissioner.

“I will continue to stand up and right the wrongs if I can,” she said. “We are, we were and we always will be your greatest asset.”

The settlement likely marks the beginning of the end of a difficult episode in the force’s history, one that has haunted Paulson’s tenure as commissioner.

“Today’s announcement … closes the door on a deeply troubling and unfortunate period in the history of our national police force,” Goodale said. “It is an encouraging moment, demonstrating a deep desire on the part of all parties to move forward in a positive and constructive manner â€” starting immediately.”

Though neither of the two class actions has been certified, the settlement agreement will be submitted to the Federal Court for approval.

Former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache will independently review claims and supporting evidence in confidence and determine which of six levels of compensation apply. Bastarache will personally interview those who make serious claims of mistreatment.

The former judge will make payments directly to the women from funds transferred to his control. His decisions cannot be appealed by the RCMP or the recipients.

Merlo, whose proposed class-action suit was filed in British Columbia four years ago, has spoken of many instances of sexual harassment that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said Thursday the fight was about trying to “leave some kind of legacy of change, rather than just going away and fading into the sunset hurt and bitter.”

Davidson has told of unwanted sexual advances and repeated harassment during her 27-year career, which included a stint with the prime minister’s protective detail. Her lawsuit was filed last year in Ontario Superior Court.

“It came to the point where I’d go to the detachment and I’d try to go to work and I couldn’t,” she said after the news conference. “I would literally vomit into the bushes before I went into the building.”

The RCMP has streamlined its internal processes for addressing conflict, giving supervisors more power to deal with disputes promptly, but some critics fear that has opened the door to abuses.

Goodale has already asked the RCMP watchdog to revisit the broad issue of bullying and harassment within the force. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is looking at whether recommendations it made three years ago have been implemented.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A 100 Mile RCMP officer stands watch at the intersction of Highway 97 and Horse Lake Road. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Volunteers, police search Highway 97 for articles related to high-speed chase

Search will stretch from Canco Gas Station in Lac La Hache to 150 Mile House.

An aerial photograph captures snowmobile tracks in the Cameron Ridge area earlier this year, which is closed to snowmobilers. The closures are in place to protect sensitive caribou herds. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Snowmobilers fined for operating in closed caribou habitat near Likely, B.C.

The investigation revealed they had spent several hours in the closure leaving extensive tracks

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Commercial tenants at the Williams Lake Regional Airport have been granted an additional six-month rent reprieve. (Angie Mindus file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Continuing rent relief for Williams Lake Airport tenants considered

City council discussed the option during a committee of the whole meeting

The Grade 2 class of 150 Mile House Elementary attended Cariboo Memorial Hospital with teacher Kirsty Bowers to deliver “kindness” bags full of small gifts to housekeeping staff. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
150 Mile House students deliver gift bags showing appreciation for hospital staff

Students begin Monday morning with a bus trip to Cariboo Memorial Hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. teacher transferred then suspended after students report feeling ‘scared, nervous’

Authorities found that teacher did not create inviting, respectful environment for students

Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries offers cheaper, prepaid fare options

Ferry service preparing for busy terminals when travel restrictions are lifted

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Most Read