The commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Thursday issued an apology to current and former female officers and current employees of the force who suffered bullying and harassment dating as far back as 1974 when women were first admitted into the force.

Commissioner Bob Polson also announced that the federal government is setting aside $100 million to settle two class-action lawsuits against the Mounties stemming from allegations of harassment.

Hundreds of women who had served with or continue to be in the RCMP, as well as civilian members of the force, said they were victims of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, and assault. However, many of them found their complaints ignored by their superiors. Others suffered anguish and had to leave the forces, there were many whose lives and relationships were destroyed.

Former RCMP members Janet Merlo and Linda Gillis Davidson filed class-action suits against the RCMP.

Davidson, who filed her lawsuit in the Ontario Supreme Court, said she suffered unwanted sexual advances and repeated harassment during her 27-year career. Merlo, who filed her suit in British Columbia, said her post-traumatic stress disorder was caused by the multiple sexual harassments she experienced.

It appeared Paulson was close to tears when he said during a press conference in Ottawa:  “To all the women, I stand humbly before you today and solemnly offer our sincere apology.”

He said it was a historic moment for the national police force when women were allowed to join the RCMP.

“You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry,” said Paulson. “You can take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference. Because of you, your courage and your refusal to be silenced, the RCMP will never be the same.”

Also, present during the conference were Merlo and Davidson, as well as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.

Paulson a settlement agreement was filed in the two lawsuits on behalf of current and former female regular, civilian and public service employees of the RCMP. The settlement is still subject to approval by the Federal Court.

However, the commissioner said, the agreement sets out two main elements: the continued organizational changes within the Mounties; and an independent claims process and compensation scheme for all women who experienced gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, bullying, and harassment in the RCMP from September 16, 1974, to the date the agreement receives approval.

Paulson said there will be no cap on the cost of the payouts.

There is no cap on the potential cost of the payouts, he added.