‘Blackballed’ Mountie says colleagues interfered

Confidential informant discouraged from working with him, Sgt. Peter Merrifield tells harassment trial

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Mounties have sunk to shocking depths in the past to make unloved colleagues feel miserable—that much we knew. But messing with a fellow officer’s investigation? To settle personal scores?

Surely, that’s an ethical bridge too far. For any cop.

Alas, it’s precisely the scenario that arose Wednesday during a civil trial in Newmarket, Ont., where Sgt. Peter Merrifield, a 17-year veteran of the RCMP, has been unspooling a saga of alleged harassment and ostracism he believes was intended to drive him out of Canada’s iconic police force.

You can find the essentials here. But the thumbnail version begins in 2005, when Merrifield’s superiors looked askance at his decision to stand for a federal Conservative nomination in Barrie, Ont.

He lost, but senior officers began holding him back from coveted assignment and investigations, citing concerns about conflict of interest that Merrifield believed were groundless. Merrifield insisted he’d done nothing wrong and, from there, things escalated. His commanders launched a series of code-of-conduct investigations against him over the next two years and Merrifield—whose performance evaluations spoke of an excellent (if outspoken) Mountie—says he was left feeling “blackballed,” isolated and devastated. In 2011, he went on sick leave for more than a year.

His testimony this week in Ontario Superior Court has included some head-shaking anecdotes. But none was more troubling than his allegation that two fellow officers approached one of his confidential informants in the middle of an investigation to discourage the man from working with Merrifield.

It was 2007, and Merrifield was running a probe into a firearms smuggling ring in southern Ontario. The informant, he said, was rated by the RCMP as “court-worthy”—the most valued rating on a reliability scale the RCMP applies to its confidential sources (at the other end: “treacherous”). In addition to the informant, Merrifield had a fellow RCMP officer working undercover on the case.

The safety of that officer, he said, as well as the integrity of the investigation, hung in the balance. So he was appalled, he testified, when the informant told him that two fellow officers—an inspector and a sergeant—had at the time of the investigation tried to warn him off working for Merrifield.

The pair had met the informant to discuss a separate case, court heard. But when they learned that Merrifield was the man’s handler, they warned him that Merrifield was “not a team player” and was not trusted by other RCMP officers. At a later meeting, one of the officers allegedly told the informant that Merrifield was suing the RCMP, and that was considered poor form (Maclean’s is withholding the names of the officers’ until they’ve had a chance to respond).

Merrifield said he did not know the officers well, and that he learned all this four years after the fact, while on sick leave. His informant had stuck it out on his gun-smuggling investigation despite the warnings, he added, but that was small comfort.

“This was a sacred trust that had been broken,” Merrifield testified. “I was hurt. I was offended. I was upset. This was taking harassment to a new degree, toward obstruction of justice, when one officer advises an informant not to work with another officer.”

Sean Gaudet, a Justice Canada lawyer representing the RCMP, objected strenuously to the allegations being allowed as evidence because they were based on hearsay. But Justice Mary Vallee overruled him, and we may learn more now that she has opened the door: Merrifield’s lawyers plan to call the informant as a witness next week.

Supt. Paul Hebert, the case handler of the suit for the RCMP, said it would be “irresponsible to comment” on the allegations while the matter is before the courts. He said a fuller picture would emerge when Merrifield is cross-examined, and when the RCMP submits its own evidence.