On September 20th of this year, the Federal Court “certified” a class action lawsuit against the RCMP, and is asking for $1.1 billion. And you, whether you know it or not are a signatory– with no signature required.
We are with little doubt into a new age, in terms of lawsuits, everyone has a complaint and just as importantly everyone seems to feel the need for compensation. Hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact billions of dollars have been coming out of the Federal coffers; to pay off, or more accurately to “settle”, rather than facing a trial and protracted court cases. These settlements are often cloaked in secrecy, far from the prying eyes of the persons who are in actual fact paying out these monies. The end results or conclusions to these cases, are often just flashes in our mind’s eye, prompted by a headline or two, which makes us briefly flinch. Then we move on, our sanity and possible outrage papered over by our ignorance or our inability to dig deep.
What is somewhat surprising in this most recent lawsuit is the fact that every officer of the RCMP and reserve officer, since 1995 until the present, are automatically included in this particular lawsuit. The nexus of the claim, or your claim, is built around the central contention that we (present and former police officers) were subjected to “bullying” and “harassment”. Furthermore, the Mounties failed to provide a safe and respective “workplace”. One does have the option to “opt out” of being a participant, should you wish to fill out a provided form and send it in to the respective law firm before November 23, 2022.
So I and you (RCMP officers) am now being represented, without any effort, retainer, or affirmation by the firm of Kim Spencer McPhee Barristers PC. Since they are your new barristers it would seem pertinent to learn a little about them. It turns out that this firm is no stranger to the lawsuit game, in fact, their stated “focus” is “complex, high value class actions”. This Bay Street Toronto firm has been involved in many lawsuits and come up against such entities as ManuLife, General Motors, FedEx and Sunlife. RCMP members and ex-members have also been some of their favoured clients having been involved in the RCMP Gender Sexual Harassment and the RCMP Medical Examination suit.
The two principals of this law firm are Megan McPhee, a seemingly rising star in the field of class action suits in Canada and Michael C. Spencer, an American trained lawyer who brought his expertise in the field of securities and class actions from California and New York to Canada. This firm with regard to “our” lawsuit, has negotiated an agreement that will stand to net 1/3 of any awarded damages. That would be 33% of a possible $1.1 billion.
The firm have fronting this suit, two “representative plaintiffs”, Geoffrey Greenwood and Todd Gray, both RCMP members from Alberta. It was in 2019 that these two officers filed a suit alleging that they were the victims of “systemic negligence in the form of non-sexual bullying, intimidation, and general harassment”. The plaintiffs also argue that the RCMP chain of command that was “tasked to deal with internal recourse and harassment claims include those that are responsible for the harassment that is being complained about”. This they argue has led to a “toxic work environment” and is “characterized by abuses of power”.
There have been two other outside developments which seemed to have helped spur the lawsuit. One was the report by Chief Justice Michael Bastarache, “Broken Dreams, Broken Lives” which dealt with the sexual harassments claims of women in the RCMP. This report stated among many other things, that the RCMP can not fix itself “internally”. The lawsuit is also supported by a statement in 2016 when then Commissioner Paulson went on the record stating that the RCMP was guilty of “harassment and intimidation”.
The Federal government has by necessity tried to quash this latest suit, appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada. They argued that the internal systems already in place for grievances, was a sufficient remedy for these types of complaints and allegations. Without any written reason, in March 2022 the Supreme Court rejected that appeal.
If one attempts to amateurishly dissect and analyze the central core of these arguments one could probably come to some relatively easy conclusions. Albeit subjectively, there seems to be some strong arguments to be made in support of this civil case. It would be difficult to argue that even the basic training academy at the earliest point of a police officers career, centres on discipline and uses intimidation and harassment as the basic tools to force compliance and reinforce that “team” mentality. Depot has mellowed significantly since the 1970’s and 1980’s, but let’s face it, it is still there and was definitely there in 1995. Does anyone from the early era forget the Drill hall? There was a large caveat though, it was all intended as part of a game of survival. It was expected. You were challenged to ignore and face the often offensive behaviour, it was part of the indoctrination, it was part of the preparation for facing the abuse on the streets. So if this type of thing is accepted under todays standards as being harassment or intimidation the lawyers for the plaintiffs seem to be in a good position.
