VANCOUVER – A civilian employee of the RCMP has filed a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit alleging a top-down culture of sexual harassment within the force was so pervasive it couldn’t be stopped.
Atoya Montague’s civil lawsuit details sexual harassment from a superintendent, staff sergeant, sergeant and other members of the force, but it specifically names high-profile Insp. Tim Shields as its focus, claiming he subjected her to on-going harassment and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, also names the Attorney General of Canada and B.C.’s minister of justice. It outlines a series of grievances ranging from outright sexual harassment to complaints of working overtime without pay and being paid $40,000 less than a male colleague in the same job.
The allegations have not been proven in court and Shields hasn’t responded with a statement of defence. The RCMP said Thursday night the force has yet to be formally served, but it understands the lawsuit “contains a series of serious but currently unproven, uncorroborated, and unsubstantiated allegations.”
Insp. Ed Boettcher said in a statement the force became aware of the allegations through a third party before the lawsuit was filed and launched an investigation but repeated attempts to gather information from Montague were unsuccessful.
Montague’s statement of claim alleges Shields propositioned her in a vehicle when they were diving to Barriere, B.C., in August 2003 to drop off supplies for victims of a wildfire.
“While driving and in control of the vehicle, the defendant, Shields, showed the plaintiff his erection through his jean shorts and made sexual advances towards the plaintiff, asking the plaintiff to have sex with him and advising her that he could easily pull the car over so that he could perform oral sex on her,” the lawsuit states.
The actions left her in “absolute shock,” the lawsuit says, saying Shields abused his position of trust and rank over her.
“He further took advantage of the fact that he was in total control of the vehicle and the plaintiff was the captive passenger.”
Five years later, Shields was promoted to take charge of the RCMP’s strategic communication unit and she reported directly to him.
The lawsuit states he made similar unwanted sexual advances towards her in July 2008 in his police car.
“On this occasion he showed the plaintiff his penis,” the lawsuit states.
“Shields’ misconduct was malicious and wilful and he acted solely with the intention of sexual gratification, which sexually humiliated the plaintiff and demeaned her value as (a) civilian member of the RCMP and as a human being.”
She claims in the lawsuit that Shields regularly made remarks about her breasts, expressed interested in having sex with her and sent her sexually explicit tests messages.
“Shields inquired of the plaintiff if she had ever told anybody about the incident in 2003,” the lawsuit states. “He advised the plaintiff he would get in big trouble if anyone ever found out, saying that the RCMP took sexual harassment seriously.”
Boettcher said the RCMP’s efforts to investigate the matter extended from the highest levels, up to and including the commanding officer, and Montague did not provide any information that would have allowed for a fulsome investigation of the allegations.
“The RCMP has done as thorough an investigation as possible based on the information received from the third party,” he said. “None of the allegations including those which have been set out in the statement of claim could be substantiated nor corroborated.”
He said the civil court process will require the submission of evidence and testimony under oath, as well as cross examination, and that will allow an appropriate judgment.
Boettcher the RCMP won’t be able to add further comment because the allegations are now part of a court action, but the force will respond with a statement of defence.
Montague doesn’t identify any other members by name, simply using ranks or initials, but makes several references to humiliating or demeaning behaviour by members.
While in Ottawa to attend meetings at the RCMP’s public relations headquarters in 2004, a Staff Sgt. W. invited her to his room for a drink, and when she arrived Montague alleges he was “wearing nothing but a swimsuit,” and asked her to have some wine. Montague says she left because she felt the request was inappropriate and she felt uncomfortable.
Montague alleges a Supt. B. sat next to her during an April 2005 social event at a conference in Parksville, B.C., moved closer and then placed his hand on her thigh. She says she was shocked and embarrassed but didn’t want to make a fuss and didn’t know what to do.
She alleges another incident occurred in March 2007 event with police dogs.
“At the end of the day the plaintiff was surrounded by male police dog section members making sexually suggestive comments, taunting and literally, physically circling the plaintiff, pushing and rubbing up against her and requesting the plaintiff to join them in their social event later that evening,” the lawsuit states.
“The plaintiff was terrified, literally running away from that encounter.”
The lawsuit alleges the sexual harassment began even before she formally started with the work.
She alleges Staff Sgt. L. told her after her interview “there would be a lineup of men out the door” when she began work, and the same staff sergeant referred to her and other women in the unit routinely as “Charlie’s Angels.”
Montague’s suit also outlines a litany of workplace complaints.
She says she spent two years being expected to work evenings and weekends without extra pay, though other RCMP members were given overtime.
She says when she began work with the Vancouver Integrated 2010 Security Unit for the Olympics, she was appointed director of communications, but she was given a cleaned-out closet for an office. While with the unit, the lawsuit says she would attempt to contribute to a meeting but would be ignored. Later, her suit says, a male colleague would propose the same idea and be congratulated for it.
She describes the 2010 security unit as an “oppressive boys club.”
She says in the suit she later found out the RCMP human resources department messed up her paperwork so her promotion and the resulting increase in pay were never properly documented.
Montague, who’s been on sick leave for two years, claims she has post-traumatic stress disorder and is suing for damages and loss of income and earning capacity.
This is another of several harassment lawsuits filed against the RCMP.