RCMP punished for turning a blind eye to intimidation

Whistleblowing employees need protection from co-workers


If an employee reports a co-worker’s inappropriate behaviour on the job, odds are the person who was tattled on is going to feel animosity towards the whistleblower.

Recognizing this, courts are likely to give employers more than just a slap on the wrist if they turn a blind eye to retaliation, particularly when that retaliation is mentally debilitating for the whistleblowing employee.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police learned a half-million-dollar lesson after one of its jail guards in Newfoundland and Labrador was harassed and emotionally abused to the breaking point. And the court was critical of the RCMP’s vigorous defense during litigation and tacked on additional punitive damages as a result.

The case: Drees v. Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Bruce Rees was, by all accounts, a happy and respectful man who was proud of his employment with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as a jail guard in Harbour Grace, Nfld. But all of that changed and Rees went down a road that left him a depressed, withdrawn, frightened and sometimes suicidal man needing intense psychiatric and psychological attention within three to four years.

Rees started working as a jail guard at the Harbour Grace RCMP detachment in 1985. Prior to that he had been the municipal officer responsible for the animal regulations for the local municipality.

Writing in his decision, Justice Carl Thompson of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court said Rees was “a kind person, dedicated to his work and proud to be associated with the RCMP and to work for them in his community. He was well liked by the other employees and members at the detachment.”

But in 1993 everything changed when a complaint was made to the RCMP that one of its officers, Cpl. Ian Fowler, was allegedly intoxicated while on duty at the scene of a fire. The RCMP launched an investigation into that anonymous complaint.

Rees was on duty at the detachment jail on the evening of the fire. He had a mobile radio with him which meant he would have heard the exchanges among detachment members deployed to the fire scene. Rees was approached by RCMP investigators and asked to give a statement about what he heard over the radio that night in respect to Cpl. Fowler. Rees gave a statement unfavourable to Cpl. Fowler. Rees was subsequently asked to provide a second statement which, again, was unfavourable.

Rees claimed the statements against Cpl. Fowler — who was his superior — were given on the understanding that he would not see them. But the statements were disclosed to Cpl. Fowler in preparation for a subsequent code of conduct hearing by the RCMP into his conduct.

Cpl. Fowler was eventually exonerated, but the court said it was foreseeable that putting him back to work with Rees would undoubtedly lead to trouble — and it did. Once Cpl. Fowler found out about Rees’ statement, he allegedly launched a campaign against Rees that led to a situation where Rees could no longer tolerate working at the detachment.

Rees said Cpl. Fowler began to ruthlessly harass him, something the RCMP knew or ought to have known would and did occur. It also took no steps to rectify it. As a result Rees developed a disabling mental condition.

One of the basic questions before the court was if it was reasonable for the RCMP to foresee the problem that could arise from continuing to have Rees and Cpl. Fowler work together after the statement was given.

“Where one employee is asked to inform the employer negatively about the other employee, it is reasonably foreseeable that, regardless of the outcome of the employer’s investigation, the likelihood of animosity on the part of the investigated employee towards the informer is great, if not reasonably certain,” said Justice Thompson.

The problems between Cpl. Fowler and Rees began in 1993, but the RCMP didn’t intervene until late 1998, by which point Rees was “wasted, damaged and changed profoundly,” according to medical evidence.

There was no doubt in the court’s mind that the RCMP should have anticipated the problems that would arise after Cpl. Fowler was returned to his posting at Harbour Grace, working side-by-side with the man who had tattled on him. As a result, it awarded a significant amount of money to both Rees and, interestingly, his wife.

The court awarded Rees 10 years of back pay, calculated at $235,600. It also awarded Rees, who was six years away from retirement age at the time of the decision, future pay of $141,360.

The court also tacked on additional damages for pain and suffering.

Justice Thompson said the evidence was clear that Rees was significantly disabled, his whole quality of life affected and that he was suicidal.

“I consider Mr. Rees to have been profoundly and possibly irreversibly damaged. His condition is extremely disabling. His quality of life is diminished. His actual desire for life is lost. His view of himself as a former strong, positive, effective person is lost,” said Justice Thompson.

Consequently the court awarded $90,000 for pain and suffering. It also awarded his wife $15,000 for pain and suffering. Justice Thompson offered the following reasons for awarding damages to her:

“Mrs. Rees has obviously suffered. She has supported and continues to support, with emotional consequences for her, a husband once strong and supportive but now reliant and suicidal. Mrs. Rees’ health and emotional well-being has been significantly compromised.”

The court took an even further step of extending the damages for pain and suffering for both Rees and his wife. It upped the $90,000 award to $120,000 for Rees and from $15,000 to $20,000 for his wife.

All told, the court awarded the couple a total of $516,900 from the RCMP.

For more information see:

Rees v. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2004 CarswellNfld 208 (Nfld. S.C.)

Court extends damages for pain and suffering because of vigorous defence by Mounties

In an interesting move the court tacked on an additional $30,000 for Rees and $5,000 for his wife for pain and suffering because of the manner in which the RCMP vigorously defended its case.

While the court said defendants are entitled to defend and raise all matters they feel necessary, it was critical of a tactic used by the defense that the Rees viewed the lawsuit as a “cash cow.”

“Effectively the defendant’s position is that this circumstance, this illness, is being used to extract money from the RCMP,” said Justice Thompson. “The difficulty then is that, just as the defendant is entitled to its defence, so is a party injured entitled to pursue a cause of action which, if successful, allows for compensation of damages. It may be that the defendants were suspect of the motivation for the plaintiff’s litigation but on the evidence in this trial they cannot be suspect of the injury, its basis or its cause.”

Justice Thompson said there is only one logical explanation for Rees’ condition. To proceed on the basis that Rees was injured but not entitled to compensation has to be weighed against the apparent additional harm of the litigation of which the RCMP was aware.

“Mr. Rees is suicidal, his quality of life seriously impaired and I find no reasonable basis for his having had to endure this litigation in the face of that condition with the knowledge that (Corp. Fowler) had of that condition and the effect on him of their position,” said Justice Thompson. “This conduct goes to further diminish Mr. Rees and aggravates the injury for which the (RCMP) is responsible. This has been, at best, oppressive.”

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