Robert Marshall, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Opinion, Winnipeg Free Press) – The inaction of a single RCMP officer must not tar all Mounties. But how far up the chain should this latest black eye spread?
On July 3, Lyle and Marie McCann, both in their late 70s, left their Alberta home driving their $100,000 motorhome and towing a small SUV. They were to meet their daughter in British Columbia.
On July 5, RCMP discovered the motorhome burning in some dense bush 200 kilometres west of Edmonton. The couple and the SUV were not around. The Mountie attending the scene made a marginal effort to locate the couple. He phoned their home but got no answer. Case closed. Because, as the Mounties would later say, burned-out motorhomes are found all the time.
Former Mounties are rightfully embarrassed, if not incensed. William Pitt, who left the force years ago and is now a criminologist, describes the officer as “energy-challenged.”
Former inspector Bill Maicher, a consultant with a Hong Kong-based bank, is less polite and when speaking to CTV News said the situation smacks of “laziness,” “incompetence” and “a lack of investigative know-how.” Both scoffed at the notion of burned-out motorhomes being common.
Pitt adds it was a “slough” job. And it was.
No red flags were raised given the couple’s ages. No red flags, given the value of the vehicle. No red flags, given that there was nobody who could say where the senior citizens were.
Would that officer have been satisfied with such inquiry if they were his mom and dad?
On July 10, the McCanns’ children reported their parents missing and the investigation shifted into high gear. But even then, the RCMP stumbled. After calling on the public for help in locating the SUV, a B.C. detachment was advised of a vehicle that matched the missing one. So disinterested was the RCMP employee that no particulars were obtained from the potential witness and no followup was initiated.
No cop worth his salt will take issue with Pitt’s or Maicher’s embarrassment.
This isn’t a case of armchair quarterbacking some split-second decision. Each move (or lack of) in the initial “investigation” had the benefit of time to determine a best course of action.
The RCMP now say the officer will have to answer to an internal tribunal, and higher-ups have not ruled out some external accountability as well. Criminal negligence isn’t out of the realm.
But what about the Mountie organization? With the light that has glared on them since the screw-ups that forced the resignation of commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, it’s astounding that a blunder of this magnitude could go unchecked for as long as it did.
What lofty standards did this “energy-challenged” officer meet when selected for the force?
What is RCMP training all about, given that most 12-year-olds could identify the negligence in a second?
Where were the supervisors and detachment commanders to ensure slipshod work doesn’t pass for acceptable?
The story is about a couple of missing seniors who are believed to have met with foul play. The sub-story is the circus of the initial investigation, and it goes back to a years-old study by Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
She found that under Zaccardelli’s leadership, qualities were sorely lacking among senior RCMP officers who seemed to care more about themselves than the job or inspiring excellence in those they led.
The study concluded that the self-indulgence of those managers had a troubling, trickle-down effect that translated to a lack of commitment among disillusioned workers , who shifted to low gear and “retired on the job.” That means “energy-challenged.” Lazy.
This is no excuse for individual negligence, but it does underscore the perhaps flawed optimism of Commissioner William Elliott, who recently told the CBC that he would grade his force with a “C-plus.”
Hardly stellar, and that grade will be taking a few steps back by the time the dust settles on this one as an unflattering national focus zeroes in on the force. Fortunately, the investigation is back on the rails, the SUV has been recovered and a “person of interest,” Travis Vader, 38, has been found. The search for the McCanns, now into its third week, continues.
Although we may never know the full consequence of one officer’s reported negligence, Canadians have a right to be appalled by such obvious slackness. But just how far up the RCMP ladder should that shock and anger go?
Robert Marshall is a security consultant and a former Winnipeg police detective.