Ralph Goodale says civilian oversight for RCMP should be examined

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the federal government should consider setting up a civilian board of management for the RCMP.

Expert calls for splitting the RCMP into 2 divisions and managing them separately

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the idea that the RCMP should be governed by a board of civilian directors is one that should be examined further. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the federal government should consider setting up a civilian board of management for the RCMP. 

The concept is not a new one. In fact, it was the central recommendation of the 2007 report from a task force on governance and cultural change at the RCMP

"I think it is an idea, a concept that needs to be very carefully examined and determined whether that would work effectively given the nature and the character and the tradition of the force," Goodale told CBC News. "It's an idea that needs to be examined."

Toronto lawyer David Brown was the 2007 task force's chairperson.

"It was one of among 50 recommendations that we made but I think it was probably the most important one, at least in our view," Brown said in his first interview on the topic in almost a decade. 

That task force report described a poorly-structured organization with layers of useless bureaucracy. It suggested the public and Mounties themselves would be better served if a civilian board took over administrative and managerial responsibilities in areas such as contracting, personnel matters and property management.

In an effort to prevent the report being shelved, the task force even set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2009, for the new civilian board to get up and running.

Oversight seen as 'not necessary'

That never happened.

Bill Elliott was the RCMP's first civilian commissioner at the time of the 2007 task force report and he gave his full support to the proposal for a management board. His successor, Bob Paulson has said publicly that he did not think such a board was necessary.

No one from the RCMP responded to our request for an updated comment from the commissioner, but it is not unusual for the RCMP to refrain from commenting on matters that are up to Parliament. Instituting a civilian management board would require an amendment to the RCMP Act.

As for why the previous government decided not to legislate a civilian board of management, former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a parliamentary committee in 2013 that, "these changes are not necessary for creating a revitalized, accountable police force." Toews told MPs the RCMP had established an internal audit committee to provide advice on the force's risk management, governance frameworks and processes.

Brown said he briefed the public safety and treasury board ministers.

"I didn't get a sense from them that they thought it was a bad idea. I didn't hear them endorse it either. So I don't know what happened in the interval but it was the only one of our 50 recommendations that wasn't implemented," Brown said.

Splitting the force

Almost every major Canadian police service has some form of civilian management. Even so, Goodale said he is well aware the RCMP is different. 

"That would be a massive administrative and structural change for the RCMP so I think you have to think it through very carefully, bearing in mind the principles and the tradition by which the force has functioned for well over 100 years," Goodale said.

Christian Leuprecht, a Queens University and Royal Military College professor, has written about the RCMP's structural challenges.

Bob Paulson serves as commissioner of the RCMP, which employs more than 29,000 people. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He said he thinks the RCMP is "overburdened with the complexity of the task it is facing on the management side."

Leuprecht said he thinks the policing part of the RCMP should be allowed to "do what it does best, which is the operational policing part. And we should let professional civilians look after HR, finance, policy issues even perhaps some of the overall disciplinary process."

As for how it might work, Leuprecht suggests splitting the organization into two parts by way of their responsibilities.

Right now, the RCMP provides contract policing services to several municipalities and provinces where it does everything from investigating murders to issuing traffic tickets. The federal and national policing duties include drug, organized crime and national security investigations.

"Rather than trying to shift the entire organization, pick the part of the organization that is absolutely core to delivering the federal government, which is the 15 per cent of the organization that does federal and national policing and essentially segregate it and isolate it from the rest of the organization. And this is where you can then also institute some of the most pressing changes," said Leuprecht.

'Still a relevant idea'

Once split, Leuprecht suggests a senior Mountie be appointed commissioner of operational policing, and that person would then report to a civilian commissioner.

He added there would surely be strong opposition to the idea inside the force, which prides itself on its historic paramilitary culture.

"There's always a sense that change within security and defence organizations has to be incremental because of concerns that they wouldn't be able to carry out its core mandate," said Leuprecht.

But David Brown is encouraged Goodale is open to giving the idea second look.

"I'm hoping that he really follows through on this. I think this is an idea whose time came several years ago but I think it's still a very relevant idea and thought for the RCMP."


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.