The Sunday Edition

Why the RCMP should come under civilian control - Michael's essay

"When you wed the idea of a blue culture to the quasi military command system within the police forces — a system by the way, run almost entirely by alpha males — the result is a closed society, impenetrable to efforts to reform."
Michael's essay on the RCMP 2:16
Listen4:24

It now seems clear that the upper management levels of our federal police force are the Canadian version of the Trump White House: dysfunctional, arrogant, thuggish, deceitful, impervious to calls for reform.

That's the irresistible inference to be drawn from the report into the RCMP by Ian McPhail, Chair of the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

Ian McPhail, Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Mr. McPhail further charges that bullying and abuse of authority are so rampant, they threaten the ability of the RCMP to police the country.

The litany of wrongdoing at the top of the force makes for depressing reading:

  •     rampant bullying now out of control;
  •     no such thing as transparency;
  •     fear of threats to anyone who speaks up or out are "very, very, very real at this level;"
  •     tampering with police reports to undermine an officer's credibility.
Some of the 500 female RCMP officers and civilians with claims ranging from gender based discrimination to sexual assault on the job. (Natalie Clancy/CBC)

The most explosive conclusion reached by Mr. McPhail is that governance of the force should be taken away from uniformed senior officers and handed over to civilians.

Said Mr. McPhail: "The RCMP will not be able to bring about the necessary change required to address its dysfunctional culture on its own."

The Mounties are one of those great founding myths of the country we all embraced in childhood.

As a kid, I couldn't get enough of a series of books called Dale of the Mounted written by Joe Holliday. I didn't miss an episode of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his northern "guardians of justice."

The Mounties were glamorous, fearless, romantic. The Americans had the red-hunting FBI, the Brits had the pipe-puffing Scotland Yard, but we outdid them all with the RCMP. On horseback yet.  

The commissioner of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, is of course opposed to civilian control of the force.

His argument has always been that what is wrong with the RCMP — whether it is sexual abuse, workplace harassment or outright bullying — is not systemic but the actions of a few "bad apples."

RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, left, answers a question during a news conference, as plaintiffs Janet Merlo, centre, and Linda Davidson look on, in Ottawa Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Paulson has apologized to hundreds of current and former female officers and employees for alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

There have been more than 15 reviews of RCMP behaviour and hundreds of recommendations for change over the last few years, all of which point to something more serious than a few bad apples.

As the McPhail report put it: "Senior leaders in the RCMP have demonstrated an inability and or unwillingness to make the organizational changes  required to effect the needed cultural change."

And that is the problem, the question of police culture which infects every police force in the country.

Blue culture or the blue wall dictates that no police officer will ever do anything to diminish or question the behaviour of a fellow officer.

When you wed the idea of a blue culture to the quasi military command system within the police forces — a system by the way, run almost entirely by alpha males — the result is a closed society, impenetrable to efforts to reform.

It's conceivable we ask the Mounties to do too much. They are often posted to some of the most desolate areas of the country. They are paid far less than other cops; they rank 72nd in salaries out of 80 police services. That may explain, but not excuse, the terrible record of bullying and harassment.

When Robert Peel established the first police force in London in 1829, he wrote out nine guiding principles.

Principle Number Seven said  that police "should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police."

Ian McPhail is entirely correct. The only thing that can save the RCMP from itself is outside, civilian command.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 

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