Ottawa Citizen - August 30, 2011
By Colin Kenny
With his majority government, Stephen Harper could offer Canadians two gifts the country has been yearning for: an RCMP Commissioner capable of transforming Canada’s national police force, and the resources to make that possible.
Canadians should not be terribly worried about who will become the next commissioner, because there are at least half a dozen candidates out there with the right values who are either serving, or who have served, with the RCMP. One of them should get the job.
But let’s leave the winnowing of candidates to Stephen Rigby, the recently appointed national security advisor, who chairs the selection committee that will provide the prime minister with a recommendation by the end of September.
Canadians should be more concerned with the prospect that this government will continue to deny the RCMP the new structures and resources needed to set up the commissioner for success. Experts on the workings of the RCMP have repeatedly pointed to the need for these resources. But most of their recommendations are gathering dust, strangely ignored by a government that keeps insisting that one of its top priorities is law and order.
What does the RCMP need to police Canada humanely and efficiently?
First and foremost, the RCMP needs a civilian board composed of people who understand how to manage large organizations. Leadership shouldn’t be a lonely job. Virtually every police service in Canada has a civilian board that helps guide chiefs in making strategic, non-operational decisions.
Police chiefs need to be tough, firm and resistant to untoward pressures. But they also need to listen, discuss, convince, and a civilian board should be part of this process.
The commissioner should be the RCMP’s chief executive officer (CEO), and he should be provided with a chief operating officer (COO). The CEO’s job involves so much policy, strategy, communications and leadership that it’s hard to find time for making day-to-day decisions. Let the COO be the point man for making those decisions, always subject to the CEO’s approval.
The RCMP needs a responsive civilian complaints process, through which RCMP employees and members of the public can bring their grievances and officers accused of transgressions can have their cases heard in a fair and transparent way. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario isn’t perfect, but employing it to examine grievances certainly beats calling in outside police services to examine allegations. Canadians are fed up with police investigating police, with good reason.
The RCMP should also be given separate employers status, to allow its leadership the flexibility and mobility to place resources where they are needed, without going through the endless bureaucratic hoops set out by the Treasury Board and other components of the federal bureaucracy.
The prime minister should re-introduce legislation to allow the RCMP to form a union. Nearly all Canadian police services have unions, and provisions are made so that officers can’t walk off the job or fail to provide services in a way that Canadian society requires. One of the main causes of malaise within the RCMP is that discipline is so arbitrary. Most RCMP officers work extremely hard and only want a square deal when either bosses or their subordinates step out of line.
Finally, the RCMP needs money. The service needs between 5,000 and 7,000 additional uniformed officers to do its job. That’s going to be expensive, but hiring those people makes far more sense than building a vast new network of prisons. Preventing crime beats punishing criminals.
I would have to be addled to hold out any hope that the government will come through with more money for Canada’s national police force during its ballyhooed spending restraint initiative, coming to everyone’s neighbourhood soon. So, on the money issue, one can only hope someone sees the light someday soon.
On the other proposed reforms, the light shouldn’t be that hard to see. And since they don’t involve much money, why wouldn’t a government that says it wants the strongest possible instruments to maintain law and order want to implement them?
The RCMP needs to be revitalized. Let’s give the new commissioner a fighting chance.
[Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca]