In February 2015, Atoya Montague, a civilian member of the RCMP in B.C. spoke publicly for the first time to Maclean’s, alleging sexual harassment from an RCMP superintendent and former high-profile Insp. Tim Shields. Montague was among several women employed by the RCMP making new allegations of sexual harassment in our cover story: “Inside the RCMP’s biggest crisis.”
Several of those women were part of a class action lawsuit involving several hundred female Mounties. That number has since grown to 620. Today, the federal government apologized to those women, and announced details of a $100-million compensation package for victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Montague is not among those compensated. She and one other female civilian member of the force are suing Shields independently. In May 2015, the RCMP announced that Shields had been suspended. In December 2015, Shields submitted his resignation. In May 2016, Shields was charged with sexual assault involving a civilian member of the force.
None of the allegations, which Shields denies, have been tested in court. In June, Shields pleaded not guilty to the charge of sexual assault. His trial has been scheduled for May.
Q: How are you feeling today, Atoya?
A: I am feeling a lot of mixed emotions. Any time something involving the case comes up, you get triggered. It doesn’t even matter if it’s good news. You know it’s all going to come up again; we’re going to be talking about it again. Yesterday, I was having anxiety attacks. But mostly, the logical side of me is looking at it this way: Wow. This is the first time the organization has stood at a podium and acknowledged all the damage done. This is the first step to healing. This is monumental—for women everywhere, but particularly for women in the RCMP, for women in policing, for women who work in male-dominated industries. It needed to have happened years ago—but it’s a start.
Q: What does that start mean to the women involved?
A: What they have done is they have told women they believe them. Six hundred and twenty women have never really heard the RCMP say: “We believe you.” That will be overwhelming for these women. They have been validated. It’s the first step in reconciliation and atonement. I’m rejoicing for those women, I feel proud of those women. It took a lot of courage for them to stand up—they had to consider, “Do I really want to drag my families through this?” Not one of those 620 women took this lightly. This is a big, big deal. We’ve got a long way to go to fix the root cause of all this; that will be a multi-year, very expensive process. Saying sorry and acknowledging a problem doesn’t, on its own, fix anything. But it acknowledges pain and acknowledges there is a huge problem.
Q: At the end of the day, it doesn’t really change much for you, and for the approximately 40 other women who have made individual claims against the RCMP, does it?
A: No, it doesn’t—not for me personally. It’s another day in my life. One month ago, I got my fifth discharge letter from [the RCMP] telling me that they are going to go ahead with my termination [Montague has been on sick leave for five years]. My doctor has said: “I can’t send her back to an unsafe work environment; and you haven’t acknowledged her allegations. You have only denied them. How can I send her back there?”
I have not heard a word from the minister or any indication there is a resolution coming my way. Right now, my whole life is up in the air: Can I continue school? Can I continue to live in my condo? My lease is up now. I can’t make any decisions right now.
Q: You first went public with your allegations against the RCMP in Maclean’s. Your photo, in fact, was on the cover of the magazine. What was the impact of going public?
A: It’s not an easy place to be. But you keep hearing story after story, and I realized: These people need a voice. I’m not any healthier since I spoke out, but I do feel it has been important. So many women have called me, crying their eyes out, saying they read my story in Maclean’s, and the same thing had happened to them. And on days like today, I realize, it’s worth it—that I need to keep using my voice. This had to be exposed. And that exposure is what led to this moment. That’s the bottom line. The media has played a huge role in this victory—in letting the public know what was going on, and pressuring authorities to take action.
Q: And despite today’s acknowledgement, you still believe the RCMP is working at cross-purposes.
A: I do. It keeps retiring out these “bad apples,” instead of forcing them to face the consequences of their actions. The RCMP gives them the option of retiring instead of facing disciplinary investigations. They don’t choose to pursue many of these matters criminally—so many of these allegations are of sex assault, abuse of power, corruption, fraud. Federal crimes. And they’re documented. The RCMP is well aware of them; but no one is being asked to face the consequences of their actions.
To really nail this, I think arrests need to be made. If female Mounties saw their abusers, their rapists, in handcuffs that would really start the healing.