Under the Cover: Janet Merlo Shares Her Motivations for Writing 'No One To Tell'
Janet Merlo was among the first female RCMP officers to publicly allege she had experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination while serving in Canada's national police force. Now the representative plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, Janet shares with us the reasons why she felt compelled to write her story in a new memoir from Breakwater Books, No One To Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP.See more details below
Janet Merlo was among the first female RCMP officers to publicly allege she had experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination while serving in Canada's national police force. Now the representitive plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, Janet shares with us the reasons why she felt compelled to write her story in a new memoir from Breakwater Books, No One To Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP. With December 10th observed internationally as the United Nations' Human Rights Day, Janet's story serves as a reminder that providing equal rights to all people continues to be a struggle everywhere.
Many people ask me what inspired me to write a book about my life in the RCMP. The fuel for my inspiration was a real desire to create change. When I left the RCMP in 2010, I was asked to file an Exit Questionnaire—an interview in which you comment on and critique your career in the RCMP. You can do it online, but I chose to hand-write my answers on a paper copy of the interview that came in my retirement package.
I was very open and honest in my answers. That honesty was based on built-up frustration: I’d endured a long, two-year investigation into my allegations that I had experienced harassment and bullying in the organization. After investigating themselves, the RCMP delivered a final report stating there had been no harassment. They labelled many of my claims unfounded, saying that nobody could substantiate those claims.
As upset as I was, I had predicted these findings. Within the RCMP, people are afraid to speak up and speak out. They know that once they do, their career is as much as over. So even though they may have witnessed harassment, or been a target of it themselves, I knew that RCMP members were afraid to speak about it while they were still part of the organization because they feared the negative repercussions.
One of the last items on that Exit Questionnaire asked about plans for the future. My answer? That one day I hoped to write a book and tell the Canadian public how the organization treats its members, especially the female members. I had already stated that the RCMP is 100 years behind in its treatment of women. I had a lot more to say.
A year later, I was home watching the CBC news when I saw a familiar face. Once my friend and troop-mate, Catherine Galliford had been a delightful, beautiful girl when we were in training together. Now she looked tired and shattered. I sat and listened to her story, amazed at how similar it was to my own experience. After the interview, I called the CBC in support of Catherine—but I wasn’t the only one. Little did I know that approximately 150 other current and retired female members also reached out to the CBC, because they saw so much of themselves in Catherine and wanted to offer their support. How many more of us were out there?
A couple of months later, I agreed to become the representative plaintiff in the proposed class action suit against the RCMP. Maybe if others heard my voice, they too would come forward, just like I had heard Catherine’s and found the courage to speak out. Collectively, we could make change happen.
As I mulled through all my old paperwork, I came across that Exit Questionnaire. I read and reread it, particularly the part where I said that one day I would love to write a book. Knowing I was moving back to Newfoundland, I contacted Rebecca Rose at Breakwater Books to see if she was interested in this national news story. I immediately felt a connection and went to see her when I got back home.
The writing itself wasn’t easy. I pored through a backpack full of police notebooks—twenty years of policing. I started at the beginning and read my notes on every call, every arrest, every day in court. My goal was to write three stories in one. I wanted the public to understand my life as a police officer and the type of calls we take every day. I wanted them to see me as Janet the girl who met a great guy, fell in love and had a beautiful little family. I wanted them to see how difficult the RCMP is to work for and the true problems that harassment and bullying create inside the organization. This total story would allow the reader to understand how the combination of stressful work, the struggles of everyday family life, and a toxic work environment can erode your spirit and chip away at you, leaving you beaten down and defeated.
I’d already been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, resulting from the years of harassment and bullying. PTSD makes concentration difficult at the best of times, so it was hard to focus on the task of writing out my story, something that caused me so much stress. I’d get all set up to write and think, Hmm…. I should make a coffee… Out in the hallway, I’d notice my husky was shedding like crazy, so I’d start the coffee and decide to vacuum. Then I’d go to the washroom and decide I needed to do a load of towels, so I’d collect the laundry and go downstairs to throw it in the wash. Back upstairs, my coffee was now almost cold. I’d try again to settle in to writing—an hour and thirty minutes later. I’m not sure how much of it was my way of delaying the memories and emotions that came along with writing or the anxiety of reliving my experiences, but I certainly always got my chores done!
Sometimes I’d write by hand on a coiled notebook I always kept with me because the most random memories would come to me at the most random of times. There were times that I cried so much, the ink ran from my tears and I had to stop, gather myself together, begin a new page, and rewrite it again. Writing was the most emotional part of my journey. The hardest thing to deal with was not anger about the harassment, but deep sadness for all that I had lost. A career that I loved, my marriage, the opportunity to grow old with a man whom I, at one time, truly loved. So much can never be undone or fixed.
Once it was written, in to the editor, and then off to printing, I was nervous—sometimes to the point of being physically ill. I wondered if I had done the right thing. I wondered what the fallout from the RCMP might be. I wondered how the public would react. I was full of trepidation because it was such an emotional and controversial issue. I can tell you that the first time I saw No One To Tell in print, I just broke down and cried.
I think back now to the woman who wrote that Exit Questionnaire, and the issues that compelled me to write No One To Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to pour my heart out in an attempt to bring about change. It’s been a long road. Today, I continue to do my work as representative plaintiff for the proposed class action law suit. What’s more, since I joined the suit in 2012, almost 300 other women have signed on as well – a number that is growing all the time.
Thank you to Janet for sharing with us her very personal story here and in her memoir No One To Tell. If you want to learn more about Human Rights Day you can visit the United Nations website. You can read more about the class-action lawsuit in this article on the CBC.
Edited from the original post, published on the LPG blog
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