The lead plaintiff in a one-billion-dollar-plus lawsuit alleging bullying and harassment within the RCMP says he hopes a recent report calling out the force’s toxic culture will convince Ottawa to drop its fight against his claim.
Last week, former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache released a report describing a police force in crisis. The report — “Broken Dreams, Broken Lives” — points to systemic cultural problems within the RCMP and called for an external review of the future of the iconic Canadian institution.
The report grew out of the Merlo-Davidson settlement, which was the result of a class action lawsuit on behalf of women who were sexually abused or discriminated against while serving in the RCMP.
Those findings hit home for Mountie Geoffrey Greenwood, who is helping to front a separate class action alleging “systemic negligence in the form of bullying, intimidation, and general harassment.”
Greenwood alleges he endured torment after reporting allegations of bribery and corruption against fellow drug officers in 2008.
The Greenwood vs. Canada lawsuit — which seeks compensation for what could be thousands of officers, civilian employees, students and volunteers — argues that internal remedies for such complaints are ineffective because they are dependent upon the “chain of command,” which is often made up of those who were either responsible for the offending behaviour or acted to protect others.
According to the lawsuit, this chain of command perpetuated a toxic work climate, characterized by abuses of power.
Greenwood said the RCMP’s workplace culture ends up affecting almost every member.
The scars will never, ever go away.– Geoffrey Greenwood
“It does affect everybody, from the new recruit walking in the door to the member at my service. It affects everyone and it affects them both professionally and personally,” he said.
“It’s a very, very lonely road to walk and the scars will never, ever go away.”.
A Federal Court Justice certified the $1.1 billion lawsuit earlier this year. The federal government is appealing that decision.
The Crown, on behalf of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is fighting against the lawsuit, saying the claims are “workplace disputes” for which there are various legislative remedies and avenues for redress within the RCMP.
A hearing on Ottawa’s appeal of the lawsuit’s certification is expected in the new year.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said it’s too early to know if the Bastarache report will affect future litigation.
Lawyer Megan McPhee, class counsel in the Greenwood suit, said there are parallels between her client’s case and the one that led to the Merlo-Davidson settlement.
“The RCMP is continuing to fight this case and argue that the policies work, even though the reports say they don’t,” she said.
“They say that they are workplace disputes, when the reports confirm that it’s a toxic culture that’s at issue.”
Pressure mounts for external review
The Bastarache report also shows that the force can’t be trusted to fix itself, McPhee said.
In the report, Bastarache writes that he believes that “culture change is highly unlikely to come from within the RCMP.” One of his main recommendations is for an external, independent review of the RCMP’s future as a federal policing organization.
“We’ve seen decades of reports now, and they’ve come from different mandates and from different perspectives, but the findings of the reports have been consistent and that’s what the RCMP can’t fix itself internally,” said McPhee.
“The processes and the policies in place for dealing with harassment aren’t working for members.”
Greenwood said the only way forward for the force is to accept outside help in the form of an external review.
“Whenever there is a report, or whenever there is a decision, or whenever there is something that’s contentious within the RCMP, their immediate fallback is to take out the old policy, dust it off, add a couple of new words or a couple of phrases and see if that works,” he said.
“And nine times out of 10, that fails. So the membership, they’re waiting.”
When asked about Bastarache’s call for an external review during a committee meeting Wednesday, Blair said the government already committed to reform in September’s speech from the throne.
“We have very clearly stated our commitment to bring about reform of the RCMP and in particular to deal with issues of governance, oversight and accountability,” he said.