Harassed RCMP sergeant offered to settle years ago; wants $1 million in costs
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TORONTO — An RCMP sergeant awarded hefty damages for years of harassment by superiors now wants more than $1 million to cover the cost of fighting his protracted lawsuit, court filings show.
The documents also indicate that the government failed to respond to a detailed offer from Sgt. Peter Merrifield to settle his claim in 2007, and again refused to negotiate a mediated settlement in 2011, resulting now in a potentially substantial tab to taxpayers.
Correspondence from late 2007 shows the Department of Justice initially expressed interest in negotiating a resolution, prompting Merrifield, then a corporal, to propose a settlement. His offer included promotion to sergeant with back pay retroactive to April 2006 — a promotion he said he had been unable to earn because superiors had made groundless complaints against him.
He also wanted his clearance restored so he could to return to national security and intelligence duties, no restrictions on public speaking engagements, and damages of $110,000.
"The above listed remedies are designed to return Mr. Merrifield to the position he would have enjoyed but for the wrongful actions of the defendants," his lawyer Laura Young wrote the Department of Justice in December 2007.
In an affidavit filed this week in support of the costs claim, an RCMP staff-relations representative said he became "quite frustrated" in 2011 at the breakdown of mediation and tried to get Merrifield and his superiors to sit down and thrash out the issues.
According to Staff-Sgt. Brian Reed, a meeting did take place in London, Ont., in September 2011. On hand were Merrifield, his lawyers, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Stephen White and lawyers for the Justice Department.
Merrifield, a father of three, laid out what he wanted: Promotion to sergeant retroactive with pay to 2006, $60,000 in damages, and his legal costs.
"Neither AComm White nor the Department of Justice lawyers put any proposal forward at all during the course of the meeting," Reed says in the affidavit.
The gathering broke up shortly after Merrifield tabled his proposal and that, essentially, was that.
"At no time did the RCMP either respond to the proposal made by Sgt. Merrifield nor did they make any counter-offer or proposal," Reed says.
In fact, Reed says, the attorney general only gave a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum 18 months later — in March 2013 — which called on Merrifield to drop his action without costs to either side. Instead, the matter ended up in a bitterly-fought trial.
In March, Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee awarded Merrifield $141,000 in damages after finding senior Mounties had behaved egregiously in a seven-year campaign of harassment against him — including punitive transfers and unfounded criminal accusations.
The government is appealing on the grounds that Vallee made several errors, including forcing RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to testify.
The court filings indicate Merrifield wants a total of $1,081,204 for his lawyers' fees and their out-of-pocket expenses, with half going to Young. The amount claimed is about $317,000 less than regular commercial rates, the claim states.
The government has yet to submit its cost submissions and neither the RCMP nor Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale would comment on the situation.
Merrifield's co-counsel John Phillips, who estimates the government spent at least as much as Merrifield did on legal fees, accused the government of racking up unnecessary bills by its "litigation harassment."
"The RCMP has known what was being sought by Sgt. Merrifield from the beginning," Phillips said Thursday. "Why was it litigated in a way that was conducted so inefficiently and so expensively for the public?"
Two reports this week concluded that bullying and harassment remain serious problems within the RCMP and suggested the force had little interest in fixing matters.