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The RCMP’s latest harassment complainant?

Charlie Gillis on why Canada’s top Mountie may be recalled to testify at one of the force’s messiest trials.


 
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

The year-long workplace harassment case of Sgt. Peter Merrifield was already one of the messiest ever waged against the RCMP—a legal odyssey featuring revelations of a senior Mountie caught in a john sweep, and leaks from the special unit guarding the prime minister that were hastily sealed from public view.

Commissioner Bob Paulson himself was summoned last winter to testify at Merrifield’s civil trial over nasty remarks he’d made about Merrifield in 2013 before a Senate standing committee.

But if you thought this 10-year saga had exhausted its quota of bizarre twists, you’d be wrong. When the trial resumed on Monday in Newmarket, Ont., Merrifield’s lawyers revealed the 49-year-old sergeant has, himself, been accused of harassment.

And the target of his allegedly terrorizing behaviour?

Bob Paulson.

“In the context of this trial, it suggests to us nothing more than retaliatory harassment of our client,” said John Phillips, one of Merrifield’s counsel, outside the courtroom. “It’s continued through this trial and, frankly, up until now.”

The little trial turned RCMP tire fire: How we got here

According to court documents filed on Monday, the accusation arises from a joke Merrifield cracked on June 24 to fellow officers. It happened during a seminar on assessing the psychological states of suspects or informants, when the officer in charge encouraged participants to name people in charge of large organizations they thought showed psychopathic tendencies.

Witnesses at the session say Merrifield called out, “Paulson,” before adding: “I’m joking. Just a joke.”

But one officer at the seminar took offence on the commissioner’s behalf, and filed a third-party harassment complaint. Merrifield learned of the complaint in October, Phillips says, when he was informed that Paulson was now the principal complainant.

On Monday, Merrifield’s lawyers notified the court they’ll move to reopen their client’s case so they can recall the commissioner as a witness.

“Number one, something like this is not a harassment issue inside an organization,” said Phillips. “If you’re going to treat every joke made about every member as a harassment issue, you’re not going to have a force left.” Second, argued Phillips, the complaint didn’t follow RCMP policy, which stipulates third-party complaints can only be levelled on a member’s behalf if that member is ill or unable to file it him or herself.

Phillips’s motion is to be heard on Tuesday. Sean Gaudet, the justice department lawyer representing the Mounties, said the feds will call an officer who oversees harassment policy to respond.

The idea of the head of the RCMP, himself, experiencing workplace harassment might sound risible. But if it were to emerge in any proceeding, it would be this one. Merrifield, an 18-year veteran of the force, has alleged workplace harassment, abuse of authority and cover-ups on the part of his senior officers dating back to 2005. It was then, his lawsuit claims, that a handful of his direct commanders took exception to his decision to stand for the federal Conservative nomination in Barrie, Ont., and accused him of failing to obtain the proper leave without pay.

Merrifield lost the nomination, but alleges his bosses had by then embarked on a campaign of harassment, opening four code-of-conduct investigations against him in secret, none of which resulted in discipline.

The harassment, his suit says, pushed him out of plum assignments he believed he’d earned, including a spot on the threat assessment group of INSET, the elite national security unit tasked with keeping the country safe from terrorists.

The counteraccusation on behalf of Paulson is relevant on a number of levels. For starters, it suggests bad blood on the part of the commissioner toward Merrifield, which may date to before the current trial. When he testified in December, Paulson claimed not to have known much about Merrifield and was worried that an otherwise productive and talented officer had become “irretrievably embittered.”

But what Paulson knew, and when he knew it, fell under scrutiny last spring, when the issue of the officer soliciting prostitutes arose. Merrifield had raised the issue before the Senate committee in May 2013, saying the officer involved, Superintendent (ret’d) Marc Proulx, was never disciplined. He has cited it as evidence that the RCMP’s commissioned officers protect their own, while using harassment procedures to drive non-commissioned officers they don’t like out of the force.

The commissioner had ridiculed the allegation in his appearance before the Senate standing committee in 2013. He also professed no knowledge of it when shown a report from city police in London, Ont., confirming that Proulx had indeed been picked up in the sting.

But one of his closest lieutenants, Assistant Commissioner Steven White, later testified that RCMP brass knew about it as early as January 2012, and that he discussed it with Paulson at that time.


 

The RCMP’s latest harassment complainant?

  1. I am Mel young, a retired RCMP staff sergeant. I applaud Sgt. Peter Merrifield for exposing the alleged wrongdoings occurring in the RCMP. He is not alone in his pursuit of justice. Sixteen years ago I became aware of an allegation that member(s) of the RCMP may have used taxpayer-funded RCMP informants in the early 1990’s to conduct a clandestine smear campaign on then Prime Minister Kim Campbell-Canada’s first female Prime Minister. I reported the offence and during the complaint process I was threatened by an Officer in Charge (OIC) who actually provided me with the wording to immediately submit to the RCMP Commissioner at the time to withdraw my complaint but I refused. During the harassment complaint process I received an RCMP letter advising that interview tapes were ‘accidentally’ erased when making copies.
    The offices of former Prime Minister Harper, former Minister of Justice Peter MacKay and former Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney, were made aware this complaint to no avail. Despite my efforts to have the RCMP Commissioner intervene, the investigation remained an “O” Division (Ontario) file despite the national importance and the fact that those involved were working in the same Division. It was learned that former Prime Minister Kim Campbell only became aware of this complaint in 2014 and was never interviewed despite it being a criminal offence of subversion-on par with treason and an attack on our national political system. The RCMP chose not to report my allegation to CSIS which continues to possess the mandate to investigate the offence of subversion against the government.
    On a separate matter when I complained against harassing behaviour in the RCMP, the following letter appeared in my internal mail slot in an RCMP Government of Canada envelope:
    “You appear to be a knowledgeable individual. I think that you should take advantage of that knowledge and stop the action you are taking. You have caused sufficient aggravation for several people. We cannot guarantee that future responses to your continuing actions will be as pleasant as this memo. I am confident that you realize that for every action there is an equal reaction and sometimes a stronger reaction. Enjoy your career!”
    The Officer in Charge at the time advised that the above letter was simply someone wishing me well in my career.
    I was also reminded by a senior RCMP commissioned officer (who was later convicted of a criminal offence) that the RCMP had over a hundred years dealing with people like me who come forward to report wrongdoing and that I could never win. I was advised that the “dogs” would be called off if I signed a document withdrawing my complaints.
    When I reported that a work colleague disclosed to me that she was sexually assaulted by a commissioned officer I was threatened with dismissal.
    The list of identified wrongdoings are many and varied but what remains constant is the apparent willingness to take extraordinary measures to silence members who dare speak out against the organization. Some have chosen to adopt a passive indifference approach to injustices and have been rewarded with commissioned officer promotions. Challenging the sinister side of the RCMP carries a significant emotion toll while being stomped on by senior managers in the RCMP and victims defined with terms like ‘treacherous bastard’. Many of us were repeatedly threatened and kicked to the curb by this organization that boasts about its reputation as an ‘organization of excellence’. The RCMP has a team of lawyers represented though the Department of Justice and forces those members who have been wronged to fight their cases through exhaustive court battles.
    Mel Young
    Retired RCMP member

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