Calgary Herald – When the RCMP dispatched disgraced Alberta Staff-Sgt. Don Ray to B.C., it was reminiscent of how the Catholic Church dealt with some of its priests. After a “disturbing pattern” of sexual misconduct, in which Ray exposed himself, had sex with subordinates, and kept a liquor cabinet in his crime lab, the RCMP demoted him to sergeant, docked him 10 days’ pay and shipped him to places unknown in B.C. The Catholic Church similarly had a habit of quietly shipping naughty priests to other dioceses.
The RCMP and the Harper government appear to have finally gotten the message that wrist slaps are no longer acceptable. Last week, new legislation was introduced that will allow the RCMP commissioner to dismiss members for “non-disciplinary” reasons. It would also improve transparency in the handling of members suspected of committing serious crimes, officials said.
The proposed reforms, announced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, are overdue. Paulson, on the job six months, has acknowledged that the disciplinary process has been ineffective. The punishment handed down to the force’s “rotten apples” sometimes just “does not cut it,” Paulson said. Among the problems is a grievance process that can take up to five years to resolve a case. Toews agrees, saying: “Canadians’ confidence in the RCMP has been tested over the past few years and this legislation will ensure the RCMP is fully accountable for its actions and is open and transparent in its service to Canadians.”
Finally, a commissioner who gets it, and a politician who is willing to do something about it. The RCMP has been plagued by allegations of sexual and verbal harassment, which has led to a class-action lawsuit by some female members over a larger “culture” within the national force.
The failure to deal with sexual harassment is one issue facing the RCMP. From excessive use of force at the 1997 APEC Summit to the killing of Darren Varley in a Pincher Creek cell in 1999 and the Tasering of Robert Dziekanski in 2007, serious incidents have harmed the public’s confidence in the RCMP.
In 2007, the government-appointed Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP made 49 recommendations relating to organizational structure, oversight, accountability, leadership, workload, employee wellness, and governance and management.
Paulson has been a refreshing change. “You can’t just go down to Costco and buy a new culture,” he said in a CBC interview. “You have to concentrate on doing your core duties and then the culture flows from that.”
The force is not completely broken. Among Canadians who have had direct contact with the RCMP, more than 80 per cent were satisfied with the service, according to one survey. The new disciplinary changes will help continue to restore the confidence that is needed.