June 18, 2010
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail
The landscape of policing in Canada is undergoing a radical transformation. And the once unchallenged power and authority of the RCMP is being drastically diluted in the process.
It’s difficult to imagine a 48-hour period in the force’s history that has been as damaging and wrought with implications for the future as the one the Mounties have just endured.
On Thursday, the conduct of the RCMP was condemned in a report into the greatest mass-murder in Canadian history – the Air India bombing. And a day later, the behaviour of four Mounties in B.C. was denounced in the harshest terms possible by the commission investigating the tasering death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.
Behind the findings and the fundamental changes the RCMP is facing lies the power of a Canadian public whose growing disenchantment and distrust of Canada’s iconic police brigade could no longer be ignored by our political leaders and even the force itself.
That cynicism and suspicion is what really has driven the rather urgent policy changes now being rolled out. Public trust is the cornerstone of policing. Without it, officers have little credibility, which ultimately undermines their effectiveness and threatens the stability of a crucial pillar upon which a just society is built.
This is why the RCMP recently made internal changes in the way its members are investigated and disciplined. This is why the federal government recently gave the RCMP watchdog sweeping new powers to obtain documents during his investigations and also compel officers to testify. This is why Ottawa is expected to adopt the recommendations of John Major, head of the Air India Commission, that a new national-security czar be established that will severely crimp the RCMP’s investigative authority.
And this is why the B.C. government waited less than an hour after commissioner Thomas Braidwood released his exhaustive report Friday on the Dziekanski affair to announce it was adopting all of its recommendations, including the establishment of an Ontario-like Special Investigative Unit to carry out all probes of the police in the province – municipal or RCMP.
In fact, the investigative squad will have a mandate that far exceeds the SIU’s in Ontario. The B.C. group will not just investigate deaths involving an officer, but cases where serious harm has occurred, where a provision of the Criminal Code has been violated or where there has been a possible contravention of any federal or provincial statute. As significantly, the unit will be entirely civilian – no member of it will be allowed to have served anywhere in Canada as a police officer. (Although Mr. Braidwood allows for a five-year transition period during which former officers would be able to participate subject to certain conditions).
And B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong made it clear that the RCMP will soon come under the authority of the provincial police-complaints commissioner as well.
The result is that B.C. will effectively have a provincial police force. And the RCMP, which polices 70 per cent of the province, isn’t saying a word about it because it understands it doesn’t have the moral authority to protest.
The Mounties’ new attitude stands in dramatic contrast to the one that was expressed only four years ago by the force’s top media-relations spokesman in B.C. When it was suggested the public had the right to know about how the force was handling the investigation into the in-custody death of mill worker Ian Bush in Houston, B.C., Staff Sergeant John Ward replied: “The public doesn’t have the right to know anything.”
The comment reverberated throughout the country.
Sadly, it often takes tragedy to forge change.
And in Canada it took the death of Ian Bush, hundreds of poor souls aboard Air India and Robert Dziekanski – among many, many others – to inflame the public mood to the point it ignited the changes we’re now witnessing.
If there was a case that tipped the balance it was the death of Mr. Dziekanski. Captured on an amateur video, it was the one that mortified this country, made us feel embarrassed of our national police. It would be the graphic, irrefutable bit of evidence Canadians would need before collectively exclaiming: Enough.
Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer who so ably represented the interests of Mr. Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, at the Braidwood commission, was asked Friday how long it would take for the RCMP to regain the public’s trust.
“They didn’t lose it in one day,” he said. “It’s going to take a while. I guess we’ll see just how serious they are about repairing the damage. Ultimately it’s up to them.”
And they certainly deserve that chance.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, June 19, 2010
June 18, 2010