Guarding the Guardians

Fixing the RCMP is not my beef, but this is hard to resist.

Arar is right; Zaccardelli stepping down is no solution, but neither is another public inquiry where results are shelved:

Mending the Mounties

Thirty years after the McDonald Commission, the RCMP finds itself at another crossroads

Chris Selley, Macleans.ca
Updated Friday,
December 8, 2006, at 10:47 EST

The federal government now knows who shouldn’t be the RCMP’s commissioner. But as much of a relief as it may be to see the back of Giuliano Zaccardelli, the real challenge is to re-establish the Mounties’ stiff-spined, incorruptible image among Canadians. And that won’t be easy.

As James Travers pointed out in Thursday’s Toronto Star, the RCMP has been in similarly dire straits before. Almost exactly 30 years ago, the weight of several embarrassing scandals precipitated a Royal Commission. Whether the force’s plight in the late 1970s and early 1980s was more or less severe than now depends on which image is worse for a once world-renowned police force: purposeful corruption or accidental ineptitude.

Established in 1977, the
McDonald Commission investigated “certain activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” And what activities they were. Over the course of the 1970s, the Mounties engineered several notorious break-ins. They let themselves into separatist organizations such as the Agence de Presse Libre du Québec and the Mouvement pour la Défense des Prisonniers Politiques Québécois; they stole a list of party members from Parti Québécois headquarters. In the end, Assistant RCMP Commissioner Thomas Venner admitted to the inquiry that his force had conducted more than 400 illegal break-ins since 1970.

Even more notorious was the matter of
convicted FLQ terrorist Paul Rose‘s mother’s barn. In May of 1972, the Mounties believed that separatist elements were going to use the barn to meet with representatives of the Black Panthers, but couldn’t convince a judge to grant a wiretap warrant. So they burned it down.
There are many parallels to the RCMP’s current position. The McDonald Commission followed a decade of RCMP reaction to the FLQ Crisis, Canada’s first and only brush with domestic terrorism. The current RCMP crisis – especially as it relates to the Maher Arar affair – follows five years of reaction to the events of September 11, 2001.


The McDonald Commission’s chief recommendation was to get the RCMP mostly out of the national security business by establishing
CSIS. Now what? The Arar Commission, led by Justice Dennis O’Connor, has thus far offered 23 helpful suggestions, which Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day insists the government is working to adopt. Some of them – for example, that “The RCMP should ensure that information provided to other countries is reliable and accurate” – seem frighteningly basic. But the Arar case, in which faulty information shared with the United States led to an innocent Canadian being tortured in Syria, has proven that they can hardly be taken for granted.

O’Connor points to “a need for a more coherent connection between Canadian agencies when dealing with terrorism investigations.” Among his other recommendations: better training for officers involved in national security investigations; that information sharing policies “be subject to review by an independent, arms-length review body”; and that other countries’ human rights records should be examined when such information is being shared with them. (More general observations and recommendations on RCMP oversight and independence are expected next week, when O’Connor releases the “Policy Review” portion of his report.)

Assuming these recommendations hold the key to RCMP salvation, who best to lead the charge? On Thursday, The Globe and Mail
identified four candidates for Commissioner, all of whom are currently deputy commissioners: Pierre-Yves Bourduas, Bev Busson, Barbara George and Timothy Killam

But some wonder if promotion from within is the right way to go. Even if the Arar affair could be entirely attributed to Zaccardelli’s leadership, there are plenty of other issues for the RCMP to confront.
Most notably, at least from an internal perspective, officers are reportedly deeply unsatisfied with the limited explanations they have received regarding two tragedies that shook the force to its core: James Roszko singlehandedly
killing four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in March of 2005, and Curtis Dagenais killing two others in Mildred, Saskatchewan this past summer.

An officer in Prince George escaped sanction for allegedly having sex with underage prostitutes.
An inquiry has been launched into how Ian Bush, a 22-year-old mill worker, came to die at the Houston, B.C. RCMP detachment from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Auditor General Sheila Fraser recently raked the Mounties’ pension fund over the coals.

As the Globe’s
Lawrence Martin recently noted, there’s also the curious publicization of the investigation into a possible Liberal leak on income trusts during the last election campaign. And the threats to freedom of the press inherent in the raid on the Ottawa Citizen’s Juliet O’Neill. And the connections with the sponsorship scandal. It goes on and on.

Quoted in Thursday’s Globe, Wesley Wark – president of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies –
argued that among the tough choices the RCMP should make is putting a totally new voice at the top. “I would suggest the next commissioner has to come from outside the force,” he said. “That will be a blow for the RCMP itself, but it will also be a signal for change.”

Former justice minister Irwin Cotler and NDP leader have both made supportive noises about that idea. But it would make a major departure. There is no modern precedent for an outsider being brought in to lead the RCMP, and it has the potential to cause more problems than it would solve. Former Solicitor General Wayne Easter, for one, has
expressed concern that such a choice would have an uphill battle winning respect among the rank and file.

“Somebody within the RCMP who has come up through the system, I think, would have a lot more respect from the force,” Easter told the Canadian Press.

Respect from the force, though, may this time take a back seat to respect from the public. Justice O’Connor’s next report will focus on how to beef up oversight, and the RCMP’ss salvation may indeed lie in systemic changes. But winning back Canadians’ confidence won’t be that easy. Only when the Mounties are trusted to respond to events like the October Crisis or 9/11 by following their own rules – instead of bending or breaking them – will the next commissioner’s mandate be considered a success.

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