VANCOUVER — Three women who shared their stories of sexual harassment as part of a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP have shown great courage so others who may have endured similar experiences can come forward, a lawyer said Monday.
Lawyers for Cheryl Tiller, Mary Ellen Copland and Dayna Roach reached a settlement that opens the door to potential claims from thousands of women who worked in non-policing roles including as volunteers since Sept. 16, 1974, lead counsel Angela Bespflug told a news conference in Vancouver.
Tiller sought legal advice in February 2017, claiming she was sexually harassed by a superior at a detachment in Yorkton, Sask. Copeland alleged similar harassment in Surrey, B.C., as did Roach, who was office manager of the detachment in Lloydminster, Alta.
"I encourage women to come forward," Tiller said in a statement. "Be brave. This is not your fault. Start the healing journey."
The sexual harassment of Tiller and Copland was followed by a change in how they were treated and then retaliation, said Bespflug, whose firm Klein Lawyers represented the two women. Roach contacted lawyer Patrick Higgerty in Calgary and he said the two companies joined forces for the lawsuit because the women's cases were so similar.
As named plaintiffs, all three women chose to share their painful stories "with the world," Bespflug said, adding the harassment went on for years.
"In a case like this where these stories are so deeply personal it takes its impact. There's a big emotional and psychological toll in doing that. You also open yourself up to public scrutiny. This is why these women were brave to come forward and give their names and their voices so other women could come forward."
The Federal Court certified the class-action lawsuit last week involving women who experienced gender or sexual harassment since the RCMP began employing female members 45 years ago.
Bespflug said as many as 1,500 claimants may be eligible for settlements that could have a total value of as much as $100 million, but that will depend on how many substantiated claims are received and there is no cap if the settlements go beyond that amount.
The settlement includes a confidential independent claims process led by female assessors with eligible payments ranging from $10,000 to $220,000 for a proven claim she said.
In a statement, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the RCMP has taken steps to improve the way it deals with harassment complaints.
"Harassment and discrimination do not have a place in our organization. On behalf of the RCMP, I would like to thank the representative plaintiffs, Cheryl Tiller, Mary Ellen Copland and Dayna Roach, for their courage in coming forward," she said.
"I deeply regret that these women were subject to inappropriate behaviour in our workplace, and apologize for the pain caused to them and their families."
Bespflug said negotiations with the RCMP were ongoing for about a year and the force has no involvement in the claims process.
"Our plaintiffs were strong, their stories were strong. We live in a culture now where sexual harassment is no longer tolerated," she said in an interview, adding the settlement process would be non-adversarial.
"This isn't a case where a woman has to share her case in public and be cross-examined and feel like she's not believed. We intentionally crafted a settlement that will not be traumatizing for the women."
A claim form can be completed online by those wishing to join the action, said lawyer Janelle O'Connor, adding the settlement agreement and other documents are also posted.
The process would involve all current and former employees and volunteers, including those who worked for non-profit organizations or as consultants, contractors as well as students and members of integrated policing units who were supervised or managed by the RCMP.
In May 2017, the RCMP agreed to a similar payout of $89 million to female officers who were sexually harassed on the job over the same period as the case involving Tiller, Copland and Roach, with as many as 20,000 women eligible for up to $220,000 each in compensation.
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Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the class-action lawsuit was still subject to approval by the Federal Court.