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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top Mounties failing in leadership role, watchdog says - Critics pan RCMP's reluctance to change its ways

August 13, 2009
Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail

RCMP brass are failing to live up to the legendary can-do spirit of the Mounties and are undermining the efforts of provincial divisions that are striving to modernize the force, watchdog Paul Kennedy said Wednesday.

Mr. Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, was joined by critics who panned the RCMP's reluctance this week to change the way its officers are investigated following in-custody deaths and other serious incidents involving the public.

Mr. Kennedy said he expected more than a defensive reaction from the RCMP, pointing to the force's frequent references to the “man of action” mentality of legendary Mountie Sam Steele.

“These are people who I thought used to confront a problem and do something about it,” said Mr. Kennedy, adding the RCMP is at a point in its history where it can “be a leader or a follower.”

A government spokesman suggested that Ottawa will continue to push reforms on the RCMP following incidents such as the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport, and the force's involvement with Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen deported to and tortured in Syria.

The RCMP has said internal reforms are under way, guided by the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, which last provided an update on its work in March.

“We have been very pleased with [the council's] work to date. However, there's much more work to be done,” said Christopher McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan.

On Tuesday, the RCMP rejected a CPC report that said Mounties involved in serious incidents, such as the death of a member of the public, should not be investigated by their colleagues to avoid a “perceived risk of bias or intimidation.”

Mr. Kennedy accused the RCMP of failing to take a leadership role when it resisted changes to its taser policy, and said it now runs the same risk in the matter of internal investigations.

He said he was not impressed by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott's response to his report urging the national police force to let outside agencies investigate serious incidents involving its officers.

“You saw [Mr. Elliott's] answer; he has a draft policy of some kind,” Mr. Kennedy said.

He added that the response by the top Mountie reinforces the notion that the RCMP is refusing to change, even as four provincial divisions have already moved to improve their policy on internal investigations.

“The unfortunate thing here is that it portrays the image of a force that is reluctant to do something. That is really unfortunate because it belittles, and to some extent undermines, the significant effort that is being put in place by some divisions,” Mr. Kennedy said.

The public battle between Mr. Elliott and Mr. Kennedy is caused by the federal government's failure to act on long-standing calls for a beefed-up oversight body for the RCMP, critics said.

“This requires the intervention of the government,” said Liberal MP Mark Holland, who said Ottawa's inaction is inexcusable. “Does a recommendation need to be made 10, 15, 20 times before it is implemented?”

Wesley Wark, an expert on security matters at the University of Toronto, said the RCMP obviously “doesn't like to be pushed” by the CPC. He said the government must introduce legislation addressing the need to change the RCMP's internal operations.

“I am astounded that there hasn't been more progress,” Prof. Wark said.

Mr. Elliott could not be reached for comment yesterday. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said he would prefer that Mounties not be investigated by their fellow RCMP officers, but it is impractical in remote communities to do otherwise. He criticized the CPC report for being negative and “bleak.”

There have been calls for increased oversight of the RCMP for years, including the O'Connor inquiry that looked at the role of Canadian authorities in Mr. Arar's torture in Syria.

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