Ottawa takes fight against lawsuit over bullying in RCMP to top court

·3 min read
A Federal Court last year certified a $1.1 billion lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police alleging
A Federal Court last year certified a $1.1 billion lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police alleging

The federal government is appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to end a massive class-action lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police alleging "systemic negligence" in its handling of allegations of bullying and harassment.

The plaintiffs allege that internal channels within the RCMP to handle complaints of bullying and harassment are ineffective because they depend on the chain of command. The statement of claim says that chain of command is often made up of people who were either responsible for the offending behaviour or acted to protect others.

A Federal Court judge last year certified the lawsuit — which is seeking more than $1.1 billion — as a class action. Earlier this fall, a judge dismissed the Crown's arguments seeking to de-certify the class action claim.

The Attorney General of Canada is now appealing the case up to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing an RCMP member's claims of harassment and bullying can be addressed by filing a grievance or harassment complaint, or through an internal RCMP Code of Conduct investigation.

The federal Department of Justice referred questions about the case to the RCMP.

"Canada is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its appeal to obtain clarity on whether the courts should certify a class action relating to workplace disputes when there are already administrative resolution processes in place," said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in a media statement.

Megan McPhee, the plaintiffs' lawyer, called the move disappointing.

"I think the commissioner's statement and the decision to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is, frankly, an insult to the class. The force is essentially saying, 'Too bad for you,'" she said.

"So we see their actions as being irreconcilable with the force's supposed commitment [to] eradicating harassment. It does nothing to address or compensate the thousands of class members who have suffered and who continue to suffer."

In its appeal documents, the federal government is arguing the lower courts' decisions will "do grave harm" and have wide-reaching impacts on workplace disputes among non-unionized employees.

It also argues the matter was settled in a 2005 Supreme Court decision, known as Vaughan, involving a federal public servant's fight for early retirement benefits.

In that case, the bench ruled that Parliament had created a comprehensive scheme for dealing with labour disputes and that scheme shouldn't be jeopardized by permitting parallel access to the courts.

"The court's reasoning allows for the routine evasion of statutory workplace dispute resolution regimes by whole classes of non-unionized employees," the Crown wrote.

"Troublingly, this extraordinary assumption of jurisdiction would not be based on particularized evidence of the inefficacy of the existing regimes. As this court noted in Vaughan, the outcome could give a new dimension to the concept of floodgates."

Chris Wattie/Canadian Press
Chris Wattie/Canadian Press

One of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Geoffrey Greenwood, said he endured workplace reprisals after reporting allegations of bribery and corruption against fellow RCMP drug officers in 2008 — years before RCMP members were allowed to unionize.

Greenwood said he was demonized and ostracized by fellow officers who wanted him to drop the case.

"I ended up kind of leaving a shell of a person," he told CBC back in 2018. "Your whole character is torn apart and stripped down and you're villainized."

In her statement, Lucki said the RCMP has made an ongoing effort to address harassment.

"All of these efforts are a reflection of the RCMP's continued dedication to fostering a safe and inclusive workplace," she said.

"We are confident the changes we are implementing will show significant results for our employees and the RCMP."

Almost a year ago, former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache released a scathing report pointing to systemic cultural problems within the RCMP and called for an external review of the future of the iconic Canadian institution.

The report grew out of the Merlo-Davidson settlement, which was the result of a separate class action lawsuit on behalf of women who were sexually abused or discriminated against while serving in the RCMP.

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