Landmark Settlement Seeks to Address Decades of Harassment Faced by Female Mounties

The historic apology to women in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police comes with steps to prevent future abuse

Female Mountie
Wikimedia Commons

Forty-two years ago, women were first allowed to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Mounties, as the force is better known as, are kind of like the U.S. Marshals​, FBI and Secret Service all rolled into one, with a little highway patrol mixed in. But after the force went co-ed, female officers faced a hostile work environment that included incidents of unwanted touching, bullying, discrimination, threats and even rape. Now, the RCMP has agreed to a $100 million settlement, roughly $75 million in U.S. currency, over two class action lawsuits reports Kathleen Harris at CBC News.

During a tearful press conference, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson addressed current and former female Mounties. “To all the women who have been impacted by the force's failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every Commissioner: I stand humbly before you and solemnly offer our sincere apology,” he said. “You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry. You can now take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference. Because of you, your courage and your refusal to be silenced, the RCMP will never be the same.”

The settlement and apology stem from two lawsuits against the Mounties that have been working their way through the courts for the last five years, reports Merrit Kennedy at NPR. An estimated 20,000 women have worked for the RCMP since 1974. Tonda MacCharles at The Toronto Star reports that claims will be heard in private and assessed on a scale of one to six. There will be no "cap" set for the payouts, Paulson says. 

The RCMP will also establish an advisory board to guide it on issues of harassment and inclusivity, and conduct mandatory training at its cadet academy. Additionally, the force will create a scholarship named after Troop 17, RCMP’s first class of women Mounties, which might help the RCMP work to achieve its goal of having at least 30 percent of all uniformed, executive and commissioned officer positions filled by women by 2025.

Janet Merlo, the lead plaintiff in one of the class action suits tells MacCharles that the settlement represents “a turning point” for a new era—"Hopefully a better era,” she says.

As a member of the RCMP, Merlo experienced sexist comments and verbal abuse when she told her supervisor she was pregnant. Linda Davidson, who filed the other class action suit, was groped by a male supervisor, harassed by colleagues who left sex toys on her desk and refused to respond when she called for backup. Davidson worked for 27 years in the RCMP, even serving on the prime minister’s protective detail. She says she experienced harassment at every level and department of the force, as MacCharles reports.

“I represent 500 women who have reached out and who experience the same things that I did and that Linda did,” Merlo told reporters at the press conference. “They all wanted change too. They all loved the RCMP, they loved their jobs, and they just wanted it to be a better place to work. A place for their daughters to want to work. A good career, a beautiful career. And for that I'm very thankful that today finally arrived.”

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