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Defence team in RCMP harassment case plans to strike down discrimination claims

Lawyer David Klein, left, listens as former RCMP officer Valerie MacLean, one of the hundreds of current and former female Mounties who have come forward from across Canada to join a class-action lawsuit alleging harassment and gender-based discrimination against the police force, speaks to reporters outside British Columbia Supreme Court after the first hearing in the class-action lawsuit in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday August 2, 2012.


The RCMP and the government are opposing class-action certification of a discrimination lawsuit by female officers, saying the class is hard to define and the women's complaints are too diverse.

Another former officer on Thursday added her name to the highly publicized civil claim of gender-based discrimination by more than 200 potential plaintiffs as it received its first hearing in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Defence lawyer Mitchell Taylor told the court that, in addition to fighting the class-action certification, he will file several motions in the third week of September to strike some of the plaintiffs' claims from the suit. Among other portions of the claim, he said the defence disagrees with the allegation of direct negligence against the Crown.

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He did not expand further on his strategy.

The suit was filed by Janet Merlo on behalf of herself and any other female RCMP members past or present who say they experienced systemic sexual discrimination from the organization, court documents say.

Valerie MacLean, the latest former Mountie to join the legal action, attended Thursday's hearing in support of the other women and afterward said the stories she has heard from women serving recently are very similar to her experiences during stints as a constable in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1977, Ms. MacLean said, her supervisor badgered her during her eight-hour graveyard shifts to engage in a sexual relationship with him. She said he offered her a positive assessment for her work in exchange. She said that although she complained multiple times about his behaviour, it continued until she quit two years later.

Ms. MacLean joined the RCMP soon after Canada's national police service began accepting women as officers. Back then, she said, she believed the men acted inappropriately because they were not used to working with women.

"The fact that it's still going on and the stories are the same would seem to me that nothing's changed and that's what's really troubling," Ms. MacLean said of her reaction to reading other allegations. "It's the same, same culture."

The class-action certification appears to be important to the potential plaintiffs. Right now, some will not even speak publicly, Ms. MacLean said, because they are so ashamed. A class-action suit means they would not have to stand alone. "When you see other women coming forward, it gives you strength," said Ms. MacLean. "There's strength in numbers."

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Ms. Merlo was a constable for just over 19 years, mostly at the Nanaimo detachment, where she alleges she endured persistent harassment from her male co-workers until she was discharged in March, 2010. According to the claim, on separate occasions, she was asked to stand beside a naked inflatable doll by a supervisor's desk, found a dildo in her files and was asked to perform sexual favours.

One of Ms. Merlo's lawyers, David Klein, said the defence will likely argue that the federal government is not responsible for the systemic negligence the suit claims, but for individual acts by individual members of the RCMP.

Mr. Klein does not expect the class-action certification ruling until the middle of next year, he said, and thinks the case will stretch out over several years.

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