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Paulson takes command of RCMP, pledging focus on 'core business'

Outgoing RCMP chief William Elliott shakes hands with new Commissioner Bob Paulson during a change-of-command ceremony in Ottawa on Dec. 8, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

As he took over Canada's national police force, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a few stories about recent incidents involving his officers.

In his brief speech, he talked about his Mounties leading a security force in Haiti, raising money for children, arresting thieves up north, fighting organized crime in Alberta, and bringing to court someone who had shot two of his men.

Officially becoming the 23rd leader of the RCMP, Commissioner Paulson emphasized that the focus of his tenure will be on the national force's "core business" – policing.

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"That is the RCMP that I joined, and that is the RCMP that I want to deliver to Canadians," he said as he praised the work of the Mounties.

Known as a "cop's cop," Commissioner Paulson's message was aimed at his troops, who are the ones who must bring the force into the 21st century and win back the respect of Canadians.

Speaking to reporters after the change-of-command ceremony, he emphasized that his priority is not to reform processes within the RCMP, but to ensure that Mounties adhere to the proper and expected levels of behaviour. When "outrageous" incidents occur, he promised swifter discipline, including much speedier suspensions than the type the force has seen in the recent past.

The ceremony started shortly before 11 o'clock on Thursday morning as 120 Mounties, dressed in their red serge and accompanied by the RCMP pipes and drums, set up in a parade formation in a cavernous hangar near the Ottawa airport.

The RCMP invited hundreds of guests, mainly other Mounties, bureaucrats, diplomats and Mr. Paulson's family and friends.

Following tradition, the ceremony include a strong native component, namely a blessing by Albert Dumont, spiritual adviser from the Algonquin Nation, and an address by Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Outgoing commissioner William Elliott, a long-serving bureaucrat who led the RCMP from 2007 until Mr. Paulson's nomination last month, inspected his troops for a last time.

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Mr. Elliott said that he has absorbed a large share of criticism during his four-year tenure, but added it reflected the high expectations of Canadians in the RCMP. He left after receiving three cheers from his uniformed Mounties and a hand of applause from the gathered crowd.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews thanked Mr. Elliott for his service, and added that Commissioner Paulson is perfectly suited to continue handling the "challenging transformation" of the national police force. The RCMP has faced a series of controversies in recent years, the latest being allegations of mishandling of a series of complaints of sexual harassment.

"He recognizes that change is necessary," Mr. Toews said of the new top Mountie.

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