OTTAWA — The federal government is fighting a proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP over bullying and intimidation of members, saying the national police force already has a comprehensive policy on harassment and the Mounties have made strides toward modernization.
In a submission to the Federal Court of Canada, lawyers representing the attorney general argue the action spearheaded by two veteran male Mounties, Geoffery Greenwood and Todd Gray, should not be certified.
“This motion is not about whether there is, or has been a harassment problem in the RCMP, or even whether the RCMP leadership has appropriately responded to the problem,” the federal submission says.
“The sole question is whether the proposed claims ought to proceed through the vehicle of a class action. The proposed action fails to satisfy even the law threshold for certification.”
The RCMP has already settled class-action lawsuits involving millions of dollars of payouts for discrimination, bullying and harassment involving female RCMP members and those who served the force in non-policing roles from 1974 onwards.
The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP in a wide array of roles over the decades. It would, however, exclude women already covered by the other class actions.
Greenwood and Gray, both of whom live in Alberta, allege they were among those subjected to a culture of systemic bullying, intimidation and harassment that was fostered and condoned by the RCMP leadership.
They claim such behaviour was bolstered by barriers that “amplified a stark power imbalance” within the paramilitary structure of the force and prevented members from engaging in collective bargaining or other meaningful redress.
The sole avenue of recourse was through members of the chain of command who were either involved in such behaviour themselves or protected the perpetrators, the plaintiffs say. “This in turn created a toxic work environment, characterized by abuse of power and fear of reprisal.”
More than 800 potential class members from across the country had contacted lawyers handling the action as of last October.
The motion for certification was argued in part during two days of hearings last month. No court date has been set to complete the arguments.
The RCMP has “unequivocally acknowledged” the problem of bullying and harassment and is taking concrete steps to address it, the federal submission says.
“Indeed, concerted and ongoing efforts and resources have been directed to preventing and properly addressing conduct which is, and has always been, contrary to the RCMP Code of Conduct and RCMP policies.”
The Trudeau government has directed new commissioner Brenda Lucki to make the national police force representative of Canada’s diverse population by embracing gender parity and ensuring that women, Indigenous members and minority groups are better reflected in the upper ranks.
The RCMP has worked to implement the scores of recommendations flowing from reports in recent years that documented the police force’s shortcomings, the federal lawyers say. The suggestion that the RCMP actions are insufficient and that a class action is the only way to bring about change ignores these efforts, they add.
“Ensuring a robust internal-recourse disciplinary regime that effectively addresses inappropriate conduct is essential to changing the culture of the RCMP.”
The federal lawyers argue the case for certification also fails because the courts have consistently declined — save for the most exceptional circumstances — to assume jurisdiction over workplace disputes covered by comprehensive grievance and other specialized recourse schemes.
The existing workplace dispute-resolution and compensation regimes are preferable “and will be undermined if this action is certified,” the submission says.
Further, the lawyers argue, the proposed class definition is “overly broad and indeterminate,” stretching back to the oldest individual who was, at any point, employed by the RCMP.
Apart from the lead plaintiffs’ own experiences as regular-force members, there is no evidence of people in other RCMP employment categories who have suffered injuries as a result of harassment, the submission says.
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Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press