The RCMP reluctantly participated in kettling protesters at the G20 riots in Toronto in 2010, under orders from the local police, even though the controversial crowd-control technique is not part of the Mounties' playbook, according to a new report by the RCMP civilian watchdog.
RCMP officers on site at the 2010 summit of world leaders questioned the order to corral an entire crowd of protesters, but relented because they were officially operating under the command of the Toronto Police Service at that event site.
In future operations with other police forces, the Mounties should decide ahead of time what tactics they are willing to use, and which ones they won't, according to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
"It would have been helpful had the various police services [at the G20 summit]been operating by the same playbook," Ian McPhail, chairman of the commission, said in an interview.
Mr. McPhail said that if the RCMP decides to abandon one of its policies – such as allowing peaceful protesters the ability to walk away – it should do so in a formal agreement with the police force commanding the operation.
The issue arises whenever the RCMP works under the jurisdiction of a municipal police force, such as offering reinforcements at an event such as a Stanley Cup final in a Canadian city, he said.
The RCMP's main responsibility at the G20 summit was to ensure the security of the VIPs and foreign leaders, for which they obtained only kudos from the Conservative government. However, some RCMP officers also worked in the area of responsibility of the Toronto Police Service.
Throughout the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto respectively, the Mounties arrested only seven protesters, two of whom were later identified as undercover Toronto police officers.
"In summary, the Commission concludes that the RCMP's security planning process for the Summits was robust and thorough and that appropriate policies and procedures were in place," the final CPC report into the operation says. "The Commission also concludes that no RCMP members used unreasonable force, and that the RCMP's involvement in the kettling incident was reasonable in the circumstances."
On Monday morning, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said he had not seen the report, but confirmed his force was responsible for the tactical decisions on the streets during the summit.
"I do acknowledge the operational command decisions were being made by a Toronto police superintendant who was the operational commander at the time here in Toronto," he said.
However, he refused to comment on the report directly or its assertion that RCMP officers had felt uncomfortable boxing in – or "kettling" – protesters but did it anyway on the orders of his commanders.
"The RCMP will speak for the RCMP," he said. "We policed the city and I've spoken about the Toronto Police Service, I'll let them speak for their own service."
Mr. McPhail said the RCMP fully co-operated with his investigation into the G8/G20 summits. Still, he said, amassing 40,000 pages of documents was an arduous process, and that in future large operations, the RCMP should prepare ahead of time for an eventual investigation by its civilian watchdog.
"We got everything we needed. Could we have gotten it a little faster? The answer would be yes," he said. "Everything to do with the G8-G20 wasn't kept in one filing cabinet, so it had to be pieced together from a number of different sources."
The commission is still awaiting legislation that will boast its ability to gather evidence from the Mounties in its investigation. Mr. McPhail said the RCMP is already fully co-operative, and has proactively started gathering more information on issues such as the use of Tasers by its officers.
The biggest ongoing project at the commission is an investigation into allegations of systemic sexual harassment within the RCMP, a key priority for the police force's commissioner, Bob Paulson.
Mr. McPhail hopes for the review to be finished by the end of the year.
"We've retained the services of an outside investigator who is reviewing all RCMP files on harassment issues, whether sexual or otherwise, going back six years," Mr. McPhail said. "It's a big job, there is a lot to look at."
He said the goal is to determine whether there are systemic problems within the national police force, and whether it is properly addressing the problem.
"Our focus is how the RCMP deals with this," he said.
With a report from Adrian Morrow in Toronto