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“Systemic Bullying” in the Workplace?

Depending on the final outcome, a class action commenced by members of the RCMP could pave the way for a new category of negligence claims for workplace harassment experienced by workers in private industries in Canada.

The lead plaintiffs in Greenwood v. Canada, 2020 FC 119, claimed that they were among members who were subjected to a culture of systemic intimidation and harassment that was enabled by the RCMP’s leadership. In 2020, the Federal Court certified the lawsuit as a class action, noting:

[36] The RCMP internal processes do not appear to be equipped to provide redress or compensation for negatively impacted career paths or harm to the family members impacted by the alleged conduct. Therefore, the internal processes may not be able to provide an appropriate remedy, or any remedy at all, for some of the claims advanced. Finally, the internal processes and how they are, or are not administered, forms a core component of the claims advanced by the Plaintiffs.

The following year, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the certification, observing that:

[79] [T]he Reports supported the allegations that there are widespread and pervasive systemic issues with the internal dispute resolution processes within the RCMP, that go beyond gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination. The Federal Court accepted that the proposed class action was an attack on the RCMP processes, including the grievance system as a whole, and was not convinced that the internal options provide an effective remedy for the claims sought to be advanced through the class proceeding. The Court therefore declined to defer to such processes for the resolution of class members’ claims.

The Federal Court of Appeal concluded that it was not “plain and obvious” that there was no cause of action in negligence for workplace harassment experienced by an RCMP member.

In late 2021, the federal lawyers appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that claims of harassment and bullying can be addressed by filing a grievance or harassment complaint within the RCMP, or through the internal RCMP Code of Conduct investigation process. The federal lawyers signaled in their submission that to allow the lawsuit to proceed meant that the court’s reach could expand “into the everyday workplace disputes of non-unionized employees”.

If the Greenwood case ultimately succeeds in court, we can expect a shift in the case law to recognize and address systemic harassment in non-unionized workplaces.


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