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Monday, January 04, 2010

Former RCMP watchdog warns commission heads liable to political sway

January 4, 2010
By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — The former RCMP watchdog says the government must change the way it appoints heads of independent commissions so they don't become beholden to their political bosses.

Paul Kennedy, whose four-year stint ended last week, said that chairmen should be named for a fixed term, in order to "remove temptation" from appointees to work as an agent for the governing party, for fear of being sacked.

"Five years and you're out is the way to do it," Kennedy told Canwest News Service. "So you're not sitting here, if you are potentially of weak character, saying 'I need this job, I need this money, I like whatever it is,' and you change your approach for improper purposes."

The government also refused last month to renew the term of Peter Tinsley, the former chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission, whose stint expired in the middle of a controversial commission inquiry into what the military knew about handing Afghan detainees over to local captives, at the risk of torture.

Kennedy's Dec. 31 departure leaves the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP rudderless, with nobody keeping an independent eye on the embattled national police force.

"Apres moi, le deluge," said Kennedy, invoking a famous quote from King Louis XV, which translates as "after me, the flood."

The Conservative government's failure to name a successor means that there is nobody in charge, since the government has still not replaced his assistant chairman, who left his post in October 2008, said Kennedy.

"I have been alone in the saddle here since that time," said Kennedy. "There's no one to step into my shoes."

Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, could not confirm Monday when a replacement will be named.

Kennedy, a lawyer and senior bureaucrat who took the post in October 2005, had been reappointed three times to one-year terms.

The former chairman relentlessly campaigned during his tenure to strengthen oversight of the RCMP.

The public complaints panel has been repeatedly decried as a toothless body that depends on the RCMP's voluntary co-operation for its investigations and has no power to probe whether the force is overstepping its power involving national security and organized crime.

"That's a massive amount of federal policing that is beyond the purview of anyone to look at," said Kennedy, whose calls for increased oversight have been echoed in several reports.

For instance, in December 2006, the judge who led the inquiry into the Maher Arar affair recommended that the RCMP public complaints commission be revamped into a new body with the power to review all Mountie national security activities.

Van Loan has said he is awaiting a pending report from an inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing, but critics have dismissed the reason as a cop out since several reports already have made similar recipes for improvement.

A strengthened review body, said Kennedy, should have access to all RCMP files and be empowered to subpoena documents and compel people to testify.

Kennedy also noted that Van Loan cut the commission's budget by $600,000 last year, which he said reins in the ability of the body to carry out broad investigations, such as the recent probe into the RCMP use of Taser stun guns in the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport.

Kennedy's final weeks in office were marked by a public squabble with RCMP commissioner over his release of his Taser report, which was a scathing indictment against a force that Kennedy described as "massively inert."

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