Alice Fox stood in the living room of her Cloverdale apartment, animated as she talked about the facial expressions of RCMP defendants in the court case she had attended earlier on May 31.
Fox had prepared evidence for the trial, which involved one of the four women who had taken part in the report prepared by former auditor-general Sheila Fraser on how the RCMP deals with harassment complaints along with Fox and two other former RCMP members.
For Fox, it was a “historical moment.”
“That’s the file that’s going to change everything,” she said about the evidence she prepared. “I’m a part of that small cog in taking it out.”
Sitting on the couch, listening to Fox go over the courtroom drama, was Fox’s friend Const. Sarah Brown.
Members “tell her what they’ve been going through,” Brown said about Fox. “She genuinely cares about other people. She wants to help them.”
Fox has helped many officers struggling with the RCMP go through their files and develop strategies for dealing with difficulties, including helping Brown.
Fox ‘lived to be a cop’
Brown had known Fox when they were both in the RCMP. Fox worked in the Integrated Road Safety Unit and Brown in the Burnaby traffic unit as a breath alcohol analyst.
“When I first met Alice [Fox], she lived to be a cop. And she lived to be a good cop,” said Brown.
After spending a few years analyzing Fox’s two to four impaired drivers a night, Brown suddenly stopped seeing her.
“I didn’t know that she was off, I didn’t know what was happening,” Brown said. She remembered seeing an article with Fox’s name in it. When she looked it up again, and discovered Fox was suing the force for harassment, Brown decided to reach out.
“I sent a Facebook message telling her that I have a lot of respect for her,” Brown said. Then Brown decided to talk to Fox about her own troubles with the RCMP.
Brown was involved in a code of conduct investigation for her some of her actions as an RCMP member. Two of the charges against her were found to be untrue.
Fox “kind of took me under her wing,” Brown said. Fox connected Brown to members of the women’s class action, put forward by former Const. Janet Merlo for women who were sexually harassed or suffered from gender-based discrimination in the RCMP, which at that time had not been launched. She introduced Brown to members of Veteran’s Affairs, and took the stand in Brown’s code of conduct investigation.
It wasn’t always easy for Fox, Brown said.
“She can only hear so much and then it starts to bring her own anxiety back,” she said. “She’s like, ‘I can’t talk about this right now, I’ve got to not deal with this. You have to talk to somebody else.’”
But the work Fox did is what Brown believes kept her afloat.
“If I didn’t … reconnect with Alice, I would not be here,” Brown said. “I would not have been able to handle what they were doing to me. There’s no question about that.”
That dedication to other members’ cases is consistent in Fox’s relationships with women and men in the RCMP. Fox first met Janet Merlo, the RCMP member behind the women’s class action against the RCMP, through a Facebook group Merlo created for women facing harassement.
Merlo and Fox have become as close as two very different women can be. Soft-spoken Merlo is reclusive, working nights as a supervisor at the John Howard Society in St. John’s. Fox swears like a trucker, and is a “total Type A personality,” Merlo said.
“But yet together, the friendship has just blossomed,” Merlo said. “It’s a unique dynamic, that’s for sure.”
The first time Merlo met Fox in person was at the Vancouver airport, where Fox was waiting to pick Merlo up and bring her to court in 2013.
“A lot of the women were afraid to even be there in court, because they didn’t want their … face being associated with being part of the class action,” Merlo said. “So for Alice to just kind of put herself out there and be there by my side was very,” she paused.
“It means a lot to me to know she was willing to do that even through she was still employed and … going through her own battle,” she said.
At that time, Fox’s battle included working the RCMP’s internal harassment process. More recently, it has been learning her file was changed to a permanent 06 designation.
According to a grievance case study by the RCMP External Review Committee, a permanent 06 designation means a member is “no longer employable by the force in any capacity.”
The options for the member are voluntary discharge or medical discharge.
Fox’s initial reaction was shock and hurt. “I’m going into the mental brigade,” she said. “I’ll be medically discharged. It means they’re starting the process of discharge.”
“It’s in no one’s interest to have members on protracted medical leave,” according to the RCMP’s webpage on medically discharging members.
“We owe it to our fellow officers who rely on each other for support and backup, to manage our workforce responsibly. That is why we cannot, in good conscience, pay a full salary indefinitely to an employee whose health prevents them from performing duties within the RCMP.”
Fox had been off for four and a half years on medical leave, and was paid a full salary during that time.
Even though she said the RCMP should have discharged her earlier, the notice still hurt.
“Obviously you can’t be a police officer forever,” she said. “But how do you let go of everything you loved?”
For many RCMP officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, returning to civilian work can be difficult. Merlo works predominately alone as a night supervisor and said she would struggle with ordinary interactions that remind her of conflicts in the force.
“I don’t think after my experiences that I could go work in a normal setting and work with people anymore,” she said, tears choking her voice. “I get stressed out at the grocery store because I’m in the line and someone’s giving the poor clerk a hard time.
“I could just snap … and yell at them,” she continued. “So I work a job where I work alone.”
That’s not always the case, psychologist Jeff Morley said. Some people may get a PTSD diagnosis and never go back to work. Others can go on a graduated return to work. And still others can hop right back to what they were doing before.
Fox isn’t sure what her plans will be. But leaving the RCMP won’t be easy.
“I’ll tell you honestly, you can throw any dollar figure” at me with a lawsuit settlement, she said. “It’s still going to hurt.”
But, “I don’t need to be a police officer to help others,” Fox said. “I can do what I can do.”
Both Fox and Merlo are still in the middle of their lawsuits, but they are brainstorming ideas for ways to help other RCMP members and people struggling with PTSD when settlements are reached.
Together, they might start what Fox calls the “Janet Merlo Foundation” to help members or civilians who are suffering from PTSD. Merlo also mentioned the possibility of starting a company to investigate harassment claims for businesses and organizations.
But until Fox knows when she’ll be discharged from the RCMP, and how her lawsuit will turn out, she can’t make any plans for her future.
“I laid my life down before God and said, ‘I can’t do this no more. It’s up to you,’” she said, sitting on her couch next to her pug Homer, quietly snuffling in the background. “I’m just riding out God’s plan now. I have no control. I’ve had no control throughout this. And I’m okay with that.
“I think,” she added, laughing. “For the next 10 minutes anyway, I can guarantee it.”
This is the last in a series of articles on Alice Fox’s journey through the RCMP and her struggle with PTSD.