Class action alleging discrimination by RCMP in North growing, says lawyer

There is steady interest in joining a $600 million class action lawsuit claiming RCMP discrimination against Indigenous people in the North, according to one of the lawyers who initiated the lawsuit.

The class action was launched last December. Tuktoyaktuk teenager Joe David Nasogaluak is the lead plaintiff. In 2017, Nasogaluak's father told CBC News his son, then 15, was tasered by RCMP after the officers suspected he had given them a false name. The lawsuit alleges the RCMP have routinely used excessive force when interacting with Indigenous people.

"We are getting calls pretty much weekly over the last eight or nine intervening months," said Steven Cooper of Cooper Regal in Edmonton, one of the law firms handling the class action.

Cooper said not all of the experiences described by the callers fit into the lawsuit.

"At this point we have fairly solid evidence of at least 25 or 30 instances in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut of fairly obvious, if subtle, distinctions in treatment based on race," he said.

Andrew Pacey/CBC

It's difficult to predict how long it will take to resolve the lawsuit, according to Cooper, but he said he's hoping the fairly recent social enlightenment of leaders within the RCMP should drive them to try to reach a settlement.

"Nothing that we are alleging is new," he said.

"It certainly has been dealt with in other contexts, particularly within their own internal treatment of staff. This is unfortunately just another manifestation of the culture that has been examined extensively over the last five or six years."

In recent years, lawsuits launched by former RCMP members and other workers alleging a dysfunctional and toxic corporate culture have become a heavy burden for taxpayers.

This year the national police force agreed to pay former female employees not directly employed by the RCMP a settlement of $100 million for harassment they suffered.

Three years ago, it reached a settlement in the same amount for female RCMP members who suffered harassment. Last year two former officers became the lead plaintiffs in a $1.18 billion class action against the RCMP alleging bullying and harassment in the workplace.

"This won't surprise people that [the lawsuit] is happening. What would surprise me is the RCMP — and the attorney general as their representative — [deciding] that this is something that should spend the next 10 years in court."

The case is currently winding its way through the federal court. Cooper said he and others involved are assembling affidavits from various class members to convince the judge it should be certified as a class action lawsuit.