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Friday, December 11, 2009

Fire them already

December 11, 2009
Lorne Gunter, National Post

If I were RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, here is what I would do in light of the report by the commission for public complaints against the RCMP on the death of Robert Dziekanski: I would fire the four Mounties who overreacted that night in October 2007 when the Polish immigrant died at Vancouver International Airport.

At the very least, I would fire the officer in charge, Corporal Benjamin "Monty" Robinson and harshly discipline the other three. It is the only way to begin restoring public confidence in the force and to send a message to the RCMP's other members that unthinking, overreactive policing will not be tolerated.

Three weeks ago, the Commissioner insisted, in a roundabout way, that he lacked the authority to discipline members so severely. Perhaps. But just who is going to stop him?

Paul Kennedy, the outgoing chairman of the complaints commission, said on Tuesday that the four Mounties had been right to respond quickly, ready to use force if necessary, based on what they had been told by dispatchers about the situation and Mr. Dziekanski's emotional state.

After that, from what Mr. Kennedy tells us, nearly everything they did was wrong. They went from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, made no effort to determine what was bothering Mr. Dziekanski nor to calm him before jumping right to the use of a Taser --five times!

What appeared in an amateur video of the incident to be a gross overreaction was just that. More importantly, a man died as a result of this quartet's failure to follow standard procedures and to exercise their full professional training.

The way forward for Mr. Elliott would, therefore, seem clear: Discipline now and discipline forcefully.

But the Commissioner hasn't even bothered to respond to Mr. Kennedy's conclusions and recommendations. He insists this is because he is waiting on the outcome of an inquiry currently being conducted by retired judge Thomas Braidwood.

So what, then, would be the point of giving the Commissioner new disciplinary powers if every time an incident such as Mr. Dziekanski's death occurs he resorts to that old bureaucratic dodge of hiding behind the ongoing legal process?

He should say, "I know that the inquiries and court cases are not yet concluded, but this is not about criminal culpability or civil liability. In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the courts. If you violate those standards, you will be held to account no matter what punishments or not may be meted out by federal or provincial judges.

"I have reviewed the video of this incident and read the witness reports. Since I am not a judge, I cannot even speculate what criminal or civil actions you may face. But no matter, I am satisfied that your behaviour has dishonoured this force.

"This is intolerable.

"Our ability to enforce the law in a professional manner without fear or favouritism is the foundation of the public's trust in us and the justification for our moral authority to use force when needed. You have undermined the confidence we need to do our very difficult job and, for that reason, I am dismissing you.

"I do not do this lightly or out of a desire to save our political skins. You are not being made scapegoats. If others higher up the chain of command are also culpable, they will, in due course, be disciplined, too.

"It is too easy to blame police officers when a difficult situation goes awry. That is not what I am doing. This is not an ordinary example of an incident in which the actions of officers is misunderstood by critics in the public and press. What you did was wrong and unbecoming of a Mountie, and therefore I want you off the force.

"If you believe I am wrong, sue or grieve. But for the preservation of our proud institution, you are no longer a member."

Even if the fired Mounties won a lawsuit against the Commissioner and the force, I think civilians would agree he had done the right thing by trying to dismiss them.

Mr. Elliott, though, is doing the last thing he should do: nothing. His silence and inaction make it look as if he is covering something up.

It is better for the force's reputation to take bold action, than no action at all.

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