December 18, 2007
The Edmonton Journal
After recent years of scandal, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Canadians who think the national police force needs more independence and less governance. Yet that was the key recommendation of the federal task force on RCMP governance and culture released last week.
The task force is forthright in its call for a "major overhaul" of the RCMP. Commissioner Bill Elliott followed up with clear statements that also reflect what Canadians have felt for some time: "There is simply no other option. The RCMP must change."
But this report would take us down the wrong road: toward less accountability to a public shocked by incidents ranging from the recent Taser death of a Polish immigrant in Vancouver to leaks about a criminal investigation in the finance department that affected the outcome of the 2006 election.
The report recommends taking the RCMP out of the federal bureaucracy and making it an autonomous agency, with a civilian management board to oversee its financial affairs, resources, property and procurement.
But a more independent RCMP would have even less reason to listen to concerns of the community about Taser use or reluctance to release timely information to the public on serious crimes. The fact is, the public has no way to apply pressure to an appointed civilian oversight board if, for instance, another pension scandal emerged.
If anything, the force has suffered because its political masters have declined to heed warning signs of trouble. For instance, it was only when then-commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli appeared before a Parliamentary committee that the public finally got a full accounting of the RCMP role in the case of the Maher Arar affair.
As Edmontonians know, civilian police commissions aren't known for feisty independence and tend to side with the police because, well, they don't report directly to the community. For that reason, Edmonton city council put two councillors back on the police commission a few years ago.
The RCMP report also calls for scrapping the independent Public Complaints Commission, which hears civilian complaints of police misconduct. That office would be rolled into one ombudsman-style office that would also handle internal employee grievances.
The new watchdog, the Independent Commission for Complaints and Oversight, would have the power to make decisions binding on the RCMP commission on discipline. That's potentially a step forward for accountability. Currently, the civilian watchdog has no power to order any remedy if a civilian complaint is upheld. The new office would report to the civilian management board, one step removed from the elected authorities. The commission would have to ensure its reports were made public.
Certainly, the relationship between police and politicians is a delicate one. No democracy can tolerate political meddling in policing. But such meddling is not the issue here. The problem is a police force with too much power held by the top brass and which operates as if it is law unto itself.
The remedy is to make sure the elected representatives who are currently responsible for RCMP oversight take their role seriously, and do it effectively.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
December 18, 2007