Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Eighty current and former RCMP officers have expressed interest in joining a proposed class-action lawsuit against systemic racism in the national police force, led by the first Indigenous woman to become a Mountie in Manitoba.
In the wake of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki's recent acknowledgment of systemic racism within the force, Margorie (Marge) Hudson filed a statement of claim in federal court last week, alleging she suffered racial discrimination during her 30 years as an officer working in Manitoba RCMP detachments.
Hudson alleges she was paid less than her non-racialized counterparts, passed over for promotions and training opportunities, and suffered retaliation from colleagues and management when she complained.
"These complaints were never investigated; they were completely ignored," the statement of claim reads.
The documents say Hudson was subjected to racist behaviour and demeaning comments toward her and other Indigenous people during her career, which began in 1979 and ended after a 2009 medical leave from which she never returned.
"The discrimination was so severe, the plaintiff began to feel that her enemy was not the criminal conduct with which she dealt during her career but rather the RCMP itself," according to the statement of claim.
Hudson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a 2012 interview with the Free Press, she said she worked in Powerview, Island Lake, Winnipegosis, Sprague and Fisher Branch detachments.
Her proposed class-action alleges she and other racialized officers were only transferred to other Indigenous communities and weren't given the same chances to advance in their careers.
"I spent more than half my life with the RCMP, even though it was challenging in many ways, and I don't say challenging by going to work and doing your job, I mean challenging by dealing with the bosses of the organization," Hudson said in 2012.
Over the past two days, 80 current or former members of the RCMP have contacted the law firm representing Hudson in support of the systemic racism lawsuit, said Vancouver-based class-action lawyer David A. Klein.
"We've been overwhelmed with the response," he said. "We've really tapped into something."
The RCMP still needs to be served with notice of the claim. In a statement, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval wrote it would be inappropriate to comment since the matter is before the court.
"There is no room for racism — or any other kind of discrimination — in the RCMP," the statement said.
"Any report of discriminatory behaviour is concerning to the RCMP, and we remain committed to fostering a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace, free of harassment and discrimination, for all of our employees."
The lawsuit needs to be certified by the Federal Court before it can go ahead as a class action.
It doesn't specify how much money is being sought from the RCMP. Klein said he'd like to see a settlement that includes anti-racism requirements for the police force to follow.
"As I've said before, the case is about much more than compensation. It's also about change. Change is something that the people who contacted us want even more than money," he said.
Klein's law firm has already settled two gender discrimination lawsuits against the RCMP, one of which Hudson joined in 2012. That case, led by former Mounties Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson, resulted in about 3,200 female RCMP officers coming forward with claims against their employer. They received compensation ranging from $10,000 to $220,000 each.
Another class-action settlement was approved earlier this year on behalf of women who worked with, but not for, the RCMP. Klein said the compensation-claim process for that settlement will begin next week.
Those settlements have included provisions that require the RCMP to take specific actions against gender discrimination. Klein said he hopes for a similar outcome in this case to fight against systemic racism.
"You try to create a structure that bakes in accountability," he said.
After Lucki's acknowledgement in June systemic racism exists in the RCMP, "There was a new sense that it would be safe to come forward," with Hudson's allegations, Klein said.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 10:48 PM CDT: Fixes capitalization of Federal Court.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.