The man in charge of the RCMP in British Columbia says the laborious process of firing or even suspending Mounties without pay after serious misconduct is “absolute madness,” but making changes requires a commitment from the force’s political masters.
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens said the RCMP Act is long overdue for change to allow local management to hire and fire like other employers in the country.
For example, Mr. Callens said an application was made years ago to suspend Cpl. Benjamin “Monty” Robinson without pay, but the request was rejected at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.
Mr. Robinson was convicted last month of obstruction of justice in the death of a young motorcyclist in Delta, B.C. He admitted to taking two shots of vodka to “calm his nerves” after the accident and before he gave himself up to investigating officers, but the court heard testimony that Mr. Robinson would have known those actions can be used to cover up drunk driving.
A year before the traffic accident, Mr. Robinson was the senior officer in charge when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was jolted several times with an RCMP Taser and died at Vancouver’s airport.
Mr. Robinson and three fellow officers still face perjury charges, accused of lying under oath in that case.
Commissioner Thomas Braidwood concluded in his final report into Mr. Dziekanski’s death that the officers deliberately misrepresented their actions during the investigations and during their testimony to his inquiry.
“I want him (Robinson) dismissed from the RCMP,” Mr. Callens told a forum at the Radio Television Digital News Association annual provincial gathering on the weekend.
“Now he’s convicted of obstruction of justice and so I say to myself, a reasonable-minded Canadian, a British Columbian, is outraged by that. I’m outraged by that.”
The RCMP Act gives Mr. Callens the power to suspend an officer if he considers the officer’s actions serious misconduct. He must get approval from headquarters in Ottawa if he wants an officer suspended without pay.
But Mr. Callens said the process becomes adversarial, similar to the criminal justice system.
“That’s the problem with the RCMP Act. What I want to do is have the ability, for me personally, as the deputy commissioner, or for the commissioner ... to say ‘No, you need to be fired from the RCMP.”‘ The current process sometimes seems to overtake the necessity of decisive action, and that’s why he supports its modernization, he told The Canadian Press in a later interview.
“I think what frustrates the community are cases where an RCMP officer is convicted of a serious criminal offence and yet an internal adjudication board must be held, and the delays that are associated to that occur, to determine whether a member should be dismissed from the RCMP,” he said. “And it’s quite obvious, or it is the view of the community that it’s obvious, the individual should be dismissed from the RCMP.”
Neither Mr. Robinson nor his lawyer were available for comment.
In the four months that Mr. Callens has been in charge of the B.C. division, he said he has taken the step to request suspension without pay four times.
But under the act, the RCMP isn’t the employer and federal government statutes and regulations govern the way the RCMP operates, leaving a long and cumbersome appeal process for the RCMP and those fighting to keep their jobs, Mr. Callens said.
“We’ve seen people who’ve been dismissed and who have committed murder while still RCMP officers because they’re in the process of appeal,” he said at the forum, referring to a case other than Mr. Robinson’s.
“It’s madness. It’s absolute madness.”
Mr. Callens told the group he wants to see greater transparency and accountability on issues affecting the RCMP. He acknowledged the force hadn’t done well in those areas in the past.
“Most importantly, I’ve come to understand the importance of public trust and confidence so that we are able to fulfil our duty and successfully meet our mandate to keep the communities we serve safe.”
The Mounties’ image in B.C. has been tarnished over several years by a profusion of bad public relations involving Robinson’s actions, the RCMP-involved shooting death of Ian Bush and allegations by Cpl. Catherine Galliford of sexual harassment and abuse from senior officers.
Mr. Callens said he could see a distinct advantage to being able to hire and fire like other companies.
Fixing the RCMP Act hasn’t been a priority for politicians for some time, but Mr. Callens said RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is committed to moving the issue to the top of the agenda.
“As election cycles come and go, there’s all kinds of different priorities and there’s all kinds of different pressures on the agenda and fixing the RCMP Act has not been at the top of the agenda,” Mr. Callens said.
“Our current commissioner is committed to having it at the top of the agenda.”
The RCMP has assigned lawyer Kevin Brosseau to review the act and recommend changes to the federal government.
After a request for an interview, the Ministry of Public Safety issued a statement saying the Conservative government is committed to giving the RCMP the tools it needs to keep Canadians safe and ensure appropriate oversight is in place.
“We agree that some change is necessary to deal with what Commissioner Paulson called ‘dark-hearted behaviour’ displayed by a small minority of RCMP members.”
However, the statement said the government hadn’t made any final decisions on changes to the act.