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Former RCMP constable Janet Merlo, of Nanaimo, B.C., arrives at B.C. Supreme Court for a hearing to seek certification of a class action lawsuit against the RCMP over sexual harassment and gender discrimination, in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday June 1, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A lawyer arguing for a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP says the cases of hundreds of female employees alleging the force discriminated against them must be considered together.

David Klein said the RCMP is toxic to women and has been for a number of years.

"Day after day, week after week, year after year, they were subjected to degradation, humiliation, and demoralizing comments and behaviour. Comments and behaviour that were not adequately addressed by management," he said Monday outside B.C. Supreme Court.

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Klein is arguing this week that the complaints of 363 female RCMP employees should move forward collectively because that would provide a full picture of a systemic problem.

"This is conduct that occurs over months or years, by multiple perpetrators, that's ignored by management at multiple locations," he said of the women. Two thirds of them still work for the force.

No dollar figure has been attached to the case, but Klein said that with hundreds of cases involved, a judgment could be in the "many millions of dollars."

The RCMP has taken small steps to address harassment on the force since the suit was originally filed in 2012, Klein said. But he believes there's more to be done.

"They at least pay lip service to taking the problem seriously, but they're not taking the women seriously. And until they take the women seriously, until they take those claims seriously, the problem will not be solved."

The hearing began three years after for Nanaimo RCMP officer Janet Merlo came forward with allegations about discrimination she experienced throughout her career, including lewd comments and actions from her male colleagues.

Merlo said it's time for the courts and the public to hear not only her story, but the stories of other women who've worked for the force across Canada.

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"I think it's time the organization changed, changed for everybody," Merlo said. "It's gone on far too long and there's been too many lives destroyed, and still being destroyed because there's a lot of members who are still active. So that tells me that not a lot's being done to make it right."

The hearing is scheduled for five days, but a decision is not expected for several months.

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