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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

Government of Alberta COVID-19 Aggregate Data Map. Screen Grab/ https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#geospatial
City of Wetaskiwin under 10 active cases; single active case in County

Active COVID-19 cases in the City and County of Wetaskiwin continue to drop.

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victim’s case proceeds

Reaction to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council last month

Dr. Stanley Read
Hometown Bashaw doctor recognized with alumni award for AIDS work

Dr. Stanley Read, born and raised in Bashaw, is considered a global health leader

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside Red Deer courthouse for slain Ponoka man

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

Most Read