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Court of Appeal Upholds Damages Award to Harassed RCMP Officer
February 7, 2007

The British Columbia Court of Appeal recently upheld an award of $950,000 in damages to a former RCMP constable for mistreatment and harassment she suffered at the hands of her superior. The officer alleged that her commanding officer, as well as the federal and provincial governments, were liable for the tort of negligent infliction of mental suffering, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, arising from her superior’s treatment of her following her return to work from maternity leave.

The British Columbia Supreme Court held that the commanding officer had committed the tort of negligent infliction of mental suffering, but the claims against him and the federal government were barred by legislation. The claim against the provincial government, however, was not barred and the court found it vicariously liable for the officer’s actions. Damages were assessed at $950,000. The Province appealed the decision on the following grounds:

  • The judge should not have accepted jurisdiction. Rather, the claim should have been heard by tribunals specialized in resolving workplace disputes such as the human rights tribunal or the internal process for police officers;

     

  • The judge should not have held the Province liable for the wrongs committed by the plaintiff’s commanding officer, since his actions were not related to his operational duties;

  • The judge should not have awarded damages against the Province given that damages against the federal government were barred by statute; and

  • The judge erred in failing to deduct from the award pension benefits which the plaintiff had received.

    The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in its entirety. It held that the Supreme Court was correct in accepting jurisdiction over the matter, as the plaintiff’s action was a tort claim for injuries she suffered as a result of her commanding officer’s conduct. As such, it was an appropriate claim to be heard by a civil court. Further, neither the RCMP’s internal processes, nor a human rights tribunal could provide effective redress in this case.

    The Court confirmed the Province’s liability for the wrongs of the plaintiff’s commanding officer. It was irrelevant that the commanding officer committed the wrongs in the context of managing an employment relationship rather than in carrying out his professional duties as a police officer. The Province was vicariously liable for the actions of the commanding officer, since he fulfilled the role of a provincial police officer under a policing agreement between the federal and provincial governments.

    Finally, regarding the deduction of pension benefits, courts have consistently held that pension benefits are not to be deducted from tort damages. As a result, the trial judge did not err by refusing to deduct the benefits.

    Sulz v. Minister of Public Safety et al., 2006 BCCA 582