RCMP's structure could change under new commissioner, says Ralph Goodale

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the looming retirement of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is as good a time as any to consider rejigging the governance of the force, including a recommendation to set up a civilian oversight body.

National police force has weathered allegations of harassment, bullying and a major class action

The RCMP has dealt with several controversies in recent years, including harassment and bullying allegations - and labour action that has seen members alter their uniforms to protest wages and working conditions. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the looming retirement of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is as good a time as any to consider rejigging the governance of the force, including the outstanding recommendation to set up a civilian oversight body.

"The change in command is an opportunity to examine all dimensions of governance and structure. The new commissioner will have important challenges to address in terms of maintaining the tradition and heritage of the force and at the same time acknowledging all of the new things that modern day policing requires," Goodale said in an interview with Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House.

"Obviously we've had issues internally to deal with, with the allegations of harassment and bullying, a major class action that the RCMP has now been successful in settling," he said.

"The RCMP is just an absolutely fundamental institution in this country and the standards in terms of workplace behaviour has to be absolutely top of the heap."

Goodale has already publicly acknowledged the support behind the idea of civilian oversight, which was the central recommendation of a 2007 report from a task force on governance and cultural change at the RCMP. 

That's welcome news to Queen's University and Royal Military College professor Christian Leprecht, who is about to publish a study on the RCMP's leadership structure through the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

In the past, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said the federal government should consider setting up a civilian board of management for the RCMP. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Leprecht said you can't fix harassment and the RCMP's other issues if you don't fix the governance structure.

Look to DND model?

"It's a fairly dysfunctional structure and organization but it is replete with very good people trying to do their best," he said.

"Institutional cultural change is gradual but the only way you can get there is by changing the way the organization is managed and is governed.

"And if those aspects are fundamentally broken you're not able to [...] change or correct the kind of symptoms that we've all become familiar with in terms of harassment, abuse or some of the professionalization and leadership cultures that are currently coming out in the trial in Moncton."

The RCMP has been on trial in Moncton, accused of failing to keep officers safe on June 4, 2014, when a gunman killed three Mounties and wounded two others. 

Leprecht suggests a model that mirrors that of National Defence where there's both a chief of the defence staff and a deputy minister.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, centre, heads from the Moncton Law Courts with defence lawyers Ian Carter and Jeff Doody earlier this month during a break in testimony at the RCMP's Labour Code trial in connection with the June, 2014 shooting rampage that claimed the lives of three officers. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"The challenge lies in really what we want the senior police officer, the commissioner, to focus on, [which] is operations, and leave all the policy pieces, the financial aspects, the HR issues to a professional civilian," he said.

Admittedly, said Leprecht, that's not an easy lift.

"[Goodale] is maybe the most experienced minister that not only the current government has but has ever held the public safety portfolio. So if there's one minister that actually has the competency, the experience, and the insights to do this, I think the current minister is that individual."

Paulson's last day June 30

Paulson's tenure as Canada's top Mountie comes to an end June 30.

His retirement will come after 39 years of service, including 32 in the RCMP. He has served as commissioner for more than five years.

"Commissioner Paulson has worked very hard at trying to build the momentum and the direction for modernization and improvement within the force," said Goodale.

The federal government has asked former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna to head a selection committee of up to 10 people who will meet early this summer to begin the process of finding a replacement for Paulson.

The group will be asked to present a short list of candidates from which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will choose Canada's next top cop.