The repeated debacles that we have seen over the past few years are what one might expect in a third world police state, but not in a proud democracy like ours
OPINION: The Hill Times, Monday April 30, 2007
By DAVID HUTTON
Given the latest startling revelations about the RCMP Pension Fund, it is little wonder that Canadians are losing trust in our national icon. But none of this will surprise anyone who has been following the RCMP’s activities beyond the Musical Ride. The repeated debacles that we have seen over the past few years are what one might expect in a third world police state, but not in a proud democracy like ours.
This shameful situation is not the fault of the thousands of honest and dedicated RCMP employees, who too are victims when such mismanagement occurs. Nor is it an unforeseeable mishap caused by a few ‘bad apples’ who somehow sneaked in. Rather, it reflect how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely When a huge and powerful para military organization is allowed to operate for decades without effective mechanisms for oversight and accountability, then ethical lapses and bureaucratic incompetence are inevitable.
Why have successive governments allowed this visible rot to continue? For decades, politicians of all stripes have shied away from taking any action: not only because they fear a backlash from the Canadian public but also because they are fearful of what could happen to them if they ‘take on’ the RCMP. According to Shirley Heafey, former head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, this is not an irrational fear: she cites the devastating effects of the RCMP’s actions on politicians such as Ontario MPP Greg Sorbara, and B.C. Premier Glen Clark. In these and many other similar cases the Mounties did indeed ‘get their man’.
"Most Canadians are fully aware of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s findings regarding the Maher Arar case. But how many know anything about his second report, which contains preventative policy recommendations?"
Let’s put aside the Pension scandal for the moment and consider its most recent predecessor. Most Canadians are fully aware of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s findings regarding the Maher Arar case. But how many know anything about his second report, which contains preventative policy recommendations? This extensively researched 636- page document examines the history of the RCMP ; the changing demands on modern police forces; and the checks and balances employed by eight other developed countries. The report ends with a clear and far-reaching set of recommendations – essentially a prescription for how to establish effective, independent oversight of the RCMP.
O’Connor’s prescription was right on the money and Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, was quick to accept all 23 recommendations . Day also indicated that the government was already taking action on them. If fully implemented, the oversight mechanisms that O’Connor calls for would shine a bright light on the sometimes murky goings-on within the RCMP, and provide a powerful incentive for management to clean up its act – especially the senior leaders who set the tone for everyone else.
If this type of oversight existed, there would probably have been no Pension Fund boondoggle. There would certainly have been no opportunity for a prolonged cover-up, no need for more whistleblowers to sacrifice their careers, no calls for yet another public enquiry, and no need for taxpayers to foot the bill for replacing the missing funds. Does this mean that we can now relax, confident that Justice O’Connor’s recommendations will do the trick? Absolutely not! History suggests that while the public is distracted by the latest debacle – and by another public inquiry that will take years to complete – O’Connor’s valuable recommendations will simply gather dust. And although a few heads may roll, there will likely be no substantive change in the governance of the RCMP.
The citizens of Canada deserve better than this, and we should demand it. What should we be demanding? Here’s my list:
- Minister Day should immediately publish a plan with a timetable for full implementation of Justice O’Connor’s recommendations. Day announced on 18th December 2006 that his Department was already working on this. Surely after more than four months of work, the Minister has at least an overall plan!
- Interested parties such as the Parliamentary Press Gallery and concerned citizens should make a note of some of the key dates in this timetable, and expect to see progress. One of the key dates will be tabling of the legislation required to establish a new oversight body for the RCMP. Another will be the appointment of a suitably qualified Co mmissioner and oversight committee members.
- Justice O’Connor should be encouraged to help finish the process that he has so ably started, by reviewing and publicly commenting on the actions taken by government, and whether these are adequate and true to his recommendations. After all, there should be no dispute as the Government has already accepted his proposals.
We must also look out for the gallant Mounties who blew the whistle – to ensure that they are not viciously punished for breaking ranks, as all RCMP whistleblowers have been in the past. Some of these appalling cases are described on the FAIR website at fairwhistleblower.ca
Does this sound like Canadian citizens and media holding government to account for a change? It certainly does! We should try it.
David Hutton is the coordinator of the Federal Accountability Initiative For Reform (FAIR)