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Brian Giesbrecht on those who jump on to the class action lawsuit gravy trainThe 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 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. The force made the West safe for settlement and chased 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 that 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 yell at people when the situation required.

Conduct like that was not only accepted at the time but expected. Today it’s considered harassment and bullying.

Will a new sensitive and polite management style compromise their professionalism and effectiveness? Will more enlightened RCMP managers be capable of upholding the force’s proud tradition?

And will lawsuits next extend to the military? Will the quintessential drill sergeant’s practice of putting their face a few inches from that of a new recruit to verbally blast them – practically part of their job description – 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?

That’s 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 always will be a life with some rough edges. If they’re not prepared for that life, such as the fellow sleeping unhappily in the horse trailer, they should consider a less demanding career.

Just as concerning as the trend towards weaker standards of policing is the recent trend of huge class action suits aimed at taxpayers’ wallets. A few people make claims to start 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 won’t 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 $10,000 per year for every year attended. Payment is to be made 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 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 could prove they actually suffered some abuse received more. Our federal government practically encouraged people to exaggerate their claims. The Liberal government benefited in turn, receiving praise from special interest groups.

• The ’60s Scoop special interest groups copied this procedure almost exactly. The result was a payout of another $1 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 the taxpayer.

I’m not being critical of claimants who actually prove damages in court. They’re entitled to their compensation. I’m 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.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Jumping on to the class action lawsuit gravy train

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