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Former RCMP constable Janet Merlo at her home in Nanaimo, B.C. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
Former RCMP constable Janet Merlo at her home in Nanaimo, B.C. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

RCMP shouldn't draw out harassment suit, former Mountie's lawyer says Add to ...

The lawyer representing a former female Mountie who filed a class-action lawsuit over allegations of widespread harassment within the RCMP says the federal government should attempt to negotiate an end to its legal troubles rather than force the case to drag out through the courts.

David Klein – whose client, Janet Merlo, filed her lawsuit last year – was in court for a procedural hearing Tuesday, a day after the commissioner of the RCMP complained the force was being targeted by “outlandish claims.”

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On Monday, Commissioner Bob Paulson told a Senate committee the force was being tarnished by unproven claims that are nonetheless “put forward as though they are gospel.”

Commissioner Paulson singled out three alleged cases of abuse – two put forward by men, one by a woman – as he suggested some officers were spending more time complaining than working to make things better. Ms. Merlo’s case was not among them.

“We’re surprised, we’re very surprised,” Mr. Klein said outside court Tuesday. “When you take a look at the RCMP’s action plan [for addressing harassment], they clearly say they want to sit down and settle these cases. My clients have said, ‘Yes, absolutely, sit down with us.’ So far, we’ve just gotten a flat-out ‘no.’”

The proposed class-action case was launched by Ms. Merlo in March, 2012, more than two years after she left the force.

Ms. Merlo alleged her 19-year career was overshadowed by years of name-calling, sexist pranks and requests for sexual favours, and she asked that her case be certified as a class action. The allegations have not been proven in court.

When the case was initially filed, Mr. Klein suggested more than 100 current and former officers had indicated they wanted to join the case. On Tuesday, he said the number was now almost 300 – about one-third of which are still active members of the force.

The case has yet to be certified as a class-action lawsuit. Ms. Merlo’s lawyer wants a certification hearing in December, while a federal government asked a judge Tuesday to delay such a hearing until April or May of next year.

Complicating the timing is a motion from the federal government to strike down several sections of Ms. Merlo’s original statement of claim.

Those sections largely focus on technical legal points, such as whether RCMP officers have an explicit contract of employment with the federal government that includes a duty to protect them from harassment.

The federal government wants the court to hear its arguments next month, but Mr. Klein argued in court the government’s motion to strike portions of Ms. Merlo’s lawsuit should be heard at the same time as the class-action certification.

The judge did not rule on either the timing of the government’s motion or the certification hearing, or whether they will be held together.

Inside court, Mitchell Taylor, a lawyer for the federal government, said it would be “premature” to consider mediation at this stage.

Among the people in the public gallery for Tuesday’s hearing was Mary Kostashuk, a former RCMP sergeant who has approached Mr. Klein about joining the class-action case.

Ms. Kostashuk retired in April after a career that spanned more than three decades, mostly in the Vancouver area. Before she retired, she worked in commercial crime and market enforcement.

Ms. Kostashuk said she experienced years of name-calling and bullying in what she described as a “toxic” workplace, but she said when she attempted to complain in 2009, she was told it was her that was the problem.

However, she hesitated when asked whether she believed her alleged treatment was related to her gender.

“I was called names, I was left out of certain projects,” she said outside court, standing next to Mr. Klein.

“I felt that it was about supervisors’ lack of abilities to supervise. For me, it’s hard to tell [whether it was gender-based], because I was naive and people have to tell me to give my head a shake and say, ‘The things that happened to you were because you were female.’”

Ms. Merlo is among several female Mounties who have filed lawsuits in recent years, the most high-profile of which is Catherine Galliford, a former RCMP spokeswoman who has become the face of the mountain of claims of harassment within the force.

The Canadian Press

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