Manitoba’s first female Indigenous Mountie has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging widespread systemic racism in the force that breaches the Charter rights of racialized members.
Margorie Hudson, who served in the RCMP from May, 1979, to March, 2009, says she was subjected to “persistent racism by non-racialized RCMP members and RCMP management” and frequently saw racialized colleagues treated differently than others, according to a statement of claim filed on July 7 in the Federal Court of Canada.
The lawsuit comes at a global moment of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism in the workplace after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
“My hope is that this lawsuit will bring positive changes for the individuals that are with the RCMP, for those that are going to join in the future, and those who worked for the RCMP before, such as myself, so they can open up a path to healing,” Ms. Hudson said in a phone interview from Winnipeg.
The statement of claim outlines incidents Ms. Hudson experienced or witnessed in her 30 years with the force while holding the rank of native special constable and then regular constable.
This included being paid less than half of what her counterparts got, being made to work only on reserves and being overlooked for promotions.
In one instance, Ms. Hudson alleges her corporal told her she was “fat because all Indians are fat,” according to the statement of claim. In another, when a rotting corpse was discovered in a river, an RCMP member allegedly said: “It smells like an Indian.”
Ms. Hudson says she also witnessed racist acts by RCMP members toward Indigenous people on reserves. One example alleges a corporal threw a steel flashlight at a man and, when he missed, said: “That … Indian enemy, I’ll get him next time.”
The allegations have not been proved in court. The RCMP did not return a request for comment on Monday.
Ms. Hudson said she complained to superiors many times – including with a letter to former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, signed by her direct supervisor – but her complaints were ignored.
She left the RCMP in 2009 with physical and psychological effects, including high stress, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and excessive weight gain.
“I didn’t know how much it affected me until I got out of it,” Ms. Hudson said. “It’s like being in a bad relationship, in a bad marriage. It was a vicious cycle. My whole life had changed and I was totally stressed out.”
Lawyer David Klein, who is leading the lawsuit, said several dozen former or current RCMP members have approached his firm about the legal action and the total number is expected to be in the hundreds.
“Lawsuits are usually about money, and that is a central part of any class action,” Mr. Klein said. “But what’s important for Marge and many of the other people who have contacted us is to see change within the force.”
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki drew criticism from members of Parliament and some Indigenous leaders last month after equivocating on the existence of systemic racism within the RCMP, at one point referencing a physical aptitude test that requires a six-foot broad jump as an example.
“I saw it and thought, ‘Oh, my God,‘” Ms. Hudson said. “I just shook my head and laughed. Where has she been? She obviously hasn’t been listening to anyone who’s been talking.”
In March, the Federal Court of Canada approved a national settlement in a class-action lawsuit, also led by Mr. Klein’s firm, against the RCMP on behalf of women who experienced harassment or discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation while working or volunteering with the RCMP in non-policing roles between Sept. 16, 1974, and July 5, 2019.
The value of the settlement is estimated to be $100-million, with compensation ranging from $10,000 to $220,000 for a proven claim, depending on how many eligible claims are received.
A 2016 class action, valued at about the same amount, applied to female Mounties.
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