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

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Montrose resident Kimba McLean has hiked Antenna Trail every day since October and counting. Photo: Jim Bailey
Montrose man makes daily trek up Antenna Trail

Kimba McLean put on more than 800-km hiking Antenna Trail every day for the past six months

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Most Read