(The Ottawa Citizen Editorial) – William Elliott has been commissioner of the RCMP long enough to feel comfortable in his complex job, even long enough for speculation to begin about who might eventually replace him.
But, as the first civilian commissioner of the national police force, Elliott said he regrets that it took him almost three years on the job to enact his belief that law enforcement agencies like his must be more open and accessible.
He spent an hour in candid conversation with the Citizen’s editorial board Thursday, on topics ranging from the Taser-related death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, to the botched investigation of Maher Arar, to the stabbing death late last year of Ottawa Police Constable Eric Czapnik (a troubled RCMP officer has been charged in the Czapnik killing).
Elliott was candid, thoughtful and adamant that the closed culture of policing must change. “I think there is a natural tendency for police officers and police organizations, notably the RCMP, to tell people little, if anything. We tend to play our cards close to the chest; I think that is to our detriment at times.”
He said that the time-honoured police tactic of avoiding scrutiny by saying cases are before the courts or under investigation is overused. “I think we can do better than that. Even if we really can’t comment, we can provide a little bit of context.”
We in the media like to hear this kind of talk, of course, but the public should too, especially coming from the head of an organization that is a key Canadian institution.
The RCMP’s reputation has been tarnished. To change that, it must shift from a position of defensiveness to transparency. It is good to hear that message coming from the top.