By Darryl T Davies
The colossal understatement of the year has to be that from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. In a recent interview when he was asked about the idea of civilian oversight for the RCMP he commented “It would be a massive change in the way the institution has operated for over a century” and “require careful thought”. Just how much careful thought is needed to recognize and take action to overhaul the management of the RCMP at RCMP Headquarters? Consider their performance in recent years.
First, it is now widely recognized from the ruling by provincial court Judge R. Leslie Jackson that the RCMP grossly bungled and mismanaged the delivery of equipment to front line officers, such as patrol carbines and body vests. By failing to exercise duty of care they placed their front line officers lives at risk. In the view of many this contributed directly to the number of officers that were shot and killed in Moncton in June 2014. It is remarkable that nine years earlier when four Mounties were killed in Mayerthorpe by a deranged gunman, that RCMP officers were seriously lacking in adequate firepower and body vests. Despite overwhelming evidence the RCMP did nothing substantive to address this gap in the arsenal of the rank and file. Much like our current public safety minister Ralph Goodale they claimed they needed to give the matter careful thought. For RCMP management nine years evidently was not enough time but this was not a view shared by Judge R. Leslie Jackson when he convicted the RCMP in September 2017 in a Moncton courtroom.
Second, the RCMP paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars earlier this year to members of the rank and file who were bullied and subject to sexual harassment for years. The fact they did not fire one single officer in the senior ranks who was responsible for this predatory behaviour defies logic but then again if history is anything to go by with the RCMP they probably needed time like nine years to study the problem.
Third, then we have RCMP management who are so out of touch with what’s going on in their organization that they were not even aware that some of their employees were running around stark naked and flashing their genitals to all and sundry at the RCMP Police College. What a ringing endorsement for an organization that is fixated on its public image.
Fourth, this past March both the Auditor General of Canada and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP released damning reports highlighting the fact that the RCMP is in every sense of the word a dysfunctional organization. Both reports set out clear recommendations outlining what is wrong with the organization and how to fix the problem. Despite this fact the public safety minister has stated on the record that he needs to study the problem. There have been innumerable reports that have been produced in the past five years setting out a blue print for changing the RCMP and yet not one public safety minister has had the wherewithal to have their recommendations implemented.
Any organization that operated the way the RCMP have operated would have been disbanded years ago. How many public safety ministers and how many years does it take for governments to fix a problem? In many respects we should be grateful for the fact that we have independent and impartial courts of law in Canada or nothing would change for the better. For many observers who are knowledgeable about the problems in policing, public safety ministers have been carrying around a picket fence with them for so long that the best they can offer when confronted with a major crisis is to sit on it. The fact that nothing changes is a sad commentary but it speaks clearly to the fact that when it comes to fixing the RCMP the problem is due to the four horsemen of political inaction namely inertia, ignorance, apathy and cost.
Fifth, in recent years there have been an inordinate number of lawsuits launched against the RCMP. Many of these lawsuits have been filed by individuals in the rank and file who have endured years of horrific abuse and maltreatment. These lawsuits have been filed at considerable cost to the taxpayers of this country and this is largely due to the fact that RCMP management are so incompetent that they can’t see or refuse to see a problem when it’s staring them in the face. Earlier this year a judge called the RCMP’s treatment of a sergeant ‘outrageous’ in a bullying case. The judge described the RCMP’s actions against Sgt Peter Merrifield as reckless and awarded the plaintiff $41,000 in lost wages for delayed advancement and $100,000 in general damages. The judge slammed the RCMP for its lack of credibility and forthrightness in defending the case.
In recent months a number of very brave and honourable members in the RCMP rank and file like Corporal Patrick Bouchard have been speaking publically about the way they have been treated by senior management in the RCMP and its inadequate leadership. Although it’s an internal disciplinary offence to criticize the RCMP in public a number of very courageous members within the Force have called out the organization for its dysfunctional and lack lustre leadership. In my view these officers should receive the Order of Canada for having the courage to speak out about the malignancy that is infecting the highest levels of the organization.
Sixth, recently the former president of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada Rae Banwarie tendered his resignation from the RCMP. In doing so his letter chronicled the reasons for leaving the RCMP. When people of his calibre give up on the organization it should send a clear message as to why so many members are quitting the force and why the RCMP’s recruitment program is floundering. Rae Banwarie’s letter should be read in the House of Commons to every member of parliament so they and all Canadians can learn about the extent of the problems in our national police service. It’s a fair question to ask who wants to work for an organization that as BC psychologist Mike Webster stated a few years ago will make you sick?
When you factor in the rampant patronage at RCMP headquarters and the view by some observers that they are using archaic and obsolete training methods one could cogently make a case that the RCMP is already at the point of no return. If there is any luminosity in this bleak picture it’s the rank and file. Despite serious staffing shortages that are causing occupational stress for RCMP members the vast majority of them are continuing to provide our communities with stellar policing services across the country often at great cost to their health and personal lives. This is not the time to be making political platitudes while the institution is at the edge of the abyss.
Instead of wasting time claiming he is going to study the problem, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale should do something concrete and now. For starters, he could make major management and structural changes at RCMP Headquarters. The evidence that management is to blame for the RCMP’s Pandora’s box is overwhelming. In addition, he should immediately take measures to establish a civilian review board so that it’s in place before the next Commissioner is appointed. Finally, he can make the process for selecting the next Commissioner of the RCMP transparent, open and accountable. The time for studying the problem has long passed.
Darryl T Davies is an instructor in criminology and criminal justice in the department of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University. Professor Davies was a crown witness at the Labour Canada trial against the RCMP in Moncton, New Brunswick.