Experts Summit On Challenges Facing The RCMP
I was invited to appear in Ottawa before this Committee. I was unable to do so due to my work commitment. I thought you might enjoy reading the written submission I sent instead.
Dr. Mike Webster
February 1, 2014
Office of Hon. Judy Sgro, MP
204 Justice Building
House of Commons
Office of Hon. Grant Mitchell, Senator
71-S Centre Block
Senate of Canada
Dear Honourable Judy Sgro and Honourable Grant Mitchell,
Re: Experts Summit on challenges facing the RCMP
Thank you very much for requesting my opinions and accepting this submission. I apologize for being unable to accept your invitation to attend your committee in Ottawa. I am unable to absent myself from my work without considerable inconvenience to others.
As your question requests solutions to “the issues currently facing the RCMP”, I will not exhaustively restate the problems the Force is facing. However, I would like to put into context, with a brief preamble, my response to your question.
In support of your very knowledgeable participants’ testimony, every expert report published over the last decade has called for the reform of the RCMP. As recently as April of 2012, Professor Linda Duxbury, the Carleton University business scholar who has studied the RCMP extensively, concluded that personnel shortages and excessive off-duty responsibilities in tandem with an intolerant corporate culture are destroying the lives of police persons across this country. Every report emphasizing the need for RCMP reform has been clear; the organization’s tasks far outstrip its resources. The Force wears too many hats and none of them very well. Royal Canadian Mounted Police members are burning out and getting sick; and as a consequence the Canadian public is not getting the policing it deserves. Where is the Commissioner of the RCMP, who serves the Force’s members and the Canadian public, on this issue?
Several years ago, your colleagues on a national security and defense committee recommended that the RCMP hire 5,000 new members to perform the tasks being continually piled on by the federal government. The chair of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, David McAusland, repeatedly pointed out in report after report that reforming the RCMP would not happen without a large infusion of money from the government. Where is the Commissioner of the RCMP, who serves the Force’s members and the Canadian public, on this?
Money and personnel shortages are not the only problems. Numerous studies and reports have called for structural reform of the RCMP that would extricate it from the complex bureaucracy of Ottawa; and put it in the hands of independent civilian oversight. As a portfolio of the Public Safety Minister, the RCMP is subject to decisions by bureaucrats who know nothing about police organizations, policing, police culture, or the task environment in which the police do their work. A litany of experts has recommended that the RCMP become a separate status employer, all to no avail. Where is the Commissioner of the RCMP, who serves the Force’s members and the members of the Canadian public, on this?
Moreover, the current impression that the RCMP serves the government and not the public is widespread. One need look no farther than the RCMP’s role in directing security for economic summits like Vancouver’s APEC in 1997 or the G20 in Toronto in 2010. On a related note, the 2013 direction from the government that meetings between RCMP officers, the media, or interested politicians must be cleared by the Commissioner and the Public Safety Minister had all the overtones of the government controlling the police. It is not much of a stretch to imagine the government, specifically the cabinet, now with the ability to control access to the nation’s federal police service; and to put a political “spin” on security and law enforcement issues. Where is the Commissioner of the RCMP, who serves the Force’s members and the members of the Canadian public, on this?
The answer to my question may be found here. This cozy relationship between the government and the RCMP is not unique to the present day. Many governments of the past have disregarded recommendations of commissions of inquiry that have suggested independent civilian oversight and an “arm’s length” relationship with the government; in addition to reigning in the power of the Commissioner and government ministers over the Force.
This resistance to change lies deep within the DNA of the RCMP, and its history. The Force was originally a political endeavour. The predecessor of the RCMP, the North West Mounted Police, was dispatched to the West for the purpose of taming the unruly population and grooming them for inclusion in the developing Confederation.
This history continues to resonate through the RCMP today. It is still proudly taught to the Force’s cadets during their basic training at Depot Division. As for politicians, historically they have been reluctant to give up their positions of influence over the workings of the RCMP. There is not only a litany of RCMP Commissioners who have failed to fight for the independence of the RCMP, but an equally long list of Prime Ministers who have been more than reluctant to let go of their own personal police service. The history of the RCMP and its far too cozy relationship with government is so ingrained it has become an accepted, and unquestioned, fact. Once again, where is our present Commissioner? Why is he not fighting for his members, the organization, and the Canadian public? Ahh yes I’ve forgotten, he is an integral part of this “folie a deux”.
So before I answer your question, which frames me as Commissioner and asks for my solutions, I will ask you to suspend your bureaucratic frame of reference (that paralyzes all attempts to introduce “turn around change” to RCMP problems) and accept that even the RCMP can be radically transformed into a 21st Century police service (if it has a real leader in charge).
So to answer your question……. realizing that I, as Commissioner, have neither the autonomy nor the “know how”, to implement any of the major (transformative) changes noted above, or the authority to convene an expert advisory board to assist me, I would prepare myself for a conflict with the government to secure my independence, and the separate status of the RCMP. I would share with the public and the membership a compelling vision of how the Force struggles in its present form and how great it could become in a transformed 21st Century edition. I would hope to rekindle the morale of the membership and the confidence of the pubic they serve; I want their support as I go forward. I would steel myself to push back hard against a change resistant government. I would settle for no less than my independence and an “arm’s length” relationship with the federal government, even if my job was on the line. I must put the health and welfare of RCMP members and the rights of the Canadian public ahead of my career and my legacy.
To continue, once I secured separate status for the Force, and an increase in my own ability to make decisions, I would create a panel of experts (similar to a municipal police board) to take over the business end of the organization (e.g. hiring of the Commissioner, setting of the budgets, creating agile Human Resource policies including those related to harassment, discrimination, and bullying, the formation of a members’ association). This panel would also be responsible for evaluating the above noted experts’ recommendations, implementing them if approved, and the transformation of the RCMP. If I still had my job I would now focus myself on what I know best; managing the law enforcement side of the business.
As you can see, my answer to your question begins and ends with leadership. Real change in the RCMP will not come without real leadership. It is time for the Commissioner of the RCMP to step out of the long line of followers that have preceded him and become a genuine innovator.
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.