Politics

RCMP's Elliott slammed for wearing uniform

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott is under fire for wearing a uniform and carrying a gun even though he is not a trained police officer.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, left, is seen in police uniform during a recent visit to Afghanistan. ((CBC))

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott is coming under fire for wearing a police uniform and carrying a gun even though he is a civilian, not a trained police officer.

Elliott was photographed in uniform during a recent trip to Afghanistan. The photograph was taken when he was meeting with members of the European Union Police Mission, which posted the picture on its website.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny said Elliott, a lawyer and civil servant who was appointed commissioner in 2007, doesn't have enough training to carry a gun. He said he was told Elliott had two hours of training the day before he left for Afghanistan, but Kenny said RCMP officers are required to have 36 hours.

"My principal concern is one of safety," Kenny said. "I don't believe Mr. Elliott put in 36 hours, and that would make him dangerous to himself and dangerous to the people he was travelling with.

"Everyone on the force knows you have to have proper training and qualify on an annual basis if you're going to carry a sidearm."

But RCMP spokesman Greg Cox said that as commissioner, Elliott has peace officer status and is entitled to wear the uniform. He can carry a firearm as long as he's had "appropriate training."

Cox said Elliott has generally chosen not to wear the uniform, but did during his two trips to Afghanistan after being provided with firearms training adapted to his operational requirements.

"While he travelled throughout Afghanistan to meet with RCMP personnel and a wide range of government and other representatives, the commissioner wore a service pistol when the circumstances warranted being armed for personal protection. These are the same parameters in place for all police officers working in or visiting Afghanistan," Cox said in a statement.

'Afghanistan is a war zone'

Bill Sweeney, the former senior deputy commissioner of the RCMP, said he advised Elliott to wear the uniform and gun while in Afghanistan.

Sweeney said he's been to Afghanistan and knows how dangerous it is. The risk of ambushes and explosives exists even inside military and police compounds and Sweeney said in the event of a chaotic event, being in uniform would help Elliott be quickly identified by the Canadian soldiers assigned to provide security to police.

Sweeney said he also advised Elliott to get trained to carry a firearm.

"Afghanistan is a war zone," he said. "It's a very dangerous situation, and certainly from my personal perspective as a police officer, I would want to be armed in that circumstance. You just never know when things are going to explode into a very violent, violent situation."

But Kenny said a person of Elliott's rank would get proper protection in Afghanistan and could have had a safe visit without being armed. He said he's gone to Afghanistan several times and never felt the need to carry a gun.

"Nobody is going to let him get into a place that's dangerous," Kenny said. "I don't care what he wears [police uniform or not] but I think carrying a gun when you're not properly trained is dangerous, and redundant when you're protected."

Photo circulating among officers

He said the photo of Elliott has been circulating among RCMP officer ranks, where there have been questions about Elliott's leadership. Elliott has faced formal complaints about his management style, with senior RCMP members accusing him of being verbally abusive, closed-minded, arrogant and insulting.

"The pictures started getting circulated in B.C. and they've gone up and down the coast, and are working their way east from there," Kenny said. "Elliott looked goofy [in the photo] … He feels the need to get dressed up in his Afghan costume. I think it's a little bizarre that a mature man feels the need to do that."

Linda Duxbury, a Carleton University professor who studies the public service and RCMP, said the attack on Elliott's decision to wear the uniform and gun feels like a media witch hunt.

"This guy is being advised by somebody who is very, very informed to wear a gun," Duxbury said. "Who are we in the media or the public to second-guess that?"

With files from the CBC's Louise Elliott