There is also little doubt that the RCMP has always investigated these types of complaints internally, and often it was the immediate supervisors who were tasked with this very unwanted task. If one accepts that this generally inhibits fairness and objectivity, and in fact corrupts, that too would be an easy argument that could be made by many.
Where the argument in favour of this lawsuit seems to fail is when one draws from the specific to the general. Staff Sargent Greenwood, one of the representative plaintiffs, and the most publicly outspoken is now the Staff in charge of GIS in North Red Deer, Alberta. His specifics are what constitutes some of the base for this lawsuit. He began his career in 1990 and was transferred to Yellowknife in 2003. He says that his troubles started in Yellowknife Detachment where he was ostracized for trying to “uncover corruption”. In 2007 he was promoted to Sgt. and had begun an investigation into some criminal organizations. During this investigation, which included wiretaps, there was some audio captured which implicated some RCMP officers allegedly taking “kickbacks” in amounts up to $60,000; destroying evidence, and leaking the locations of undercover operations and drug raids. Clearly very serious allegations. However the officers were not identified in the tapes, but later an “informant” for Greenwood managed to identify an involved officer.
In 2007 a new Superintendent took over the unit. This Supt. for reasons unknown at this time, told him to drop the case, which Greenwood refused to do, or at least that is the between the lines indication. This Supt. would end up filing no less than seven codes of conduct complaints against Greenwood. All but one would be eventually “dropped”. From this point, we can only rely on the public record, but suffice to say the two had some major differences. Greenwood said he was “demoted” to desk duty and filed a harassment complaint against the Supt. as well as another officer who “tried to punch him in the face”. Greenwood further states that he had suffered harassment and intimidation “throughout his career”, but that in all that happened in Yellowknife he “lost my way for numerous years”. He said that “most members struggle daily” and that he suffers from PTSD due to the “reprisals and harassment on the job”.
Todd Gray the other representative for this lawsuit, provides evidence that as a member of the Musical Ride and while performing at equestrian events was “forced to ride in a bunk in the same trailer as the horses” which was “unsafe, dangerous, and illegal”. He was also made to ride his horse “despite a back injury”. Furthermore he was “ostracized and isolated when he accused a detachment commander in Nunavut of mistreating First Nations people”. At first glance, Mr. Gray’s examples seem somewhat more fragile than that of Mr. Greenwood. Riding in the trailers with the horses was common practise according to my recollection, and part of the shared duties in the Musical Ride. It would also be difficult to believe that if presented a medical certificate of a back injury that any supervisor would have forced anyone to ride a horse. Possible for sure, but it seems unlikely. As to his accusations against the Nunavut detachment commander, also possible, but likely mentioned and underlined in the lawsuit to strike at the Federal government sensitivity to anything indigenous.
Not knowing all the details of this civil suit makes it difficult to sort the real from the unreal or the exaggerated. The complaints of the representative plaintiffs may be real and have proven devastating for these two individuals. But I will also admit to a bit of cynicism in terms of the complaints as they feel more “new age” than “old school”. The proof will be uncovered in the civil case should it in fact go to trial. Given the propensity of the Mounties to cover all wrong doing with greenbacks we may never know the truth in these matters. I personally did not feel that I was harassed or intimidated by my bosses over a thirty-four year career, but maybe I was just lucky. Nor do I believe that “most members struggle daily” as stated by Mr. Greenwood. However, I have often argued that a union was needed due to the various member problems that were given short shrift over the years, lost to an inefficient and bureaucratic system which often suffered from a lack of investigation as well as a lack of outcome.
So good luck to you my fellow participants in the Greenwood versus His Majesty the King. The worst result of “our” civil case may be all of us getting cheques for 40 bucks in a settlement with no real public explanation. You know as well as I that the lawyers are the only real winners.