Federal Court approves class-action lawsuit claiming RCMP doctors sexually assaulted recruits

Sylvie Corriveau has tried to raise the alarm for decades because some of the doctors named by the RCMP have reportedly sexually abused patients.

She said she felt a sense of “personal justification” last week after a federal judge upheld a class action lawsuit in which she is the lead plaintiff. The lawsuit accuses the RCMP-nominated doctors of sexually assaulting applicants during mandatory physical exams.

“It is a reward to be able to move this forward and to know that some people will find a solution,” said Corriveau of her retirement home in Fredericton, NB.

Judge Ann Marie McDonald issued a written decision late last week confirming the class action lawsuit alleging allegations of systematic negligence and breach of duty of care against the RCMP. A copy of their decision was recently released.

Corriveau, who worked as a civilian RCMP employee at the operational communications center, said she was sexually assaulted by a doctor in 1989 when she was applying for membership in the force.

As part of the hiring process, applicants must undergo a medical examination by a specific doctor.

In an affidavit filed as part of the class action certification process, Corriveau said she was sent to see a doctor in Toronto who spent a lot of time pinching her nipples in what are known as “tweak tests” during her exam.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Sylvie Corriveau, an RCMP civilian worker who is now retired, is the lead plaintiff in the case. (Submitted by Sylvie Corriveau)

“It felt more like a sexual encounter than a physical encounter, but all along he was telling me that he had the final say on whether or not I got this job,” she told CBC News on Tuesday.

“I had already quit my 11-year job and moved to Toronto. I needed this job. So I did what it asked me to do.”

After joining the troop, she heard that other women had similar experiences with the same doctor.

RCMP was aware of the allegations, court documents allege

Corriveau said she contacted the RCMP Member Employee Assistance Program (MEAP) to share her experience. In her affidavit, she argues that the RCMP was aware of the attacks, did not react to this knowledge, actively intervened in investigations, covered up complaints and tolerated the behavior.

“We fought really hard to stop this doctor and prevent further abuse or neglect,” she said.

In the end, nearly 30 women came forward for sexual assault during their exams – but in 2019 sex crime investigators with the Toronto Police Service said there was “no reason” to file a criminal complaint.

Police said investigators were reviewing medical standards at the time and concluded that there was a lack of evidence to examine the doctor “to prove that there was a sexual purpose”.

The class action certification motion also notes that Halifax Police have opened an investigation into allegations that another RCMP-appointed doctor sexually assaulted applicants for approximately 22 years. The police in that city also did not bring charges.

The McDonald’s decision was not about evidence or facts in the case, but rather whether it was up to the standard of a class action lawsuit.

The Canadian Attorney General’s office referred requests for a possible settlement to the RCMP. An RCMP spokesman said one of the two doctors named in the class action certificate application was dead and the other was no longer employed by the RCMP.

“The RCMP takes all allegations of sexual assault, violence and inappropriate behavior seriously,” said Robin Percival.

“Canada has agreed to the certification of general negligence-related issues. The litigation is at a procedural stage and the nature of the consent regulation agreement reflects a procedural rather than substantive agreement between the parties.”

“The trauma was so deep”

Megan McPhee of Kim Spencer McPhee Barristers – the law firm Corriveau represents as the lead plaintiff – said hundreds of men and women have come forward so far.

She said many of the applicants were either fresh out of high school or in their early 20s when they were attacked.

“They were seen by a doctor who had such a high degree of control over them and kept reminding them … then they suffered these horrific sexual assaults,” she said.

McPhee said the doctors were so well known that a whisper network was formed within the RCMP warning young recruits about “Dr. Tweakers” and “Dr. Fingers”.

“Yet young men and women continued to be sent to them,” she said. “And some of them were so deeply affected that they ultimately did not join the RCMP. The trauma was so deep.”

McPhee said it was too early to talk about compensation.

“We are happy that this is certified. We are happy that this is happening,” she said. “We encourage anyone who wants to speak to us to share their stories. We will keep all of this information confidential.”

Former judge asked for compensation

This class action lawsuit would cover individuals outside the class definition for the Merlo-Davidson Historic Settlement, which affected all women molested during and after September 1974 while working for the RCMP.

The independent assessor on the case, retired Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, said he was shocked by the stories he heard about women being ill-treated by the RCMP-sanctioned doctors.

“At-risk women applying to the RCMP, their dream career, have had ‘prostate’ rectal exams; their breasts have been felt in persistent and unprofessional ways; they have undergone unnecessary and gratuitous vaginal ‘exams’,” he wrote in his final report, published in November.

“I was also told that the conduct of these doctors was known to other members of the RCMP. In fact, one of the doctors was nicknamed Dr. Fingers by both male and female members. More than one applicant recalled this before the doctor having been warned of testing by others who had undergone it.

“It is incomprehensible to me that such behavior could be tolerated.”

Because many of these women were not members of the RCMP at the time of their exams, they were not eligible to join the lawsuit against Merlo-Davidson.

“I strongly recommend that the RCMP provide compensation to these women,” wrote Bastarache.

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