We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
Like all new recruits graduating from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) training academy in 1991, Janet Merlo was looking forward to getting to work at her first posting in Nanaimo, British Columbia. It was not long after her arrival, however, that Merlo discovered that a number of her predecessors had complained about harassment at the detachment, including one woman who had successfully sued the RCMP over the issue. It was an ominous portent of things to come for the rookie Mountie.
Janet Merlo’s memoir, No One to Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP is similar in many ways to traditional Mountie memoirs. Anecdotal stories about joining the RCMP, life at the training academy, and the challenges and rewards of police work all provide glimpses into life as an RCMP officer. Merlo’s stories also reveal that successful police work is sometimes as much about “being present” and good luck as it is about investigative skill (69).
But that is where the similarities end. In fact, those looking for a happy ending story about life in the RCMP will have to find an alternative source. Merlo is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP alleging harassment and discrimination. She is up front about this in her Introduction, stating that the assertions made in her book are allegations included in a legal statement of claim against the police force (18).
Merlo begins by stressing that the majority of the police officers she worked with were decent and hardworking. For her, it was a minority of Mounties, a number she estimates to be about ten percent, who bully, intimidate, and sexually harass many of the “good” police officers, male and female alike (20). It is the actions of these police officers, as recounted by Merlo, that make for the most disturbing reading. Yet they serve as examples of the forms that harassment can take in the workplace.
Several examples stand out. One sergeant at the detachment kept a blow-up doll in his office, a tool he frequently used to humiliate female police officers when he asked them to stand beside the doll to see how they “measured up” (48). Comments about Merlo’s sex life were frequent (48-49), as were degrading comments about women in the police force (79), and references to pre-menstrual syndrome (79). The public shaming of Merlo with a dildo that had been seized as evidence (91), and a supervisor’s gestures and comments to her about his penis (91-92), are a few of the more serious examples of harassment that Merlo claims she endured.
For readers who may not understand why she did not initially complain about the harassment, Merlo explains that in a paramilitary organization you “just don’t speak out against those who outrank you. That’s how order is maintained” (51). Readers will sense the powerlessness that Merlo felt when she finally did start to complain, only to have senior officers ignore or dismiss her formal appeals. Most disturbing is her description of the RCMP’s alleged interference in her personal life following her medical discharge from the force and during her impending divorce (200-01).
Merlo offers an alternative perspective of life in the RCMP, making her memoir an important contribution to the canon of Mountie literature. Her frank and open discussion of harassment, discrimination, marital breakdown, and post-traumatic stress disorder are not found in more traditional accounts written by men. For readers seeking to make sense of the systemic problems within the RCMP, No One to Tell is a strong first-hand account that demonstrates how harassment operates, and why it persists, in Canada’s federal police force.
No One to Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP
St. John’s, Newfoundland: Breakwater Books, 2013. 248 pp. $24.95 paper