New Government Should Start by Making the RCMP More Accountable

Photo by Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey. CC.

Now that there’s a new Liberal government in power in Ottawa, one can only hope that a new public safety minister will make it a priority to address the myriad problems created by the Harper government in the criminal justice system over the past 10 years. In addition to reinstating conditional sentences and abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and victim fine surcharges, the new Public Safety Minister should focus on making major changes to the management structure and accountability of the RCMP. Ever since the Conservative government came to power many experts believe they’ve made ludicrous appointments that have had a disastrous impact on the reputation and credibility of the RCMP. According to many pundits, a new public safety minister should immediately replace Bob Paulson, the current Commissioner of the RCMP. Although there are many reasons for replacing him, several are particularly noteworthy.

First, the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC) called for Bob Paulson’s resignation earlier this year. In May 2015 the RCMP were charged with four counts under the Canada Labour Code in relation to the tragic shooting deaths of three officers and the wounding of two other officers in Moncton New Brunswick back in June 2014. The charges under Section 148(1) of the Labour Code, are related to equipment, training and supervision of officers who responded when the gunman opened fire at officers in Moncton.

The MPPAC applauded the laying of these charges and stated that the RCMP’s failure to equip front-line officers with adequate equipment such as patrol carbines and body armour may have contributed to the Moncton tragedy. As MPPAC spokesperson Rob Creasser stated: “For us, we see the force trying to protect its reputation rather than its members, which in a policing organization is the worst kind of leadership failure. Our members deserve better,” said Creasser.

Another area that has been a complete failure has been the RCMP’s inability and ineffectiveness at dealing with sexual harassment in the RCMP. When Bob Paulson was sworn in as Commissioner of the RCMP his marching orders from the Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews was to tackle this issue as his number one priority. In June 2013, Bob Paulson appeared before a Senate Committee and gave a rather bizarre account detailing his take on sexual harassment in the force.

Paulson did not appear to be concerned about the class action lawsuit filed by more than 300 former and current RCMP female constables in the RCMP. In his response to a question from Senator Grant Mitchell he stated: “I don’t know of the hundreds of complainants you refer to.” Mitchell responded, “There are 300 cases.” Paulson replied, “its’ a game of cat and mouse, in my estimate.” “It’s not a game,” said Mitchell.

“I can’t be continually defending against outlandish claims,” Paulson replied. Dan Donovan, Ottawa Life Magazine’s Editor and Publisher, stated on CBC radio that it was the most disgraceful performance he has ever witnessed by a Commissioner of the RCMP before a government Committee.

Third, a class action lawsuit filed in Vancouver against the RCMP in October 2015, claims that the RCMP breached the privacy of a number of Mounties by wrongfully disclosing their mental health records. The MPPAC pointed out that Dr. Mike Webster who had built a career on treating members with mental health issues had become the target of a vendetta by the RCMP because he had been publically outspoken about the callous manner in which they treated members who became psychologically ill on thejob. The RCMP went so far as to file a complaint against Dr. Webster with the College of Psychologists which was immediately dismissed. The MPPAC points out in their press release ‘that documents show that the decision was made at the very top, with Commissioner Paulson reviewing and approving the submission to the College.

In addition, there have been a number of incidents where Bob Paulson has publically made derogatory comments about members such as Cpl. Ronald Francis who was suffering from mental illness. Cpl. Francis suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder and was filmed smoking marijuana in an RCMP uniform. Instead of showing compassion and understanding towards the officer and getting him help, the RCMP subjected him to public humiliation when they arrived at his residence and confiscated his uniform in full view of the media. He later committed suicide.

In addition to replacing Bob Paulson, the new public safety minister has to completely overhaul the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. You will recall that every time the RCMP were in hot water the Conservatives trotted out the refrain that they were amending the RCMP Act and that they would be introducing newer and tougher measures to deal with wrongdoing by members of the RCMP. Presumably these changes would ensure accountability with the RCMP and would also provide the public with confidence that their complaints against members would be investigated fairly and impartially.

The problem is that when you look at this so called Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP there is really nothing ‘civilian’ about it. Of the 11 employees who are the top decision makers for this organization, only two employees – the Chair, Ian McPhail (handpicked by the Conservatives for the job) and a lawyer – are civilian. Five employees who occupy senior positions in the Commission are held by retired RCMP officers and four were seconded directly from the RCMP. How can anyone call this Commission an independent and impartial organization for investigating and adjudicating complaints against the RCMP?

The public deserves better, but this is a clear example of how the Conservative government operated by giving the appearance of doing something when in fact all they were doing is preserving the status quo. The staffing process for the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP needs to be overhauled so that ‘civilians’ and not retired or current members of the RCMP hold management positions. Without such changes, what confidence can the public have that their complaints will be investigated in a non-biased and non-prejudicial manner? The very purpose for having an oversight body is to ensure that it will function at arm’s length from the RCMP. Without this independence such an organization lacks credibility. The new public safety minister should make it a priority to clean house so that the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission can be trusted by the public to investigate complaints against the RCMP in a fair and impartial manner. The current situation where the majority of senior management positions are held by former and retired RCMP officers makes a complete mockery of accountability. The new Liberal government has to change this now.

The views expressed are those of the author in his personal capacity.

Darryl T Davies is an Instructor in criminology and criminal justice with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University.