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Lawyer urges RCMP to settle case

The lawyer representing a former female Mountie who filed a class action lawsuit over allegations of widespread harassment within the RCMP says the federal government should attempt to negotiate an end to its legal troubles rather than force the case to drag on through the courts.

David Klein, whose client Janet Merlo filed her lawsuit last year, was in court for a procedural hearing Tuesday, a day after the commissioner of the RCMP complained the force was being targeted by "outlandish claims."

On Monday, Commissioner Bob Paulson told a Senate committee the force was being tarnished by unproven claims that are nonetheless "put forward as though they are gospel."

Paulson singled out three alleged cases of abuse -- two put forward by men, one by a woman -- as he suggested some officers were spending more time complaining than working to make things better. Merlo's case was not among them.

"We're surprised, we're very surprised," Klein said outside court on Tuesday.

"When you take a look at the RCMP's action plan (for addressing harassment), they clearly say they want to sit down and settle these cases. My clients have said, 'Yes, absolutely, sit down with us.' So far, we've just gotten a flat-out 'No.'"

The proposed class-action case was launched by Merlo in March 2012, more than two years after she left the force.

Merlo alleged her 19-year career was overshadowed by years of name-calling, sexist pranks and requests for sexual favours, and she asked that her case be certified as a class action. The allegations have not been proven in court.

When the case was initially filed, Klein suggested more than 100 current and former officers had indicated they wanted to join the case. On Tuesday, he said the number was now almost 300 -- about one-third of which are still active members of the force.

The case has yet to be certified as a class-action lawsuit. Merlo's lawyer wants a certification hearing in December, while a federal government asked a judge Tuesday to delay such a hearing until April or May of next year.

Complicating the timing is a motion from the federal government to strike down several sections of Merlo's original statement of claim.

Those sections largely focus on technical legal points, such as whether the federal government can be held directly negligent for RCMP officers' actions if they don't relate specifically to policing, or whether RCMP officers have an explicit contract of employment with the federal government that includes a duty to protect them from harassment.

The government is also arguing Merlo filed her lawsuit too late, since she had been out of the force for more than two years, and shouldn't be allowed to proceed at all.

The Canadian Press


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