MONTREAL, June 15, 2018 — Quebec Superior Court Judge Pierre C. Gagnon hopes to determine by August 31 if thousands of RCMP members across Canada can seek compensation through a class action for years of systematic harassment by senior RCMP officers. His announcement was made today at the Montreal Court House after two days of presentations by James Duggan, the long-time lawyer for RCMP officers’ rights, and Attorney General of Canada lawyer Ginette Gobeil.
“I will have a lot of reading to do this summer,” Gagnon told the courtroom at the end of the proceedings, adding that he wanted to make sure his verdict is delivered as quickly as possible while respecting all of the arguments put forward by both sides.
Quebec Superior Court had agreed to hear the class-action request that seeks compensation for all RCMP officers who have been victims of harassment and bullying. Duggan said the application for a certification to authorize class action proceedings is being done in collaboration with the Quebec Mounted Police Members’ Association (QMPMA) on behalf of 22,000 front-line police officers and civilian employees of the federal force, and is the first application of its kind to be made by its members.
During the hearing, Duggan argued that bringing thousands of harassment complaints by RCMP members to court individually would only bog down the Canadian judicial system, further delaying any form of justice for the victims.
He cited one case which took 40 days to argue, and despite the decision going in favour of the RCMP member, the compensation failed to cover legal costs. One global national class-action should be approved, he told Judge Gagnon, in order to provide effective and timely access to justice for all RCMP members who were victims of harassment.
Duggan cited several examples of RCMP members who have been the target of harassment and bullying by senior officers, resulting in burnout leaves, PTSD, ruined careers and early retirements. Duggan described one example in which a respected veteran RCMP sergeant from Quebec’s C Division suffered a major burnout after his spouse — also an RCMP officer — filed a sexual harassment complaint against a senior officer, only to have senior RCMP officers pressure him to convince his wife to drop the complaint. The sergeant refused to comply, and was himself then subject to severe harassment, causing severe stress, depression and the end of his career.
Other veteran RCMP members’ careers were cut short by harassment for union activities, or based on their linguistic origins (French). In other examples, RCMP members were harassed to the point of suffering severe mental health problems and serious financial losses. Their families also became victims.
Duggan told the court that his law office launched a website (https://rcmpclassaction.ca/) a year ago to allow all RCMP members — whatever their origins and wherever they are posted — who have been victims of harassment to confidentially tell their stories. The site has been visited over 10,000 times, and “thousands” of RCMP members have submitted their personal stories of harassment and bullying by superiors. All this in the context that the federal government has settled the class action on behalf of female members subject to sexual harassment without the action being certified, whereas the class action on behalf of all members who were harassed is being contested. This appears arbitrary and discriminatory, to say the least.
In his arguments, Duggan cited the importance of the landmark decision in 2015 by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized the long history of RCMP harassment and reprisal against union activities, and ruled that the legislation preventing RCMP members from unionizing violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and was illegal and null. This landmark decision recognized the fundamental right to unionize and bargain collectively, not just for RCMP members, but for all Canadian workers.
Photo: James Duggan