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Friday, December 11, 2009

EDITORIAL: RCMP needs overhaul

December 11, 2009
Calgary Herald

Paul Kennedy, the outgoing head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, believes his scathing report into the videotaped death of a Polish immigrant will change the way Canadians view the Mounties. He's being generous. The RCMP can blame their damaged reputation on nothing more than the actions of some of their own members, aided by a long culture of coverup.

More denials won't restore credibility to Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are at a pivotal moment in their long and storied history. Truth and responsibility, however, might prove the right mix of stain remover. The symbolic red surge has been sullied by the force's dirty laundry, with one scandal after another and a series of inquiries and reports, some of which have never been acted upon.

The latest indictment came this week from Kennedy, who documented a litany of mistakes made by the four officers involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski, at the Vancouver airport. They deployed their Tasers too quickly, seconds after arriving, five times over a 31-second period, he reported. They also made no attempt to resolve the situation without violence.

The whole thing smells of a big coverup. (The Crown will not be laying criminal charges against the officers, one of whom, Monty Robinson, was recently charged with attempting to obstruct justice.)

The report confirms what most Canadians already knew, thanks to a citizen video tape of Dziekanski's final moments.

Witness Paul Pritchard, 27, is the real hero in this tragedy. Without his video, it's likely the truth would never have surfaced, or the official record corrected. The public received "erroneous information" that was fed to the media at the time of Dziekanski's death, and deliberately not corrected for another 14 months.

It's an understatement when Kennedy says the way the force responded to its mishandling of Dziekanski's death will "represent a defining moment in the history of the RCMP.

"The manner in which the RCMP responds to my report and that of Justice (Thomas) Braidwood to follow will have a profound impact on how the iconic institution is viewed by Canadians," wrote Kennedy.

So far, the response has been more of the same, with RCMP Commissioner William Elliott writing a letter saying he will respond later. His silence, quite frankly, is stunning. Dziekanski died on Oct. 14, 2007. You'd think he could have worked out a statement by now.

The federal government responded no better, telling Kennedy his term is up, and he will not be reappointed after four years in the job. During that time, Kennedy has persistently pushed the federal government to create an independent watchdog with real teeth, and for Mounties to stop investigating themselves, two steps this paper has long advocated.

Dziekanski's death is a tragedy, but if it leads to real reform of the RCMP, he will not have died in vain. Change is needed at the highest level before Canadians can forgive or forget the recent history of the RCMP. Accountability, truth and transparency are the only hope of restoring honour to this once-great institution.

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