By AWN Staff
EDITORIAL / ANALYSIS
Several positive things could be said about former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache’s recent “scathing report on sexual harassment in the RCMP,” as the mainline media describes it. For one thing, the RCMP, as AWN has reported many times, hasn’t exactly earned the trust of the tax-paying public, even regarding matters that are not connected with sexual harassment claims.
The RCMP, perhaps most egregiously, is believed to have dropped the ball so badly in Nova Scotia in April of 2020 that it further enabled mass shooter Gabriel Wortman’s reported rampage there that, according to police, lasted about 13 hours and left 22 dead. Wortman even posed as a police officer by wearing an “authentic police uniform” and driving a “convincing” replica of a police car in order to do his dastardly deed, police and media accounts say.
So, for that and many other reasons—including another scandal wherein former RCMP intelligence officer Cameron Ortis managed to hack the RCMP’s files in order to sell the “intel” to criminal entities—the RCMP at the very least deserved the probe that Bastarache carried out.
Yet, it appears that Bastarache’s investigation and final report on sexual harassment claims regarding the RCMP has received significantly more attention from the Canadian government—and comparable, if not more, airplay from the mainline media, including the tax-funded CBC—than the Canadian government’s arguably more important probe of the Nova Scotia shooting, a probe that was promised but appears to moving glacially slow.
Bastarache was appointed to independently assess the claims and write a final report based on his findings. Over the past four years, he said, he and his team conducted 644 interviews of current or former female employees of the RCMP.
“The level of violence and sexual assault that was reported was shocking,” he wrote in his report, as quoted by the CBC—although, oddly, two AWN editors, one in Canada and the other in the U.S., tried to directly access the official report itself from a CBC link and the link failed.
“What the women told the assessors shocked them to their core. This process has forever tarnished the image of the RCMP as a Canadian icon,” Bastarache went on to write in his report, as quoted by the CBC. “More than 2,300 women received compensation. In 2016, the Liberal government set aside $100 million to cover the claims. Back then, the RCMP was expecting about 1,000 women to submit claims. Instead, the assessors’ office received more than three times that number.”
For the record, the CBC, based on its assessment of the report, added: “Of that total, 2,304 women were compensated and 782 claims were denied. In all, $125,266,500 was paid to claimants and their lawyers.” Thus, the probe went more than $25 million over the original 2016 budget.
And while the words “and their lawyers” should not be overlooked in the CBC quote regarding why the price tag was inflated, the CBC added: “Each victim was eligible for a payout of between $10,000 and $220,000.”
Interestingly, this Merlo-Davidson settlement, named after lawsuit plaintiffs Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson, covers those who were harassed while working for the RCMP during or after September 1974—that’s 47 years ago—and includes women “who experienced sexual harassment and gender or sexual orientation-based discrimination while working for the Mounties,” the CBC noted.
To be as objective as possible, we cannot completely dismiss the observation that memories can fade and recollections of exactly what happened can become vague among the older cases in this investigation, going back to a time when “sexual orientation” matters were almost unheard-of. But, that aside, imagine our surprise at AWN when we stumbled upon the following Wikipedia item about this RCMP sexual harassment probe:
At a news conference in Ottawa on October 6, 2016, it was announced that Bastarache had been named to administer the settlement of the class-action sexual harassment lawsuit [named the Merlo-Davidson case] against the RCMP by acting as an independent assessor of the claims to be submitted. Bastarache stated his intention to contact the greatest number the of claimants possible and to interview many of them personally. He explained that to ensure the confidentiality of the claimants, the federal government would transfer to a fiduciary account under his control the amounts required for the compensation payments and that he would make the payments directly to claimants. Bastarache was designated the ‘sole and independent decision maker’ for the claims process. His decisions in the matter were not open to review by the RCMP or appeal by the parties.” (Settlement news conference Oct. 6, 2016)
So, it appears Bastarache became “judge, jury and executioner” in this matter, which begs the question: Was it really justified or legally proper to give the former Supreme Court justice that kind of leeway and discretion? With millions of tax dollars at his disposal for writing checks to those he deemed to be genuine victims, let’s face it—that kind of money, in this context, could easily prompt some of the claimants to exaggerate or fabricate their stories, though that certainly isn’t true of all them.
Bottom line: Canadians seem to get perpetually caught in the crosshairs of two intersecting trends: They either 1) are given probes that don’t ever seem to reach their final destination (e.g., the Cullen Commission looking into money laundering in B.C. casinos by foreign crime syndicates, and the NS shooting probe). Or 2) they get a seemingly thorough probe of RCMP sexual harassment allegations that did have an outcome, but it’s tarnished by the provision of giving a former Supreme Court justice sole authority to conduct and conclude the investigation, in a manner that could potentially bias the results.
In early December of last year, about two weeks after his report was released, Bastarache told MPs in a parliamentary committee that the RCMP presumably is aware of — or could at least easily identify — the officers accused in some of the most egregious cases of sexual assault in the service.
“I think the more serious ones usually are more easily identified. Like the Catholic Church, they just move them to another parish. I have a list [of RCMP officers] who have been found guilty up to 15 times. Those people have been promoted,” he also told the committee, without mentioning whether a court of law, or he himself, “found” the suspects “guilty.”
Most often, as was the case with disgraced former Ontario MPP Patrick Brown—once a rising Progressive-Conservative Party star suddenly accused of sexual assault by several women who never went to the police, even while Brown never saw one day in a court of law—the venue for trying a case is the “court of public opinion.” That clearly does not afford a fair hearing.We would do well to remember that the accused have rights too, however distasteful that may seem to some in this “PC” culture where a mob mentality has nearly displaced the rule of law, in which no one is above the law, but, just as importantly, no one is beneath its protection.
In Canada, the democratic system is so compromised that it appears to be absent altogether. Common sense, fairness to all and partiality toward none appears to be a dead ideal.