Yet Another Billion Dollar Class Action Suit

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary, Culture Wars

The RCMP is facing another billion-dollar class action suit. Initiated by two former officers, it has the potential to reach back decades and involve tens of thousands of former officers, civilian employees and volunteers. The suit alleges harassment and bullying. As an example, one officer alleges that he was made to sleep in a horse trailer while working with the RCMP’s Musical Ride.

At one time a massive lawsuit against the RCMP would have been unthinkable. The RCMP has a long and honourable history of tough, but fair, law enforcement. They made the west safe for settlement, and chased the American whiskey traders back over the border. RCMP officers I knew were tough people – they had to be, routinely dealing with dangerous situations. Such as highly volatile domestic incidents which can turn ugly on a dime. Dealing with angry drunks on a daily basis, officers suddenly find themselves in fast moving, life or death situations – where politeness and sensitivity are but secondary concerns. Staff sergeants would actually did yell at people when the situation required.

With conduct like that – not only was it accepted at the time, but expected – today it is considered harassment and bullying? Will a new sensitive and polite management style compromise their professionalism and effectiveness? Will new more enlightened RCMP managers be capable of upholding the Force’s proud tradition? And, will lawsuits next extend to the military? For the quintessential drill sergeant’s practice of putting their face a few inches from that of a new recruit, verbally blasting them – which is practically a part of their job description – will it be denounced as harassment and bullying?

Are we really going to require RCMP officers and drill sergeants to abandon the brisk and direct speech and conduct that has always been considered an absolutely necessary part of the their jobs? Should we sacrifice effectiveness for sensitivity and politeness?

Not to say that flagrant abuses of power are acceptable – female RCMP officers have proven cases of sexual abuse within the ranks. Sexual abuse, and other forms of true abuse, are unacceptable. But those choosing policing or the military as a career should understand that it is always will be a life with some rough edges. If not prepared for that life, such as the fellow sleeping unhappily in the horse trailer, consider a less demanding career.

Just as concerning as the trend towards weaker standards of policing is the recent trend of mega class action suits aimed at taxpayers’ wallets. A few people make claims starting the ball rolling, garnering media attention. With the smell of money, people pile on. Then, if the group is in favour with the federal government, comes an announcement – it will not be necessary for the claimants to prove their damages in court. The government will pay, no proof required, the money coming from the beleaguered taxpayer.

A few examples:

For every student who attended a residential school, abused or not, the federal government will pay $10,00 for the first year (or part year), and $3,000 for each additional year (or part year)  attended. Payment to go even to those who acknowledged the schools provided them an excellent education. Former students, such as Tomson Highway – who declared that the years he spent at residential school were some of the best years of his life – and Phil Fontaine, who acknowledged that the schools were beneficial to some, were eligible. Simply having been at a residential school was a ticket to a chunk of cash. (Those who were able to prove they actually suffered some level of abuse received more). Our federal government practically encouraged people to exaggerate their claims. The Liberal government benefited in turn – praise from special interest groups. It cost the government nothing. It cost the taxpayer a bundle.

The 60s Scoop special interest groups copied this procedure almost exactly – the result a payout of another billion. The only objection voiced was that the $35,000 or so that each person would receive – often for being rescued from an alcoholic home – wasn’t enough. Groups are now forming to squeeze even more money from, not really, the government, but the taxpayer, who must cough up extravagant payments.

I am not being critical of claimants who actually prove damages in court. They are entitled to their compensation. In fact, I am also not that critical of the people who receive the money for nothing, they likely can use the money. If I could qualify to receive cash simply by stating that the government somehow wronged me, I would be tempted to sign on.

My criticism is of a federal government that plays fast and loose with the hard earned money of overtaxed taxpayers. The government’s behaviour is nothing less than a scandal.