Let’s have another chat about the RCMP. True they have been knocked down another peg or two by the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission (MCC). In its 3,000-plus page report, it upbraided the RCMP for its officers’ lack of communication skills, inability to take accurate notes, and their fixation on covering up their tracks–and even lying about events. The RCMP’s nepotism was breathtaking. The two highest ranking female RCMP officers in the province, NS’s former Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman and NS’s Chief Superintendent Janis Gray got jobs for their respective husbands Mike Butler and John Robin in research and documentary support for the Mass Casualty Commission.
One officer, Constable Greg Wiley (who has since been reassigned to undercover work in Ontario) visited gunman Gabriel Wortman at least 16 times in two years, admiring the latter’s man cave and various toys and thought Wortmanwas a valuable “community contact”. Wiley was never seriously cross-examined, as he did not appear in person but through a closed video link. Nevertheless, Wiley didn’t notice anything amiss about Wortman , though Wortman had a firearms arsenal (for which he had no license) and boxes of grenades stored at his warehouse. Wiley never wrote one note about his visits to Wortman – despite testifying the cop’s drop-ins were “on the clock” – meaning Wiley was in uniform, driving his RCMP cruiser each time. Before the mass murder, one Halifax policeman asked Wiley to look into some violent threats issued by Wortman. Wiley testified he had no memory of the Halifax officer’s phone call.
Just before 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, 2020, two RCMP officers decided not to bother to call an ambulance for Wortman’s shooting victim Heather O’Brien. O’Brien was shot many times in her car while driving along Plains Rd in Debert. The RCMP officers didn’t call an air ambulance because they assumed – wrongly– that she was dead. The cops had arrived on scene 15 minutes after O’Brien had been shot. Turns out the Fitbit O’Brien was wearing showed her heart kept beating for eight hours —but neither cop tried to resuscitate her, despite one of her daughters arriving on scene and begging for help for her mother.
Oh mistakes there were many. And no one in the RCMP (all the way up the chain of command) has yet to take any serious responsibility for errors made – nor have any of the three commissioners of the Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry for that matter. If you’ve listened to a recent episode of The Nighttime Podcast here you will have a good idea about what the Commission did wrong. The podcast host interviews author Paul Palango and NS lawyer Adam Rodgers. Palango wrote the only book about the massacre — here is my review of his excellent 22 Murders. Rodgers writes an informative blog about legal issues and the MCC. There is not one significant apology for anything in the 3,000-page document. But I digress.
The end of contract policing?
The RCMP’s much vaunted police force, with their stellar training centre, The Depot in Regina, which I have visited, provides as much or as little training as any of the police colleges in Canada. The question is what do the cadets actually learn? Some municipalities are voting with their feet, as it were — they no longer want to be policed by the RCMP. In 2021, the mayor of Dieppe NB said that he’d heard that many municipalities in his province would do without the RCMP police within a few years . Many jurisdictions across the country are trying to cancel their policing contracts with the RCMP. But the income from contract policing accounts for 60% of their budget and deploys 70% of their officers. Right here in NS – Cumberland County wants to axe its policing contract with the RCMP. Seems that the 27 RCMP officers on contract in Cumberland County cost the county at least $5.1 million a year. That’s $5.1 million to police the county’s 20,000 residents. Well there may not be too many other options for policing – but it’s not options but the optics that count.
Let’s see. There were the 3 RCMP officers and their supervisor who killed Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in the customs area of Vancouver Airport in 2007. After waiting more than 10 hours in the enclosed hall, with no translator to assist, a frustrated Dziekanski picked up a stapler from the desk – 24 seconds later the cops, who had already pinned and handcuffed him, shot him four to five times with a taser. He died. Two Mounties were jailed, and all four were convicted of perjury as they deliberately lied about what had taken place.
In 2016, the Merlo-Davidson lawsuit (initiated by two ex-RCMP officers, Janet Merlo in British Columbia and Linda Davidson, in Ontario) resulted in a pay-out of more than $125 million to more than 2300 female RCMP officers who suffered discrimination, harassment, bullying and sexual assault during their time as RCMP officers.
RCMP forced to pay $225 million to settle RCMP women’s lawsuits
In a review which began in 2016 and ended in 2020, former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache issued a blistering report, Broken Dreams, Broken Lives: The Devastating Effects of Sexual Harassment On Women in the RCMP about the treatment of women within the RCMP. He concluded “that the culture of the RCMP is toxic and tolerates misogyny and homophobia at all ranks and in all provinces and territories.” His report was also scathing about racism within the force, “The RCMP leadership or membership either does not understand what systemic racism is, or if they do, they do not believe that it exists within their organization, or they are willfully blind.” He called for an independent external review of the RCMP – which we know has not happened. He said that Canada should replace the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), dubbed “toothless” by civil liberties organizations.
Also in 2020, another class action lawsuit against the RCMP was settled at a cost of $100 million. Over 160 women complained of RCMP officers who groomed, stalked and/or raped them. The women were civilian office staff and those in non-policing roles including students, from 1974 to 2019. As one social worker who worked with the claimants pointed out, “If this is the RCMP, what they’re capable of, who do you turn to?”
“The Toxic Culture of the RCMP”— not just one bad apple
In 2022, an international report The Toxic Culture of the RCMP was released by the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA). The 50-page report said that Indigenous women were at particularly high risk, “These reports show that Indigenous women are particular targets of sexualized violence by RCMP Officers, and, as the crisis of murders and disappearances reveals, their lives are also especially endangered by RCMP failures to protect them.”
Mi’kmaw lawyer and professor Pam Palmeter is one of the four authors of The Toxic Culture of the RCMP. She noted the Mounties’ use of the “bad apples” defence is a deflection tactic that no longer withstands scrutiny. FAFIA also called for an external review of the RCMP.
The RCMP was also heavily criticized for its deliberate mishandling and refusal to investigate cases relating to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). There has been little to no acknowledgement or measures taken to correct the RCMP’s conduct. The Tyee published an article on the RCMP’s response to the catastrophe (or genocide) of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. In the 15 months from January 2019 to April 2020, though the RCMP spent $3.6 million on investigating and/or solving these cases, that expenditure is barely .1% of the RCMP’s annual budget of $3.5 billion.
On an individual level, there was the RCMP murder of Rodney Levi, 48, an Indigenous man from Sunny Corner near Miramichi, New Brunswick. In 2020, he was shot in the chest twice, after having been tasered by the RCMP near his home. He had been sharing a meal with a family hours prior to being shot. However, armed police decided to shoot first as he had been causing a disturbance and carried two knives. No RCMP officer was ever charged. He had mental health issues, but as Chief Bill Ward of the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation who knew him said, ”He wasn’t a violent person, so basically to me what it says is that if you’re mentally ill and you have a bad day, the cops can kill you for it.” Between 2017 and 2020, 25 Indigenous people were shot and killed by the RCMP.
For the RCMP — Time’s Up
So what are we as a society to do? Are we supposed to tinker at the edges as the MCC Report suggests – have MORE civilian oversight, MORE training, LONGER training, BETTER training?
Should we wait another decade or two before dismantling the RCMP?
Should we wait until we can find jobs for the force’s 30,000 employees?
Instead, why don’t we start by cutting from the top?
Featured painting above: A Mother’s Grief by Cree artist Kent Monkman.
I like the paintings by Monkman & Lonigan Gilbert! A great blog on the RCMP!
I just read a great opinion piece in the Sat., April 8th Globe & Mail by the Dartmouth writer Alexander MacLeod on the final report on the Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry entitled “A Tide of Emotion”.
Thanks will look at MacLeod’s article.