Canada’s national police force is facing a mammoth $1.1-billion lawsuit — believed to be the biggest in the force’s history — over bullying and harassment claims that could eventually represent thousands of male and female RCMP officers, civilian staff, and even volunteers dating back decades.
Two veteran male RCMP officers are the lead plaintiffs. They recount workplace horror stories and health problems they claim stem from pervasive and “systematic bullying, intimidation and harassment” within the force, according to the 44-page suit filed Friday in Federal Court.
In an exclusive interview to CBC, Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Greenwood recalled the fallout he says he endured after reporting allegations of bribery and corruption against fellow drug officers in 2008.
“It rocked me to my core,” said Greenwood, who is now with the RCMP detachment in Red Deer, Alta.
“I was kind of demonized and I was the one that was left to be the problem, and really all I did was my job.”
Larger than harassment suit
This lawsuit is expected to eclipse previous harassment cases against the RCMP, including the $100-million settlement in 2016 for the more than 3,100 female officers who claim discrimination and sexual harassment on the job.
The new lawsuit seeks compensation for potentially tens of thousands of people, on a force that has 29,751 employees, not to mention thousands more dating back decades.
If the court certifies it as a class action, it could cover anyone who has ever worked for the RCMP and suffered what former commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged in 2016 was a “culture of bullying and intimidation and general harassment.”
None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been tested in court. The Federal Court has only just received the claim and the government and RCMP have not yet filed a response.
Officer claims he was ‘villainized’
Sgt. Greenwood’s troubles began in 2007 when he was based in Yellowknife, N.W.T. He was leading a major drug and money-laundering investigation across the North.
According to the lawsuit, Greenwood was assigned to look into allegations from a woman arrested for money-laundering who alleged some RCMP officers were on the take.
She claimed one officer was paid $60,000 “in exchange for information about the identity of RCMP undercover agents, surveillances, and upcoming drug raids,” the lawsuit reads.
Greenwood also listened to audio surveillance tapes implicating several more officers.
Bolstered by a second team of RCMP investigators who believed the woman, Greenwood reported it all to his bosses.
According to the lawsuit, Greenwood quickly found himself on the receiving end of reprisals and was ordered to drop his investigation.
“That manager wanted to bury that issue. And for me, that is not in my fibre,” Greenwood said in an interview. “I can’t cover up something like that.”
The lawsuit alleges he faced trumped-up internal charges that were an “egregious form of bullying” intended to punish him.
He was eventually transferred out of the North in 2010 after allegedly being ostracized and ridiculed by his bosses.
“I ended up kind of leaving a shell of a person,” Greenwood said “Your whole character is torn apart and stripped down and you’re villainized.”
‘Blacklisted for speaking out’
Sgt. Todd Gray, the lawsuit’s second lead plaintiff, had what appeared to be the postcard-perfect job back in the mid-1990s as a member of the RCMP Musical Ride.
“This is the image of the RCMP. That’s just the show,” Gray said in an interview. “But the struggles that go on with travelling, and favouritism, and bullying, and being blacklisted for speaking out … those are the things that don’t come out.”
Gray alleges in this lawsuit that on a number of occasions, he was forced to ride in the horse trailer on long overnight trips, resting on a bunk next to the horses without heat, electricity or access to a washroom.
Gray alleges that in 1998, during his final year on the RCMP Musical Ride, after injuring his back, he was ordered to continue riding and was intentionally assigned a horse known to buck and kick. In one practice the horse reared up, toppled over and landed on his right leg, injuring him, the lawsuit alleges.
In the early 2000s, Gray was assigned to a small detachment in Nunavut.
Gray claims in the court pleading that one of his superiors “frequently abused the local First Nations populations.”
“[The commander] ending up kicking Mr. Gray in the face when he tried to kick a 16-year-old First Nations boy in the ribs,” the lawsuit reads.
Gray says he reported the incident to more senior managers. He alleges that he soon found himself ostracized, denied promotion and given a performance review from the detachment commander that concluded he should be fired.
Now 53 and a sergeant in Airdrie, Alta., Gray says he’s considering retirement given the ‘cumulative’ psychological toll.
“No matter where I go, no matter what province I was in, what division I was in, the same issues are always there,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t change across the country.”
Nowhere for RCMP staff to complain
In 2016, facing allegations of sexual harassment involving hundreds of female officers, then RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson testified before parliament admitting the force had profound problems.
“It can’t be understood as a sexual harassment problem,” Paulson told the Commons public safety committee. “Sexual harassment has no place in the organization — don’t get me wrong — but it’s the culture of bullying, intimidation, and general harassment that I think needs everybody’s focus and attention.”
The new $1.1-billion lawsuit seizes on Paulson’s statement and cites a long list of formal reports and studies that also conclude the RCMP suffers from widespread workplace harassment.
A key argument in the claim is that until 2015, RCMP employees were precluded from forming a union and so had nowhere to complain other than to their direct bosses.
“Complaints of any kind were treated as an affront to the chain of command in the paramilitary structure of the RCMP, leading to direct and indirect retaliatory conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit seeks $1 billion in damages for loss of income due to lost promotions, early retirements and losses to pensions. It also seeks $100 million in punitive damages and an additional $30 million to compensate family members of RCMP employees adversely affected.
Related stories from around the North:
Denmark: Nordics report high abuse levels against women, Radio Sweden
Finland: Finland suspends twenty councillors in Lapland town before trial, YLE News
Russia: Major corruption case clouds Russian base projects in Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Reports of violent crime increasing in Sweden’s North, Radio Sweden
United States: Police officers in Alaska villages hired despite criminal record: report, Alaska Public Media