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Thursday, December 10, 2009

EDITORIAL: Official reaction further tarnishes RCMP reputation

December 10, 2009
The Star Phoenix

From the standpoint of citizens whose interests ostensibly are served by the RCMP and the federal government, the response by both agencies to public complaints commission chair Paul Kennedy's scathing report into Robert Dziekanski's death is as dismaying as it is infuriating.

For his part, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott's response to the report, which characterized police conduct in the case and the Mounties' subsequent actions as a "defining moment in the history of the RCMP," was to suggest that Mr. Kennedy had no business telling Canadians of its findings until Mr. Elliott was ready with an explanation.

The government's response was to tell Mr. Kennedy, after he had forwarded his report to Mr. Elliott in mid-October but before it was made public this week, that his appointment as chair of the RCMP public complaints commission wouldn't be renewed.

For many Canadians, this certainly will the defining moment in the history of the RCMP. It tells them the national police force and its political minders are less interested in restoring credibility to the tattered image of the once-iconic institution than they are in short-term butt-covering.

Mr. Elliott's suggestion that he wants to await the release of the provincially constituted public inquiry by Justice Thomas Braidwood into Mr. Dziekanski's death at the Vancouver airport appears nothing short of an attempt to delay accountability. Depending on Justice Braidwood's findings, another challenge by the officers involved in the Taser-related death of Mr. Dziekanski over the inquiry's jurisdiction cannot be ruled out and might further preclude a timely response.

As Mr. Kennedy noted in a CBC interview Tuesday, this attempt by senior RCMP officials to put off responding to critical findings by the public complaints commission is nothing new. A response to a report in 2006-07 took 429 days, he said. In 2007-08 it took 734 days and 805 days before the RCMP responded to a couple of subsequent findings .

Given the issues Mr. Kennedy raises in the Dziekanski case, it's unconscionable that the RCMP commissioner would resort to dragging out procedural hurdles to delay responding in a forthright manner to assure Canadians that the problems are being rectified quickly, or that Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan would dump Mr. Kennedy and acquiesce to Mr. Elliott's timetable.

As Mr. Kennedy bluntly points out, were it not for the video images of the incident captured by witness Paul Pritchard, Canadians never would have learned about what actually transpired at the airport that day, for the only account would have been supplied by the four responding officers who got together after the fact to get their stories straight.

From his finding that the officers who responded to a call about Mr. Dziekanski causing a disturbance at the airport "demonstrated no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation" but deployed the Taser within 25 seconds of arrival and four more times in rapid succession subsequently, to his questioning of the accuracy of the officers' version of events to Mr. Kennedy's finding that RCMP public relations officers knowingly gave misinformation to reporters, the report offers many reasons why Mr. Elliott should respond quickly.

As Mr. Kennedy wrote, the failure to acknowledge and correct errors "perpetuates concerns that the police are not conducting a transparent and impartial investigation into its members."

It also doesn't help to learn that Cpl. Monty Robinson, the senior responding officer in the Dziekanski case who was singled out by Mr. Kennedy as having failed to exercise any leadership over his three junior subordinates, recently was charged with attempting to obstruct justice in a case involving the death of a motorcyclist, but not with impaired driving even though his blood alcohol readings were 0.12 and 0.10 about 90 minutes after the accident.

Senior prosecutors concluded the available evidence didn't support the criminal charge. Cpl. Robinson claimed he'd left the scene of the accident about 10:30 p.m., walked home and returned 10 minutes later after downing two shots of vodka on top of a couple of beers he'd had at a party earlier.

This even though B.C. Supreme Court Judge Mark McEwen had flatly rejected Cpl. Robinson's two-vodka explanation for the high blood alcohol reading as not credible in refusing to lift his 90-day licence suspension after the accident, and witnesses at the scene didn't recall him leaving and returning.

Cpl. Robinson's case joins a list of others involving highly questionable conduct of Mounties that have brought discredit upon the force. The longer commissioner Elliott takes to respond and the longer the government tolerates it, the worse the tarnish grows on the RCMP.

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