Monday, June 18, 2007

Full Inquiry into RCMP needed

I am not sure that we need to reconstruct an icon. Part of the problem in the first place is the iconic status of the RCMP. This makes it a sin to criticise or attack the RCMP. What we need is accountability for errors or wrongs by RCMP members no matter what their rank. I think that it is really hopeless to try and attack the blue veil culture. It is natural for police forces, indeed almost all organisations to adopt something of this sort. The medical profession does it too, and governments, it is part of survival when outside attacks threaten them. What is needed is external oversight that is able to force its way behind the veil. If corruption is bad enough and rank and file mad enough then the veil will be peirced at least temporarily. As the article notes the Canadian public has already had some glimpses behind the RCMP veil. Travers summarises quite well some of the reasons why a full inquiry would be a good idea. Protection for RCMP whistleblowers is a must although I doubt that anything can completely protect rank and file from punishment for revealing dirty linen at least such legislation would help.

Full inquiry into RCMP is needed
Jun 16, 2007 04:30 AM
James Travers


Stockwell Day is a politician of curious beliefs. Famously confused about evolution and the Niagara River's northerly flow, the public safety minister is currently convinced a public inquiry isn't needed to put the RCMP back on its horse after nasty falls.

Of those three assumptions, the third, predictably endorsed yesterday by David Brown's fast study of the pension mess, is most wrong-headed. One of the country's few remaining icons is broken and can only be painstakingly repaired in the full glare of daylight.

A replacement for defrocked commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli – too superficially wounded by Brown as a weak and arrogant manager – is a start. But that and the closed-door task force Brown recommends are no substitute for full scrutiny followed by an overhaul of a force sharing little with its postcard image or illustrious past.

That would be necessary if the RCMP problems stopped at pension abuses, its mystery intervention in the last election, the Maher Arar affair or bizarre and deadly operational failures. Sadly, those are only parts of a pattern.

With depressing regularity the RCMP wanders to the dark side. It has burned barns, dipped into federal sponsorship funds, spied on political parties and blinked at internal wrongs. Connect those dots and find two common denominators. One is an unstable relationship with politicians; the other is a cultish, xenophobic cohesiveness that thwarts oversight and reform.

At times, the RCMP bows to political pressure while more frequently hiding its tracks from its elected masters. Asia-Pacific protesters got the rough 1997 ride Jean Chr├ętien's handlers wanted while both the Arar and 1981 McDonald inquiries measured the distance between truth and what ministers were told.

The result is a poisonous mix of pragmatism and fear. Sensitive to its power and usefulness as well as keenly aware that the RCMP still commands more public esteem than politicians, parties default to its defence until the weight of evidence makes criticism safe.

So Liberals appointed the weak, very political Zaccardelli rather than search outside for leadership strong enough to challenge the status quo. Now Tories are perpetuating the myth that all that's really needed is a quick fix at the top.

It's not that easy. A new perspective is as vital to RCMP recovery as it is certain that its us-against-them culture will try to reject a transplant. Even that might be manageable if tarnished brass was the only problem. Instead, competence, structure and purpose are all in doubt.

Mountie and prisoner deaths in Alberta and B.C. suggest systemic training failure. Serving as a contract police force in every province except Ontario and Quebec creates organizational conflict and a dual personality. And it's far from clear that the real RCMP lionized by the fictional Sergeant Preston is ready to cope with 21st-century organized crime and security threats.

There's appeal in Brown's remedy of a timely task force focusing on modernizing the RCMP. Swift and cost-efficient, it would skirt public inquiry pitfalls while protecting politicians from the embarrassments of unscripted testimony. More compelling is his argument that further deconstruction of the pension scandal, beyond an OPP review, won't uncover anything new. After seven probes, enough is enough.

But Brown and Day short-change the RCMP and Canadians by not seizing the opportunity to publicly reconstruct an icon, piece by jagged piece.

James Travers' national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

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