Toronto Star - April 4, 2011
By Colin Kenny
With William Elliott’s stormy days as commissioner of Canada’s national police force sputtering to an end, it is time to ponder a new approach to resuscitating the RCMP.
Prime Minister Harper chose Elliott, a long-time public servant, to stop the bleeding two years ago. The bleeding continues. It is a big mistake to blame all that on Elliott ¬- the trail of neglect leads to the prime minister.
It’s not just that Harper didn’t choose the right person for the commissioner’s job. It’s also that he didn’t give Elliott what he needed to do the job.
If the RCMP and its officers aren’t given the time, resources and training to perform in a reasonable, non-stressed way, Canadians can expect more of the ugly incidents that have marred the service’s image over the past decade. They can also expect more crime on the streets ¬- particularly gang activity among young people.
The key to an RCMP turnaround is respect ¬- respect on the part of officers for the law and the public, as well as respect for fellow officers up and down the line of command. Various reports have detailed the deterioration of respect within the RCMP.
Unfortunately, the person the prime minister chose to fix this problem showed little respect for his own senior officers, succumbing to temper tantrums when they dared to stand up to him.
But the Commissioner has only been part of the problem -¬ the RCMP can’t do its job within its current budget. David McAusland, Chair of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, has issued five reports since he and his fellow commissioners signed on to help facilitate the reform process. Every one warned the government that significant new financial investments would have to be made to stop officer burnout and improve both morale and performance.
The truth is that if the RCMP is to do all the jobs that Parliament has given it, it should have about 5,000 more officers ¬- more than 20 percent more than it has now.
In terms of legislation, so far the government’s response to its own expert advice as to what is needed has been extremely disappointing. The government introduced several bills to reform the RCMP before the election was called.
They were inadequate.
Bill C-38 would still have had police officers investigating other police officers in cases of police wrong doing. The Canadian public is fed up with this dodge. The government should have modeled its legislation on the Ontario system, under which civilians investigate police. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigates when officers are accused of crimes involving death, serious injuries or sexual assault. The Independent Police Review Directorate handles lesser allegations.
There was no provision in the government’s legislation for an independent civilian board to oversee the administration of the RCMP. Such a board might have nipped Elliott’s behavioral problems in the bud. Also missing was any provision to give the RCMP independent employer status, so it can get on with allocating its budget in the best interests of good policing without constant interference from Treasury Board.
There was nothing in any of the legislation to give the Commissioner the authority to quickly get rid of officers who have clearly disgraced the service. Currently, most of these people have to be kept on staff at full pay for years before they can be dismissed.
Interestingly, some of the government’s stillborn legislation would have required more RCMP officers. But the money needed to fund expansion remains behind bars ¬- locked in the government’s nonsensical jail-building crusade.
How can a prime minister who is so philosophically committed to freedom be so fascinated with locks and keys? Why does he worship the discredited American approach of locking offenders away instead of trying to reduce people’s proclivity to offend by investing more in social work, treatment for mental illness and drug addiction, as well as good, solid policing?
Perhaps what the prime minister wants to do is create a self-fulfilling prophecy. A second-rate RCMP will indeed lead to more crime. And then Stephen Harper will finally be proven right. We will need his jails.
[Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. firstname.lastname@example.org]