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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)

Sexual-harassment claims against RCMP reach 336 Add to ...

A senior RCMP communications adviser alleging sexual harassment and assault by a superior officer is the latest to join more than 300 women with similar claims across Canada in seeking legal action against the force.

The lawyer bringing the class action said in the two years since the lawsuit was filed, hundreds of women, one-third of them still with the force, have come forward.

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“When we hit 100 I was surprised,” said lawyer David Klein of Klein Lyons, the firm handling the class action. “As we hit 200, I was less surprised, and then 300 even less, because we were beginning to have a sense of the magnitude of the internal problem at the RCMP with women in the force.”

The suit, which now has 336 complainants, alleges widespread systemic discrimination by the RCMP against female members. Janet Merlo, a former RCMP officer based in Nanaimo who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the others, said she suffered bullying and harassment throughout her career of nearly 20 years.

A certification hearing has been pushed back to next June to allow lawyers more time to gather information.

Corporal Catherine Galliford, a former RCMP spokeswoman whose claims of sexual harassment in 2011 have been credited with opening the door for others, said she is encouraged to see women coming forward, but saddened they did not before.

Corporal Galliford, who said she still has post-traumatic stress disorder from years of harassment, has been on sick leave since 2006. Her case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

An internal RCMP report released in 2012 suggested gender-based harassment happened frequently to the female officers who participated in a study of their experiences of being bullied by colleagues and superiors.

In response to the report, Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens announced the creation of a 100-member team to investigate harassment complaints.

Last week, Anitra Singh alleged in a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court that Inspector Tim Shields sexually harassed and assaulted her from 2009 to 2011. Ms. Singh, a civilian RCMP member, was a senior communications adviser from February, 2008, until taking sick leave in September, 2012, and reported to Inspector Shields, who was then in charge of the B.C. RCMP’s E Division.

Among the allegations, Ms. Singh claims Inspector Shields made lewd comments to her both verbally and through text messages, exposed himself to her and confined her in a bathroom, forcing her to touch him in an inappropriate manner, according to court documents.

Ms. Singh accuses Inspector Shields of abusing his position of trust and authority, and his rank. As a result of his actions, Ms. Singh says she has post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other ailments, according to the court documents.

Last August, another woman filed a civil suit against Inspector Shields alleging similar misconduct. Atoya Montague, who held several communications positions as a civilian employee with the RCMP from 2002 until 2011, also claimed Inspector Shields exposed himself to her, made lewd comments and sent sexually explicit text messages.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Inspector Shields was unavailable for comment.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rob Vermeulen noted the force’s formal response to the allegations will be filed in a statement of defence.

“These unproven allegations now form part of a recently filed civil suit, and as such, we are not able to comment further,” he said.

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