A class-action lawsuit filed by four RCMP officers who were posted in Nunavut claims the federal government failed to address a “mental health crisis” in the RCMP and discriminated against members on the basis of disability.
A statement of claim filed in federal court on Sept. 16 says the Crown and its representatives, including current and former agents of the RCMP, made it difficult for RCMP members to get help for mental health issues and belittled those who sought treatment, violating the members’ charter right to freedom from discrimination.
The claim says the federal government was “willfully negligent,” and didn’t provide RCMP members with adequate mental health services despite evidence of the need for them.
It also says RCMP leadership created a “culture of silence,” and that members struggling with mental health issues faced negative treatment from those with “unilateral influence over the trajectory of their careers.”
As a result, the claim says RCMP members avoided treatment, which exacerbated their mental health problems and lessened their chances for successful recovery.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
‘Virtually no access to mental health services’
The statement of claim outlines the stress of working for Canada’s national police force, and the dearth of mental health services, particularly in remote locations. It says members are exposed to extreme violence, routinely placed in physical danger and are given little support to process their experiences.
These issues are especially acute in remote locations, where there is “virtually no access to mental health services,” says the claim.
It says the first named plaintiff, Cpl. Garrett Moore, spent a number of years in Nunavut between 2012 and 2019 in which he saw “gruesome critical incidents.” He was also involved in an active shooter situation that lasted for several hours in which a person was shooting at RCMP officers.
The claim says that after the active shooter incident, RCMP members asked for increased mental health services to help them process the event, but their pleas were ignored.
It says Moore frequently heard supervisors speak about officers’ mental health in a “derogatory manner” and say members were “abusing the system to obtain favourable transfers.”
Moore was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, says the claim, but it took months for him to get a transfer to a location within a reasonable distance from a treatment clinic.
It’s alleged that the delay was in part caused by supervisors’ “discriminatory refusal to transfer him,” and that Moore’s requests for a posting that would accommodate his PTSD symptoms were met with “derogatory comments” and the recommendation that he should simply quit the RCMP.
In an emailed statement to CBC, RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said the police force is reviewing the claim to determine the next steps.
“We are not in a position to discuss legal matters outside of the appropriate legal processes and filings,” Percival wrote.
“We do not anticipate having any further comment on this matter.”
Members ‘suffer in silence’
“Each of these representative plaintiffs experienced discriminatory comments or this kind of culture of silence — suffer on your own and continue to push through — when they were experiencing and suffering from operational stress injuries while servicing Nunavut,” said Kate Boyle, a lawyer with Halifax law firm Wagners, which is behind the proposed class action.
She said RCMP members would experience a very stressful event and there would be no treatment or debriefing. Instead, they’d be required to report to work the following day.
“While that happens across the country, I guess it’s exacerbated in remote postings where there isn’t closer access to OSI (operational stress injury) clinics or psychologists or immediate treatment,” she said.
An operational stress injury is described in the claim as “any persistent psychological difficulty” resulting from work with the RCMP.
Each of these representative plaintiffs experienced discriminatory comments or this kind of culture of silence.– Kate Boyle, lawyer
Boyle said the workplace culture prevents RCMP members from getting the help they need.
“If it’s career suicide to admit to an occupational stress injury or seek treatment for one, and your opportunities for advancement are impacted, then people suffer in silence and it leads to many members not being able to return to their employment,” she said.
The claim says operational stress injuries among RCMP officers are an insidious and pervasive problem, and the government is not providing adequate mental health services that are targeted to Mounties’ specific needs.
The plaintiffs, three of whom are from Nova Scotia, and one from Alberta, are seeking compensation for monetary and non-monetary damages, injury and loss. Boyle said it’s too early to say how much money they’ll be asking for, as the number of RCMP members with an operational stress injury is unclear right now.
She said the hope is the class action, if certified, will bring about change: timely and appropriate mental health services, and an end to the discriminatory workplace culture.
“It’s for the future of the representative plaintiffs and members of the class who have been suffering, many of them in silence, for a long time.”