Dana Larsen: Billion-dollar lawsuit for sexual abuse within RCMP

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      This is the fifth in a series of articles looking at the culture of sexual harassment and intimidation within Canadian police forces.

      Tens of thousands of police officers, employees, contractors, and volunteers are suing Canada's national police force for decades of sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying, and abuse at the hands of RCMP officers.

      Over the past four columns we've seen a systematic pattern of intense sexual harassment directed toward female police officers from their male colleagues across Canada.

      We've seen how female officers are often inundated with unwanted porn, sexual advances, assaults, abuse of power, and gaslighting from coworkers and senior officers.

      We've seen how internal complaints are ignored, abusers are protected, and how the people who complain are the ones who get punished, and in some tragic cases, there have been suicides.

      What we haven't discussed is the massive payoffs the RCMP has been making to their victims, and the billion-dollar lawsuit they currently face.

      In 2016, the RCMP began paying out over $100 million to women RCMP officers who had suffered sexual harassment at the hands of fellow officers and superiors. In 2019 they had to add another $50 million to the fund to cover the high number of cases. This money comes straight from the federal government, not from the RCMP budget.

      The RCMP is also preparing to pay out another $100 million or more to settle a lawsuit from women who were sexually harassed while working for the RCMP in nonpolicing roles, including consultants and volunteers. The settlement will also cover abused students, such as a teen who was abused by an RCMP officer she met through a high-school work experience program.

      Meanwhile, in February of this year, a $1-billion dollar lawsuit was certified against the RCMP, on behalf of tens of thousands of employees and officers, men and women, constables, civilian members, custodial workers, cadets, and independent contractors. They claimed "a systemic culture of intimidation and bullying" within the force's paramilitary structure.

      The scale of abuse is staggering.

      These are not isolated incidents. This is not a few bad apples. This is an entrenched culture of harassment and exploitation, intimidation, and abuse at every level in police departments across Canada. This will not be solved by giving police more money for "better training" and seminars on better behaviour.

      Who knows exactly how many harassment cases have been resolved over the years with secret payouts and nondisclosure agreements? Who knows how many hundreds of millions has already been shelled out by Canadian taxpayers to pay off these victims of police harassment and abuse?

      The reality is that these cash payouts do nothing to solve the actual problem. Throwing money at victims is easy for the police, since payouts come from the government and don't affect police budgets one bit.

      Mass payouts avoid any individual officers from having to face consequences and they keep the power structure and abusers in place, while forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

      Police abusing citizens

      Considering how police treat their own officers, what kind of treatment can regular Canadians expect? What kind of treatment can marginalized and vulnerable Canadians, like the homeless, or drug users, or sex workers expect?

      And considering what we've seen so far, is it hard to believe research that shows police officers are more likely to commit violence against their wife or partner?

      Is it hard to believe Inuit women in Nunavut, who claim RCMP officers consistently target and sexually abuse them, including violent "strip searches" from groups of male officers and being tied naked to a restraint chair for hours?

      Is it hard to see why an RCMP officer thought it was appropriate to ask a teenage rape victim "Were you at all turned on during this?" after she described being sexually assaulted?

      Is it surprising that James Fisher, the head of the Vancouver police "counter exploitation unit", was convicted last year of sexual exploitation and breach of trust? Or that he is now being investigated for a decade of sexual abuse against many vulnerable women, while three other officers on the unit are currently being investigated for covering up and possibly participating in his crimes?

      Is it hard to believe that Vancouver police officers on the Missing Women's Task Force back in 2001 were more interested in getting drunk and sexually harassing their coworkers than in trying to catch the serial killer preying on vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside?

      The time has come for Canada to eliminate this culture of harassment and abuse, and abandon the paramilitary style of policing. It is time to break up police departments across the country, and replace them with better funding for social programs, and new civilian agencies focused on community safety, de-escalation, public health, and professional investigation of serious crimes.

      Dana Larsen is an author, advocate, and activist for cannabis and drug policy reform. Follow him on Twitter @danalarsen. For anyone feeling distress in British Columbia, helpful resources include the Crisis Centre (604-872-3311), the 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) line, hospital emergency rooms, and medical doctors.