Editorial: Mounties need to cool heels

By Christian Louden

With recruitment on the decline despite mass drives and a quarter of the force expected to retire in the next few years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seem desperate to take anyone willing to join up. In the past few years, not only have several officers died in the line of duty, too many civilians have died in custody as a result of poor practices on the part of the RCMP. A lack of transparency has let offending officers off with seemingly few repercussions.

The Mounties have long been a symbol of Canadian identity, but following the string of controversy, it is questionable whether a police force riddled with charges of excessive use of force and misleading information are desired qualities in a Canadian icon.

The events in Kimmirut this month saw the death of 20-year-old RCMP Constable Doug Scott while responding to a call in the 400-person northern community alone, prompting many to question why RCMP policy allowed the rookie to respond to a night call alone without backup. Scott had been posted on a 6-month assignment by the RCMP and was accompanied by a temporary partner from Prince Edward Island while a long-standing vacancy was being filled. Muddling the issue are conflicting accounts as to why Scott was working with a temporary partner–rookies fresh out of the academy are supposed to be paired up with senior RCMP officers to coach them and aren’t generally posted to 2-person detachments–as well as what the status was of the completion of his on-the-job training.

Confidence in the federal police force has also been hampered by the way the Mounties responded and dealt with a disturbance at the Vancouver International Airport, causing the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in Oct.

Not only did the police report filed in the incident contain lies, but a video documenting the lie was illegally confiscated by Mounties at the scene and wasn’t given back until the owner of the video sought its return in court. The response from RCMP commissioner William Elliott this weekend–a full month after Dziekanski’s death and only after the video had been released–was that the officers involved had been reassigned.

The police report claimed that Dziekanski had been lying on his back when he died, and that the stun gun was used only once. The video revealed that this was not the case. While one may ordinarily chalk this up to a few minor details being forgotten in the heat of the moment, it seems curious that the officers involved wouldn’t have reviewed the tape they’d confiscated from one of the witnesses and taken it into consideration when reconstructing the events detailed in the report.

So far, the only reasonable response to the stun gun incident has come from the B.C. government, which is launching an independent inquiry into the incident, a case already investigated internally by RCMP officers.

Given the volume of in-custody fatalities in B.C.–including the death of Ian Bush who had been arrested for public drunkenness and shot in the back of the head while in custody–many are calling for reforms on the review policy of such incidents in B.C., perhaps to be modelled after the Ontario system that has an independent special investigation unit to look into death-in-custody incidents for Ontario police forces.

The RCMP has been no stranger to controversy in the past year. In Dec. 2006, then-RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli admitted to giving misleading information to the CIA, leading to the imprisonment and torture of Maher Arar in a Syrian prison.

In recent years, the RCMP has been trying to find new recruits to replace the quarter of the force expected to retire in the next few years. The willingness of people to join up has perhaps been hampered by the atrocious track record. Whether the RCMP becomes extinct due to a lack of new recruits and high fatalities or disbanded due to corruption, if we are to continue to have a red serge-clad federal police, complete review of Mountie policies is long overdue.