(Victoria Times Colonist) – If it’s possible to do something that is both courageous and bizarre, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson has managed it. In an extraordinary departure from precedent, Paulson has issued an “open letter to Canadians” complaining that his hands are tied.
The commissioner is upset that byzantine disciplinary procedures make it nearly impossible to fire wayward Mounties. And heaven knows, he has a case.
Just last week it emerged that an officer guilty of sexual harassment is being transferred to B.C. Many observers, Premier Christy Clark among them, thought he should have been fired.
Donald Ray, a polygraph expert in the RCMP’s Edmonton office, has a history of unprofessional behaviour. A disciplinary board ruled that he consumed alcohol at work, exposed himself to a female employee and asked her to fondle him, engaged in sex on the premises and in a parking lot and made crude remarks to women. Although fined and demoted one step in rank, Ray was kept on.
How did this happen? The board argued that Ray was contrite, and that his colleagues wrote strong letters of support. Or in simple language, the old-boys network came through.
No wonder Paulson is angry. Sending an officer with this record to B.C. is throwing gasoline on a fire.
The local force is already embattled. Earlier this year, former RCMP constable Janet Merio filed a class-action suit on behalf of more than 150 female officers who claim they were victims of discrimination or harassment. Other women in various B.C. detachments have come forward with similar complaints.
Incredibly, Craig Callens, the deputy commissioner in charge of B.C., responded by promising that a team of Mounties would look into these allegations. That’s far too much like closing the ranks. External investigators should have been brought in.
So yes, the disciplinary process is a joke. But what was Paulson thinking when he released an open letter to the public? He complains that the RCMP act is antiquated, and grumbles: “I am trying to run a modern police force with a discipline system that was current 25 years ago.”
Quite true. But whose fault is it that the legislation hasn’t been updated? That would be his boss, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
The RCMP Act makes clear that Paulson, like other senior public servants, answers to the government. By going public with these criticisms, the commissioner is calling out his employer. Indeed, he’s going further. The letter could be read as an effort to shift some blame onto shoulders other than his own.
Maybe Paulson and Toews cooked up this manoeuvre together, though the commissioner’s office says that Toews was shown the letter for information purposes only.
But another interpretation is possible. In an internal memo to RCMP staff, circulated at the same time, Paulson admitted that the media are investigating additional cases of misconduct that are “not yet widely known.” And he warned the membership to expect “salacious and troubling details – to surface and be the source of much criticism of the force.”
In short, the top is about to blow off the disciplinary volcano in a series of damaging disclosures. Perhaps the commissioner was trying to get out ahead of this onslaught by jumping in first with his excuse.
In practice, it hardly matters. Whether Toews and Paulson are acting in concert, or the commissioner is off on his own, the end result is the same.
Nothing can save the RCMP now but a full-scale overhaul, starting with the governing legislation, but certainly not ending there. When the top-ranking officer undertakes a public-relations campaign to distance himself from failure, things have got completely out of hand.
FG_AUTHORS: RCMP Watch