The lawsuit by female officers working for B.C. municipal police forces follows successful similar lawsuits against the RCMP, and such a class-action lawsuit may be the only way to force change in such “macho” workplaces, says a UBC professor.
“The women tried unilaterally to change (by bringing complaints to management), but it only got worse and in addition to the harassment, they faced retribution on top of it,” said Margot Young at the Allard School of Law at UBC.
“What recourse do the women have,” she said. “These kinds of male-dominated workplaces with high stress and being a team player leads to this kind of culture. It’s a long-standing issue and it’s not getting better.”
“The stories are horrifying,” she said. “And these incidents are not isolated. It’s not a few bad apples. There is a significant culture of misogyny within the police. And this should worry all of us because the police is a real source of state force.”
She said the women should be commended for putting their names forward.
A similar lawsuit called the Merlo Davidson settlement agreement was finalized in 2017, when the RCMP agreed to a payout of $100 million to female officers sexually harassed on the job over decades. The final report in 2020 said “the culture of the RCMP is toxic and tolerates misogyny” and homophobia by members and leaders.
A second-class action lawsuit, for $1.1 billion in damages, for civilian RCMP staff was launched in 2017 and it found the same toxic culture.
Thousands of officers and staffers were awarded damages between the two lawsuits.
Young said lawsuits are sometimes necessary to expose the toxicity of a workplace, rather than women “just quitting or going away damaged.”
In the latest proposed class action, a number of the plaintiffs referred to the suicide of at least one female officer that was attributed to “gendered discrimination.”
Their lawyer, Kyle Bienvenu, said that was a reference to VPD Const. Nicole Chan, who killed herself in 2019 during an investigation into her allegations that she was coerced into sex with two senior officers.
Krista Carle, one of the first RCMP officers to go public about the sexual harassment she experienced on the job, killed herself in 2018.
Municipalities included among defendants said they hadn’t been served the lawsuit yet and refused to comment.
Among the police departments that responded was the Vancouver police.
In an emailed statement, it said the department had “zero tolerance for harassment, bullying, racism and discrimination” and that it “made strides forward to become a more equitable, diverse, inclusive organization but we know there is more work to do.”
It said “every file that is brought forward is investigated” and it supports B.C.’s independent oversight agencies.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre. Help is available in over 140 languages. You can also reach the mental health support line at 310-6789.
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