Plaintiff Janet Merlo listens to a speaker during an update on RCMP harassment related litigation in Ottawa on October 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Plaintiff Janet Merlo listens to a speaker during an update on RCMP harassment related litigation in Ottawa on October 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Plaintiff in RCMP suit says despite abuse, mental health tolls, she’d do it all again

In total, more than 3,000 women came forward to make a claim

It cost her career, her mental health and a huge part of herself, but Janet Merlo says she’s glad she came forward about the harassment she faced as an officer with Canada’s national police force.

“I’d do it (again) in a second,” she said in a recent interview.

Merlo has spent nearly a decade in the public eye as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Settled in 2016, the Merlo-Davidson suit ultimately paid out more than $125 million to more than 2,300 women who faced discrimination, harassment, bullying and even sexual assault during their time as RCMP officers.

In total, more than 3,000 women came forward to make a claim.

With the release last Thursday of the final report from that claims process, called “Broken Dreams Broken Lives,” the suit is now over. The 178-page report says fundamental change is needed to rid the RCMP of a systemic toxic culture that tolerates hateful, sexist and homophobic attitudes.

“I wish there were only 50 women that I had helped,” Merlo said from her home in Nanaimo, B.C. “People say ‘Oh you did great,’ but I didn’t do great. There are (thousands of) women who have lost their careers and their self-confidence and their pensions.”

Being a named plaintiff in the suit, she’s faced “horrific” abuse from the public and backlash from the force, she said. She has PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she’s often afraid to leave her home.

“That’s not who I was. That’s not who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be 53 years old, confined to my house,” she said.

Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, Merlo worked with the RCMP in British Columbia for nearly 20 years. The harassment and bullying she faced got so bad, she said her doctor urged her to go on medical leave in 2010. So she did.

In 2012, she filed a class-action lawsuit. That suit became known as Merlo-Davidson after Linda Davidson, a former officer in Ontario who had filed her own lawsuit, joined with Merlo in a settlement.

Merlo said she received a copy of the final report on Tuesday, a few days before it was released to the public. “When I opened that courier envelope … I just completely broke down,” she said. “The first few pages of it are just tear-stained.”

The report was written by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, whose team assessed more than 3,000 claims and interviewed nearly 650 women who said they’d experienced harassment or discrimination while working for the RCMP. It details allegations of bullying, intimidation and assaults ranging from unwanted kissing and groping to “serious, penetrative sexual assault.”

READ MORE: Teary RCMP commissioner apologizes, announces harassment suit settlement

One woman interviewed said she was permanently injured after being left in a dangerous situation without police backup. Others reported male colleagues exposing their genitals or showing them pornographic material.

“What the women told the assessors shocked them to their core,” the report says. But the findings did not shock Merlo. “The one thing that surprised me was the amount of rapes. I knew there had been rapes, but I didn’t realize there were so many,” she said.

The document also highlights the devastating effects the abuse and harassment had on the women who came forward. Bastarache writes of these women experiencing PTSD, addictions and a loss of social connections, among other things.

“In many instances, it was clear that no amount of money would ever compensate these claimants for the trauma that they were subjected to by their male colleagues,” the report reads.

For Merlo, the report contains a point of hope for recovery — for the RCMP, anyway. Bastarache insists that the RCMP is incapable of fixing itself, and that change can only come from seeking outside help. Merlo agrees. “If they don’t do that, if they still insist on not letting anybody into the circle, they’ll be back here again in five years in another class action,” she said.

She’s also happy the report is now public, difficult as its details may be. Though she feels the public perception of the RCMP has changed from the days when she first spoke out and people would insult her online, she says it’s important for that report to be in the public sphere, “to show … this is where your taxpaying money is going. That this is what’s wrong with the system. And this is what we’re trying to help fix.”

Merlo said she can still remember the person she was when she took that first step to speak up and to launch the suit. “If I could go back to myself at that time, I would tell her she was going to be alright,” she said. “Because I didn’t know, for such a long time, if I would or not.”

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

RCMPRCMP harassment lawsuit

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Suspect arrested after armed robbery in downtown Castlegar

Victim was allegedly threatened with knife and bear spray

The Skinny Genes Foundation is raising awareness and funds for a rare genetic disorder that claimed both his father and uncle.
NHL players, local businesses help Kootenay man raise funds and awareness for rare genetic disease

Signed NHL jerseys and local business donations up for auction in Skinny Genes Foundation fundraiser

(file photo)
Nomination packages available for Castlegar byelection

The mayor’s seat and one council seat will be on the ballot

Columbia Avenue Redevelopment — Phase 2 will begin in February. Image: City of Castlegar
Construction on the Columbia Avenue Redevelopment Project beginning March 1

Crews will be clearing brush and trees and removing asphalt

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Most Read