In what could become a class action lawsuit, four RCMP officers who were stationed in Nunavut have turned to the courts seeking damages from the federal government for working conditions they deemed unsafe and psychologically unhealthy.

The lawsuit accuses the Crown of breaching its common law duties related to the “operation, supervision, maintenance, and oversight of occupational health and safety standards and mental health services in the RCMP.”

“The RCMP has not developed a strategy to closely monitor and adequately detect deterioration in its employees’ mental health, and has not adequately and in a timely manner met its members’ mental health needs, including the needs of those returning to work from mental health sick leave, leading to prolonged injury, loss and damages,” the officers allege in a case that was filed on Sept. 16.

“Mounties who do eventually seek help for their operational stress injuries are faced with delays and obstacles to adequate and timely treatment, are ostracized and stigmatized as weak and unfit, are subjected to retaliation and discriminatory behaviour by peers and supervisors, and experience alienation, mental suffering, humiliation, and loss of dignity.”

The officers describe routine exposure to violence, sometimes extreme, while responding to calls for service over several years, but say they were unable to get the mental health support they were seeking through the RCMP. Meanwhile they say supervisors told them that they would have to “work through” their mental health struggles and “suck it up.”

A few of the officers state that they had to arrange for mental health services privately and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The individual allegations and those of “systemic negligence” have not been proven in court.

A spokesperson for the RCMP’s national headquarters confirmed that the police force has been served the statement of claim.

“We are in the process of reviewing the claim to determine next steps. That being said, we are not in a position to discuss legal matters outside of the appropriate legal processes and filings. We do not anticipate having any further comment on this matter,” the spokesperson stated.

The lawsuit cites a 2017 Auditor General report that found that only 57 per cent of Mounties surveyed reported timely access to mental health services, and 20 per cent of workers who sought mental health services and required sick leave never returned to service in the RCMP.

“Those who returned to work were frequently met with discrimination, invasions of their medical privacy, and derogatory remarks upon rejoining the RCMP. The prevailing culture was, and continues to be, such that sick leave for mental health correlates negatively with Mounties’ career advancement in a workplace that demands employees to “man up” and repress symptoms of mental illness,” according to the court document.

 

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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