Litany of accusations and revelations against RCMP seems to never end
Troy Media – by Doug Firby
My first trip to Parliament Hill didn’t mean much to a kid of about five years of age. I remember the massive Peace Tower that seemed to reach up to the clouds, the pristine gardens and the Mountie my parents posed me with for a photo.
“Are you Sergeant Preston?” I asked, only to be met with a series of charmed chuckles.
Those were the days when an RCMP officer in full red serge was as close a thing as you could get to real-life superhero. The exploits of these fearless men of the North-West Mounted Police were the stuff of mythology, portrayed first on a radio show (ironically created in Detroit) and in Dell Comics, and then later in a U.S. television series, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, in which the main character was actually played by an American.
No matter – the Mounties were a brand the country could be proud of.
Memories of these days of innocent optimism came flooding back this week as I surveyed the latest ugly revelations of a national police service of 19,000 serving members that has become – to put it kindly – a brand tainted. The litany of accusations and revelations seems to never end; this week, the CBC reported that the RCMP didn’t even keep track of their own misconduct until the news network filed an access to information request.
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It took four years, the CBC reported, to compile the data. Counted up, the cases of “serious misconduct” reach into the hundreds, and include physical and sexual assaults, workplace harassment, impaired driving and fraud.
The report found that 335 cases were brought before a tribunal from 2004 to 2008. They include:
- 35 cases of assault, sexual assault and harassment.
- 30 officers impaired on the job or while driving.
- 29 Mounties who gave false or misleading statements.
- 16 unauthorized uses of CPIC, the central police data base.
Two cases involved the possession of child pornography, a criminal offence. It’s not known whether any cases went on to criminal prosecution. CBC reports that in one-third of the cases, officers involved either quit, were forced to resign or had to forfeit 10 days pay.
It’s a long way from the days of Yukon King, the loyal Husky who helped keep our intrepid sergeant on the straight and true. In fact, it’s even a long way from the mid-1990s, when Canadian actor Paul Gross portrayed Constable Benton Fraser, a Mountie stationed with the Canadian consulate in Chicago as an “upright” citizen.
Today’s reality for the RCMP is a lot more Mayerthorpe than it is Chicago. Young officers find themselves stationed in prairie backwaters, facing long and tedious hours of dealing with speeders, drunks and dangerously volatile town thugs. Is it any wonder some of them think it’s OK to bend the rules, now and again?
In a 2008 article on mental health in the RCMP, Counsel Josh Brush wrote: “Operating in an isolated post can be stressful. Climates are usually harsh. Ordinary goods and services are often hard to find. Professional support can be minimal. One might also be secluded from friends and family.”
But if the Mounties don’t like the isolation of the prairies, it turns out not everyone in the prairies cares for them, either. Some people in Alberta, in particular, has been less then enamoured with the services from the RCMP, alleging the national police service doesn’t have the commitment to deliver first class policing. Some politicians have gone so far as to propose establishing a provincial police service instead.
“While I have a great deal of respect for the RCMP, I think that Albertans will receive more effective law enforcement from a police force that reports to Edmonton rather than Regina and Ottawa,” Ted Morton, Alberta’s former PC minister of Energy, wrote a couple of years ago.
It’s not going to happen, in part because provinces typically pay a little more than two-thirds the cost of the service (the feds pick up the rest). Establishing the infrastructure needed for a whole new police service is too steep a bill for any prairie province, let alone Alberta, which is grappling with a $3-billion budget deficit.
It’s also fallacious to think that an officer with a provincial badge will be any less drawn to temptation than a federal cop.
So, it falls to Commissioner Bob Paulson to turn around the reputation of this once-revered police service. He told the Toronto Globe and Mail in December 2011 his goal is to get the police service to focus on its core business and to instil accountability in everything they do.
“My recipe is a simple one – to do core policing activities, in all of the areas that we do policing, we do it well, we do it to the satisfaction of Canadians and others, and then everything else should fall into line.”
It will require unwavering leadership from the commissioner, who acknowledges that the time to act is short. In the words of Sergeant Preston, “Mush, you huskies!”
Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist of Troy Media.