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National

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

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OTTAWA — The federal government is fighting a proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP over bullying and intimidation of members, saying the national police force already has a comprehensive policy on harassment and the Mounties have made strides toward modernization.

In a submission to the Federal Court of Canada, lawyers representing the attorney general argue the action spearheaded by two veteran male Mounties, Geoffery Greenwood and Todd Gray, should not be certified.

“This motion is not about whether there is, or has been a harassment problem in the RCMP, or even whether the RCMP leadership has appropriately responded to the problem,” the federal submission says.

“The sole question is whether the proposed claims ought to proceed through the vehicle of a class action. The proposed action fails to satisfy even the law threshold for certification.”

The RCMP has already settled class-action lawsuits involving millions of dollars of payouts for discrimination, bullying and harassment involving female RCMP members and those who served the force in non-policing roles from 1974 onwards.

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP in a wide array of roles over the decades. It would, however, exclude women already covered by the other class actions.

Greenwood and Gray, both of whom live in Alberta, allege they were among those subjected to a culture of systemic bullying, intimidation and harassment that was fostered and condoned by the RCMP leadership.

They claim such behaviour was bolstered by barriers that “amplified a stark power imbalance” within the paramilitary structure of the force and prevented members from engaging in collective bargaining or other meaningful redress.

The sole avenue of recourse was through members of the chain of command who were either involved in such behaviour themselves or protected the perpetrators, the plaintiffs say. “This in turn created a toxic work environment, characterized by abuse of power and fear of reprisal.”

More than 800 potential class members from across the country had contacted lawyers handling the action as of last October.

The motion for certification was argued in part during two days of hearings last month. No court date has been set to complete the arguments.

The RCMP has “unequivocally acknowledged” the problem of bullying and harassment and is taking concrete steps to address it, the federal submission says.

“Indeed, concerted and ongoing efforts and resources have been directed to preventing and properly addressing conduct which is, and has always been, contrary to the RCMP Code of Conduct and RCMP policies.”

The Trudeau government has directed new commissioner Brenda Lucki to make the national police force representative of Canada’s diverse population by embracing gender parity and ensuring that women, Indigenous members and minority groups are better reflected in the upper ranks.

The RCMP has worked to implement the scores of recommendations flowing from reports in recent years that documented the police force’s shortcomings, the federal lawyers say. The suggestion that the RCMP actions are insufficient and that a class action is the only way to bring about change ignores these efforts, they add.

“Ensuring a robust internal-recourse disciplinary regime that effectively addresses inappropriate conduct is essential to changing the culture of the RCMP.”

The federal lawyers argue the case for certification also fails because the courts have consistently declined — save for the most exceptional circumstances — to assume jurisdiction over workplace disputes covered by comprehensive grievance and other specialized recourse schemes.

The existing workplace dispute-resolution and compensation regimes are preferable “and will be undermined if this action is certified,” the submission says.

Further, the lawyers argue, the proposed class definition is “overly broad and indeterminate,” stretching back to the oldest individual who was, at any point, employed by the RCMP.

Apart from the lead plaintiffs’ own experiences as regular-force members, there is no evidence of people in other RCMP employment categories who have suffered injuries as a result of harassment, the submission says.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Environment

Three confirmed dead in fiery Alberta crash with semi trucks, passenger vehicles

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CEREAL, Alta. — A Saskatchewan man says a well-timed pit stop may have helped him avoid getting caught in a fiery 10-vehicle crash in southeastern Alberta that killed three people.

Dore Germo and his wife left Kelowna, B.C., on Monday after a holiday visiting friends and, after a night in Calgary, were on their way home to Warman, Sask., on Tuesday.

They stopped for gas and a break in Hanna, Alta., about 80 kilometres from where seven passenger vehicles and three semi trucks collided on Highway 9.

The couple could see smoke as they continued east, but they thought it was just a grass fire.

Then they saw flashing lights and heard sirens and a police officer was running down the middle of the road yelling, “Get out!”

Germo says they were directed to a rural side road to get around the crash, and from there they could make out a tanker truck and burned vehicles amid the smoke.

“It was quite a sickening kind of empty feeling once you realized that — yes — those are people just going about their day and travelling somewhere,” Germo said in an interview Wednesday.

“It kind of looked like a bomb had gone off because there were these burnt out vehicles and it was very eerie.”

He said he’s praying for those involved.

“The first thing you think of is those poor families.”

RCMP confirmed Wednesday that three people were found dead at the scene of the crash between the small communities of Chinook and Cereal, about 300 kilometres east of Calgary. Ten people were injured, two critically.

One of the semi trucks that was carrying fuel ignited, causing several vehicles to catch fire, and another truck was carrying butane.

A stretch of Highway 9 was expected to remain closed until about mid-day, while crews clear the collision area and recover dangerous goods in one of the trucks.

The RCMP’s victim services unit is providing support to people involved in the crash.

“The investigation into this collision remains a lengthy process given the nature of the crash scene,” RCMP said in Wednesday’s release. “It is anticipated that it will take several weeks for the collision analyst to complete the investigation.”

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

The Canadian Press

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National

Military faces calls to train soldiers to identify neo-Nazis, hate-group members

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is facing calls to train its recruiters and other service members to identify and screen out members of hate groups.

The military is also being accused of failing to take the issue seriously by adopting what several experts say is a wait-and-see approach rather than actively weeding out such individuals.

The criticism follows an internal military report and several high-profile incidents linking some service members to right-wing extremists and hate groups.

That includes an investigation this week into a reservist in Manitoba who is suspected of being a recruiter for a neo-Nazi group.

The Defence Department says the military already uses interviews and background checks to screen recruits for hateful beliefs and behaviour and takes very seriously any reported incidents by current personnel.

But several experts tell The Canadian Press that is not good enough, and that the military must launch a campaign similar to efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct to truly root out extremist beliefs and behaviour.

The Canadian Press

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