Despite repeated assurances that it had learned from the many controversies and embarrassments that have torn at its integrity in the past few years, it would appear the RCMP was taught very little.
Details now emerging about an incident in Mission, B.C., three years ago are almost impossible to comprehend against the backdrop of widespread public disenchantment with the force in the province.
And with the B.C. government at an impasse with Ottawa over the terms of a new contract with the Mounties, this case could ignite fresh calls for the province to examine the feasibility of setting up a provincial force with far more accountability built into its operating mandate than the RCMP appears to have in its.
The essential facts of the case are as follows:
On Sept. 18, 2008, a 911 operator received a report of shots fired inside a rural Mission home. A transcript indicated that when the dispatcher relayed the information to the local RCMP detachment, the officer on duty, Constable Mike White, responded, "Six gunshots in a row and a crash," and then was heard laughing.
Constable White went to the home – and three minutes later left without even getting out of his car. (Another RCMP officer and an auxiliary member also attended in a separate vehicle, but did not get out of their car either).
Four days later, the Mounties were called to the home again. Inside, they found one man dead and a woman alive but barely clinging to life. She died en route to hospital.
The parents of the dead woman, Mark and Rosemarie Surakka, lodged a complaint with the RCMP concerning the conduct of the senior investigating officer – Constable White. They contended that their daughter, Lisa Dudley, would likely be alive today had the officer done his job properly and gone inside the house the night the shots were fired.
The officer, now a corporal – he was promoted less than a month after the incident – faced a disciplinary hearing this year for his actions in 2008. The hearing came about mostly because of pressure put on the Mounties by the Surakkas. It lasted less than an hour. The officer was formally reprimanded and docked a day's pay.
And that was it.
This case would appear to follow in the fine tradition of other ignominious examples of shoddy policing in B.C. by the RCMP. Among them the taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski and the jailhouse shooting of Ian Bush. The RCMP's conduct in B.C. has pretty much been on trial for a few years, reaching its peak during the public outrage over the death of Mr. Dziekanski.
That prompted a public inquiry and a humiliating dressing down of the force by Commissioner Thomas Braidwood in his June, 2010, report. That, in turn, led to assurances from the Mounties that it was a different organization; that it had learned from its mistakes. But the disciplinary hearing for Corporal White was this year – in the shadow of one of the force's darkest moments in B.C.
And yet the RCMP decided that a reprimand and the loss of one day's pay was sufficient discipline for blowing off a shots-fired call? For a dereliction of duty that arguably may have cost someone her life? I know we will never know for sure if Lisa Dudley would have survived had she been rescued four days earlier when she should have been. But it's fair to say her chances of survival would have been a helluva lot better.
At the disciplinary hearing, an RCMP panel didn't give the family of the dead woman a chance to speak. It didn't allow an independent review of the incident – conducted by an outside force and scathing in its assessment of Corp. White's actions – to be submitted. It didn't even allow the 911 call in which Constable White joked about the matter to be entered into the record.
The so-called investigation of the officer's conduct in this case is as egregious as the behaviour of the officer.
The Mounties would like this story to go away. They are hoping they can ride out a few days of bad publicity that follow the release this week of the 911 exchange and that will be that. Three people have been charged in connection with the shooting, but no one is sure when they will get to trial.
A coroner's inquest, a venue where we might get more answers about what happened here, can't occur until all criminal proceedings related to the incident are concluded. Who knows when that might be?
That can't be good enough. Not a chance. Something has to be done about this before then.