Take the opportunity now to fix the RCMP

By GEORGE BROWN

Off The Record

When William Elliott was appointed in July 2007 as the first civilian RCMP commissioner, I supported the move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After a succession of career Mounties had dragged the red serge through the mud it was obvious at the time the once proud force could not be polished up and set right by someone within the ranks. The government had no choice but to look to a plainclothes bureaucrat to assume command.

Clearly, if the government thought the RCMP had capable, trustworthy staff at the top that could be expected to reform the RCMP from within it would not have had to take the unusual step of passing the reins from Mountie to civilian. Elliott was seen as a breath of fresh air, a new broom that could sweep out the corruption, restore order in the ranks and regain public trust. A special investigation observed then the RCMP was “horribly broken.”

With the allegations now being levelled at Elliott by rank and file members, and his subsequent decision to step aside this summer, the leadership merry-go-round as come full circle. It might be too soon to determine whether the government made the wrong decision in appointing a civilian to run a paramilitary organization or whether it simply appointed the wrong man to the job.

Regardless, the venerable national institution is really no better off. Elliot’s best decision — and he was slow in making any — was to quit.

The RCMP needed transformation, not turbulence, and Elliott’s brash style was not working’

In the RCMP, as with the military, Mounties need a strong leader they can rally behind.

I’m certainly no expert in police matters but I do deal with them every week in one way or another. I believe in a police force that works with the community to meet its goals in the matters of safety, crime prevention and justice. I’ve been the head of a municipal police commission, Crime Stoppers chairman, and I count a few Mounties among my friends. I’ve shared a tipple or two with members who, once lubricated, expressed their frustrations with the culture that has developed within the force. I’ve seen good cops leave the RCMP for better pay and greater job satisfaction as welders.

RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar testified before a parliamentary public safety committee that Elliott has been abusive and disrespectful of the force’s management team, creating a negative working environment among members. It’s been suggested the RCMP needs the oversight of a civilian board of management to become a police agency for the new millennium. Sometimes it seems the RCMP is stuck in 1951.

A task force report ignored by the government recommends important changes to the structure and governance of the RCMP. One recommendation was to establish the RCMP as a separate entity from the federal government, giving it full authority to manage its finances and manpower. Another recommendation was to create a civilian board of management to provide overall stewardship of the force that would be accountable to the minister and Parliament. The third key recommendation was the creation of an Independent Commission for Complaints and Oversight of the RCMP. The findings of this body in the matters of discipline and grievance would be binding on the commissioner.

It’s time to dust off that report.

In our communities we want the frontline RCMP to focus on criminals and solving crime. We see the men and women in grey shirts on our streets, coaching our sports teams, alongside us buying groceries and we respect the work they do to keep us safe. We don’t see the bureaucratic machinery that fatally screwed up the Air India bombing case, tried to misdirect the investigation into the Dziekanski death by Taser, and that mishandled the deployment of officers at the Roszko farm at Mayerthorpe.

The RCMP on our streets are not directly accountable to you or your town council. We don’t want town councillors telling the police what to do or what not to do but a new commissioner needs to instill a culture of accountability and transparency within the RCMP that is fundamentally absent.

The one thing Elliott and his detractors seems to agree upon is that his successor should be a Mountie.

And that it’s time for him to leave.