Janet Merlo wins 2022 Peter Bryce Prize

Toronto - At a virtual ceremony today, Janet Merlo was awarded the 2022 Peter Bryce Prize by the Centre for Free Expression (CFE) at Ryerson University. The Prize is awarded annually to recognize and honour individuals who serve the greater good by courageously speaking up about wrongdoing and abuses of public trust.

“Ms. Merlot was chosen by a jury because of her decade and a half effort to expose and end gender-based harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)”, said James L. Turk, Director of the CFE. 

“Janet Merlot demonstrated extraordinary courage and integrity in her willingness, at enormous cost to herself, to speak up about a long-standing and terrible wrongs in one of Canada’s best known and respected institutions.”

After being a constable in the RCMP for nearly 20 years, Ms. Merlot began speaking publicly about the gender-based harassment and discrimination she had faced. In 2012, after having been advised by her doctors to take a medical leave, Ms. Merlot chose to be the representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the RCMP and the Solicitor General of Canada. A year later, she told her story is her book, No One To Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP.

The class action lawsuit Ms. Merlot began became known as Merlo-Davidson, when Linda Davidson, a former officer in Ontario who had filed her own lawsuit, joined with Ms. Merlot in a settlement. That settlement in 2016, ultimately resulted in the Government of Canada paying out more than $125 million to thousands of women who faced discrimination, harassment, bullying and sexual assault during their time as RCMP officers and staff.

“The price Ms. Merlot was made to pay for launching and continuing the class action suit was very high,” said Turk. “She faced horrific abuse from the public and backlash from the RCMP, but she remained resolute and won an important victory for many women who had been subjected to harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault by fellow officers and staff in the RCMP.”

In November 2021, former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache released the final report on the claims process – titled Broken Lives, Broken Dreams: The Devastating Effects of Sexual Harassment On Women in the RCMP. The 178-page report made clear that fundamental change is needed to rid the RCMP of a systemic toxic culture that tolerates hateful, sexist, and homophobic attitudes. The report was based on the more than 3,000 claims filed by women against the RCMP and on interviews with nearly 650 of the women. The report says the assessors were “shocked … to their core" by what they learned. 

The Peter Bryce Prize was initiated in 2021 and the inaugural recipient was Dr. John O’Connor whose reports, starting in 2006, of an unexpected number of cancers and other health problems among the residents of the remote northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan were rebuffed by authorities and led to an ongoing fifteen year struggle for the health rights of this largely Indigenous community and others downstream from the Alberta oil sands. 

The prize is named after Dr. Peter H. Bryce, an early Canadian whistleblower who in 1907, spoke up about appalling health conditions in residential schools. Recipients of the Peter Bryce Prize receive a $5,000 award made possible by the generosity of the Zita and Mark Bernstein Family Foundation.

A video recording of the ceremony honouring Janet Merlot is available on the CFE website.

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