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Thursday, February 07, 2008

RCMP's top cop admits to "urgent" challenges facing force

February 7, 2008
Becky Rynor, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA - After six months on the job, RCMP commissioner William Elliott said he remains "urgently aware" of challenges facing the force, not the least of which is rebuilding Canadians' trust in the RCMP.

Elliott faced a barrage of questions from the standing committee on Public Safety and National Security Wednesday ranging from Taser use and whether he has ever been Tasered, the fact that he is a civilian and not a career cop, the critical need for the RCMP to maintain its independence and the length of time it takes for the force to conduct investigations.

Elliott admitted the force has "significant weaknesses," which was underscored by a task force report entitled, "Rebuilding the Trust," released in December. "As proud as I am to be commissioner, and as proud as all of the women and men of the RCMP are, and as good as a police force as we are, we are also fully aware that there is an urgent need for us to change in order address a variety of problems," he told the committee.

The report found that the RCMP was rife with despair, disillusionment and anger among its rank and file. It also recommended major structural changes to the force and that it be given separate employer status from the government.

Elliott said as per the report's recommendations, he is establishing "a full-time change management team," to address some of the recommendations. With members drawn from across the force and across the country, he said its first "deliverable" will be "a detailed action plan . . . to build a more modern, more efficient, more effective and more accountable RCMP force."

Elliott told the committee that while he has experienced "many highs" in his still brief tenure, there have also been "far too many lows," including the deaths of two members of the RCMP, Const. Christopher Worden and Const. Douglas Scott. It was also marred by "the most unfortunate and disturbing death of Robert Dziekanski . . . a death we deeply regret," Elliott said. Dziekanski died after RCMP officers used a Taser on him at Vancouver International Airport in October.

One of the key recommendations from a review by the Public Complaints Commission on RCMP Taser use, was that the device be reclassified as an impact weapon, just below firearms or on the same level as the baton. Currently Tasers are classified as "intermediate" devices, in the same category as pepper spray.

While that recommendation has not been followed, Elliott said the force has "reviewed all of our policies and we certainly carefully considered the recommendations that came from the CPC . . . We agreed that some changes were necessary, but I guess there is a difference in view with respect to when it is appropriate to deploy a conducted energy device."

Elliott said the RCMP continues to work with the commission regarding its recommendations on Taser use, but he said, "we continue to believe that, used appropriately, it's a device that promotes both officer safety and public safety."

"Have you ever been Tasered," Liberal Member of Parliament Ujjal Dosanjh jokingly asked Elliott. "No I have not," he replied. He said also had not had pepper spray or a baton used on him.

NDP member of Parliament Penny Priddy said she is "very disturbed to see people's faith in the RCMP dropping," and asked what the new Commissioner is doing to rebuild Canadians' trust and confidence in the RCMP.

"I wish there were a simple answer about how to rebuild the public's confidence in the RCMP," Elliott said. "I certainly think that we need to be more proactive with respect to our communications, I think we need to be more upfront with acknowledging the problems that we have . . . Unfortunately, the task force report sets out a litany of issues that we need to address," he said.

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