Hundreds of women are asking a judge in British Columbia today to certify their class action lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, saying they experienced harassment and sexual assault while working on the national force.
The women — 363 of them to be exact — come from every province in Canada and the Northwest Territories, and have been building their case for the last two years.
The allegations in the pending suit range from threats and bullying to unwanted sexual touching, physical assault, and rape. The women say they suffered PTSD, suicide attempts, depression, and failed relationships as a result of harassment and sexual assault by their supervisors and peers.
Janet Merlo, who wrote a book about the harassment she experienced during her nearly 20 years as an RCMP officer, started the pending class action against the force. In her statement of claim, Merlo alleges one of her bosses made "overtly sexual comments" to her, offering to give her his "big Italian salami," and asking if she "like[s] it on top."
She also alleges a supervising officer made a comment to the effect that, "Janet is perfect… Janet is the right height because you can lay a six-pack of beer on her head while she gives you a blow job."
Her supervising officers repeatedly put her down with negative remarks about her pregnancy, she alleges. In 1992, when she told the RCMP she was pregnant with her first child, she alleges her supervisor yelled at her, "What the hell am I supposed to do with you now? ...You had better get your priorities straight. You are either going to have a career in the RCMP, or you are going to pop out kids your whole life."
He also allegedly told her, "I have a suggestion for you: next time, keep your fucking legs closed."
"The targeted comments from her male supervisors and peers were so pervasive and came from so many male Members that Ms. Merlo tried to numb herself to them because she felt resistance to be futile," her statement of claim says.
Catherine Galliford, another woman who worked for the RCMP, came forward with allegations against her former employer in 2011. Maclean'sMagazine reported she now has "crippling post-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of "chronic sexual harassment and bullying by male colleagues."
None of the women's allegations have been proven in court.
A lawyer bringing Merlo's class action forward, David Klein, told CBC some of the women aren't able to work due to the trauma resulting from their experiences. He called the harassment "a broad, serious, systemic problem."
"This is caused by the systemic paramilitary culture of the RCMP and resultant abuse of authority literally across Canada from detachment to detachment," another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Sandy Zaitzeff, said in a release when the class action was first filed in March 2012.
In another case currently unfolding in an Ontario court house, a male RCMP officer, Peter Merrifield, is alleging his superiors harassed him, and he went on sick leave as a result. His allegations are also unproven in court.
The RCMP says it has changed its complaint process, and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has promised to combat the "culture of harassment."
A spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney said in a statement that the government takes the issue of discrimination and sexual harassment "very seriously."
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont