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

The route of the pink parade. The Record has blackened out the name of the teen. Facebook photo.
Pink-vehicle parade to be held Sunday in support of transgender teen assaulted in Mission

Teen and family to watch parade drive single file along waterfront at 3 p.m., Jan. 17

The Anti-Racist Coalition Vancouver started a petition calling on B.C.’s education officials to make Black Shirt Day official. The inaugural event in solidarity with Black and racialized Canadians takes place on Friday, Jan. 15. (Screenshot/Change.org)
Mission School District holding first-ever Black Shirt Day in support of anti-racism on Friday

Growing calls to designate Jan. 15 a day devoted to ongoing civil rights struggle

Two people were in a vehicle that rolled over on Highway No. 1 near Lickman Road. They are now out of the vehicle. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vehicle rolls over on Highway 1 near Lickman Road in Chilliwack

Two people in SUV at time of collision in westbound lanes

Screenshot from video.
2 students arrested in assault of transgender girl at Mission middle school

Mother said daughter was targeted because of how she identifies

The Sts’ailes Community School in the winter of 2019. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Sts’ailes Community School to extend online learning until Feb. 8

The Sts’ailes First Nation remains closed to visitors

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

The Delta Hospice Society operates the Harold & Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care (pictured) and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (The Canadian Press photo)
Fraser Health to evict Delta Hospice Society, open new hospice beds next door

Health authority will serve DHS 30 days’ notice when service agreement expires Feb. 25

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Most Read