You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Colby Cosh: Commissioner Elliott drinks the RCMP Kool-Aid

March 24, 2009
Colby Cosh, National Post

When star bureaucrat William Elliott was named the first civilian commissioner of the RCMP in 2006, I was skeptical. The all-but-explicit idea behind the appointment was to bring in someone who was free enough of prejudices, closet skeletons and cronies to be able to whip the force back into shape. Unfortunately, a civilian running a hierarchical, uniformed agency with a history of splendour and renown is likely to be more vulnerable to the romance, not less. How long would it take before Elliott was defending indefensible behaviour on the part of his Mounties to the public, instead of representing the public interest to the force?

Answer: Not too long. In Kandahar on Sunday, while discussing the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski, Elliott pleaded for understanding. Canadians, he said, were mocking the officers’ apparent terror of an office stapler because civilians have "a tendency to want to look at situations as black and white situations [sic]." "I do not believe that most Canadians have an appreciation as to how difficult the situations our officers find themselves in are," he added. "They don’t realize how quickly things happen and they don’t realize how quickly often unfortunately bad things happen … Fortunately we live in a country, unlike [Afghanistan], where most Canadians do not encounter violence or threatening situations up close and personal."

Well, I’ve accidentally stapled my thumb before, and I have to admit, it does hurt like a bastard. But I’d really like Elliott to stand in front of a roomful of taxicab drivers, whose profession traditionally exposes them to a risk of homicide literally an order of magnitude higher than the police, and repeat those words. As it happens, plenty of Canadians are in an equally good position to have gained experience of "threatening situations": truck drivers, private security guards, clerks at liquor stores and gas stations.

The difference is, these people mostly aren’t allowed to protect themselves with handguns, chemical sprays and state-of-the-art body armour. Nor can they carry Tasers — the super-safe miracle weapon that, for some mysterious reason, almost no one in Canada but a peace officer is legally permitted to carry. And if a graveyard-shift 7-Eleven employee should happen to kill or injure someone in self-defence, he is certainly unlikely to have his actions scrutinized with the generosity that B.C. prosecutors exercised in deciding not to charge the Vancouver Four with a crime.

Elliott knows perfectly well — and if he doesn’t, maybe he should be paying closer attention — that retired policemen have participated in criticism of RCMP actions in the Dziekanski case. No one wants to second-guess any first responder, but Elliott is clearly unaware just how unprecedented and disillusioning an exercise the Dziekanski inquiry has been.

He doesn’t want us to judge split-second decisions? How about the decision by the cops not to use their first aid skills on a dying man? Was that some kind of snap judgment deserving our sympathy and deference? How about the positive interference the cops offered to ambulance crews when they finally arrived? Isn’t Richmond, B.C., fire-rescue Captain Kirby Graeme, who described these actions and characterized them as "unprofessional," someone who knows a lot about "how quickly bad things can happen"?

And how does Elliott’s "don’t judge" directive apply to the inaccurate notes made by the officers on the scene before they knew there would be publicly accessible video of the incident? Kwesi Millington, who pulled the electric trigger on Dziekanski five times, wrote that "the male swung the stapler wildly with his arm at the members" and had to be "wrestled to the ground." Bill Bentley wrote, "Subject grabbed stapler and came at members screaming." Gerry Rundel described him as having used "superhuman strength" in fighting off the officers.

All of these misstatements have had to be retracted because of the existence of Paul Pritchard’s footage, which the RCMP, let’s not forget, tried to suppress. (The mysterious destruction of a videotape taken from an RCMP van involved in the Curtis Dagenais shootout suggests that they’ve learned no lessons — or, perhaps, that they’ve learned them only too well.)

One is reluctant to call the Vancouver Four’s fictions "lies," but one also notices the inaccuracies all have a tendency to justify the actions of and exonerate the four. Perhaps exaggerating wildly in official notes on a killing is just another one of those stress-driven decisions we’re not allowed to sit in judgment on, along with the inaccuracies propagated by the RCMP’s publicity arm in the immediate aftermath of the incident. As long as Commissioner Elliott is in Afghanistan, he may wish to ask some of our reconnaissance experts there if they think this really looks like a hill worth dying on — either for him, or the RCMP brand.

No comments: