Canada’s first gender harassment class-action settlement might be even more massive than anticipated. In a recent CBC News article, lawyer Meghan McPhee estimated that roughly 2,400 women — both former and current employees of the RCMP — have come forward with claims of gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment during their time on the force, with more expected to emerge in the coming weeks.
McPhee, who is representing one of the two former officers who launched the class action, told CBC News that she “wouldn’t be surprised” if the claims totalled 3,000 or 4,000 after the filing deadline, currently slated for Feb. 8. She credits the prominence of the #MeToo movement with encouraging more and more women to come forward. “The discussions about Harvey Weinstein and the Hollywood coverage […] and the changing conversation has prompted a lot of women to think long and hard about their experience and to think about sharing that experience,” McPhee said.
Here’s what you should know.
The RCMP has acknowledged it has a problem with gender and sexual discrimination
Over the course of several years, multiple female officers came forward with allegations of everything from sexist threats to rape, perpetrated by their male colleagues. This culminated in the launch of two class-action lawsuits against the force.
In October 2016, the RCMP issued a formal apology to “regular members, civilian members and public service employees who experienced gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, bullying and harassment in the RCMP.”
In the statement, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said that, “instead of succeeding and thriving in a supportive and inclusive workplace, many women have suffered careers scarred by gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment.”
According to Paulson, some of these claimants have stayed in their roles at the RCMP, while others left the force.
At the same time, Paulson committed the RCMP to a two-part action plan, which was approved by the federal government in May 2017. First, continued organizational change must be seen within the RCMP, with a specific focus on eradicating gender discrimination and sexual violence. The second part of the plan is the class action settlement, to be moderated by retired Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache.
A maximum of 1,500 claims was expected; the max compensation per claim is $220,000
Under the settlement agreement approved by the federal government last year, women who worked at the RCMP between the years 1974 (the first year women were welcomed onto the force) and 2017 are eligible to receive compensation for claims of gender discrimination and harassment.
Each victim is eligible for a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $220,000. It’s not the case that every claim submitted before the submission deadline of Feb. 8 will receive compensation, but “the majority are claims that fall within the agreement,” said Guy Versailles, a spokesperson for Judge Bastarache, in an interview with Global News. “[…] At the end of the processes the assessor will produce a full report with a full breakdown of what was awarded.”
Initially, a maximum of 1,500 claims were expected, but roughly 2,400 claims have been filed to date, and there are still three days left until the original submission deadline.
A deadline extension has been requested; the total compensation cap may be raised
McPhee has requested a 100-day extension — until May 22, 2018 — to the Feb. 8 filing deadline, since the process of making a claim can be emotional and time-consuming.
“Some of [the women] are suffering from PTSD,” McPhee said in the CBC interview. “As they relive these issues, they’re having to seek psychiatric support. And so it’s taken a lot longer than any of us had anticipated to go through and to file these claims.”
Though $100 million was initially set aside for compensation, that number was determined based on the estimation that a maximum of 1,500 claims would be submitted. However, the government has committed to covering costs even if the number of claims is far more than the initial prediction. “Every claimant who is determined by the Independent Assessor to be eligible for compensation will receive the amount they are entitled to,” Andrew Gower, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, told CBC News.
While the claims process has proved to be a huge undertaking, it’s hugely necessary for all women whose RCMP careers were derailed, degraded or destroyed by workplace sexual harassment or assault.