Gilchrist: RCMP lawsuit tip of iceberg

That 200 former and current female Mounties, not just dozens, contacted a Vancouver law firm about joining a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP speaks volumes.

The civil suit filed by 19-year RCMP veteran Janet Merlo alleges decades of harassment by her male peers and superiors, with specifics outlined in her statement of claim like:

* the supervising NCO yelled at her when she told him she was pregnant, essentially saying she could either have a career as a cop or "pop out kids your whole life."

* a supervisor on the night shift kept an inflatable naked female doll next to his desk, something his boss knew about but he was never reprimanded for.

* a sergeant brandishing a dildo seized as evidence shouted across the detachment words to the effect, "Merlo, what the hell happened? This thing was brand new yesterday. Now it's almost worn out. Did you take it home last night?"

And on it goes, as well as examples of how men and women were treated differently - guys were allowed to leave to play three-hour hockey games while on shift, for instance, but female Mounties couldn't attend aerobic classes on their lunch breaks.

The claim also states Merlo spoke out to both peers and supervisors about the problem but was told to drop it, or if the complaints were looked into, they were dismissed.

It is discouraging that so many female officers - people who look out for others - had to endure such harassment (if the allegations are true) that they felt a lawsuit was their only recourse. It shouldn't have been that way.

It would be nice to think such behaviours are from times gone by, but Merlo worked until 2010 and other female officers have logged similar complaints in recent years.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford, a top B.C. Mountie who has filed her own lawsuit, said she thinks female police officers "start to normalize that type of thing within the workplace."

But the problem is by no means exclusive to the force. Ask any woman and she'll offer her own tales about inappropriate behaviour or harassment while at some job.

We're told to try to ignore it, it's part of playing the game in a man's world, after all, and hope it won't happen again.

Sometimes that works, but clearly it didn't, even for women toughened by a line of work where violence and depravity on the streets is commonplace.

It's a bigger problem when the behaviour is demonstrated and condoned from above (I recall one boss many years ago saying in front of other staff the only reason he watched city council's TV coverage was "to see what our cute little reporter was wearing") but sexism continues to pervade all levels of society.

Many of us are fortunate to work in places that model respectful, equitable behaviour, ensuring employees feel safe and supported on the job. But the sheer volume of those signing onto the RCMP class action lawsuit demonstrates it is still a big problem in some quarters.

For anyone out there who might argue the pendulum has swung too far in favour of women's rights, the fact lawsuits like these continue to emerge shows that's just not so.

We're not even close to equal yet.

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