OTTAWA – The RCMP says it is disappointed a former member of the Musical Ride has waited so long to sue over sexual assault and harassment she allegedly suffered in the 1980s.
In a statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court, Staff Sgt. Caroline O’Farrell says the cruel treatment she endured — including hazing rituals — doomed her marriage and limited her career advancement.
In the statement, O’Farrell says she was sexually assaulted, harassed, repeatedly doused in cold water and dragged through horse manure by colleagues who mercilessly targeted her.
The RCMP says it investigated the complaint at the time and, as a result, certain members were disciplined and the inappropriate practices were banned.
O’Farrell, 52, argues in her statement that although the internal investigation substantiated more than 100 instances of harassment, no real action was taken by her supervisors.
She says some of the offenders received counselling and warnings, while others were not disciplined at all.
In a news release Wednesday, the RCMP noted that in June 1988 then-commissioner Norm Inkster publicly said he was appalled over the case and that swift and appropriate action was taken.
“The RCMP is disappointed to see that this is now coming to a civil claim, 25 years after the alleged events,” the force said in the release. “The complainant has only recently brought these issues forward once again.”
In her claim, O’Farrell says she suffers from post-traumatic stress as a result of her experiences. She sought counselling as early as 1997 to deal with her psychological issues but she and her therapist did not connect the symptoms to her time with the Musical Ride until recently.
The Mounties said Wednesday they are committed to providing a harassment-free workplace and continue to improve their handling of disciplinary issues in an efficient and effective manner.
“Members’ conduct — both on-duty and off — is governed by the RCMP Code of Conduct. Any form of inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated at the Musical Ride or anywhere else within the organization.”
The RCMP said it would not comment further, as the matter is before the courts.
In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Niki Ashton said that for too long women Mounties have suffered abuse and have been revictimized when they come forward.
She said the government’s bill to revamp RCMP disciplinary procedures, currently before Parliament, was a weak piece of legislation, “criticized by witness after witness for failing to put an end to sexual harassment in the RCMP.”
“Will the minister commit today to work with the RCMP with the women officers affected and with stakeholders to put an end to this endemic problem?”
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the bill would strengthen the RCMP’s ability to deal with harassment, and he chided the NDP for not supporting it.