Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing an unprecedented crisis in the RCMP and must choose between his hand-picked civilian leader and a group of high-ranking mutineers pushing for a new top Mountie, according to RCMP insiders and experts.
There is a growing rift in the national police force after at least seven senior officers formally complained to their bureaucratic bosses about the leadership style of Commissioner William Elliott. Sources said the conflict stems from Mr. Elliott's abrasive and crusty personality and his frequent screaming matches with officers, often in relation to the rapid pace of reforms as the force comes under attack over its mishandling of high-profile cases.
But Mr. Elliott has his defenders within the RCMP, who describe his outbursts as examples of his passion for the force.
Sources said Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell, who commands the Ontario division and is nearing retirement, sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and other government officials last week laying out a series of complaints about Mr. Elliott's alleged dictatorial conduct. Other assistant and deputy commissioners vented their anger with the deputy minister at Public Safety Canada, and now the government has hired an outside adviser to determine the extent of the crisis.
A recently retired member of the brass, former senior deputy commissioner Bill Sweeney, said on Tuesday that tensions have steadily grown since Mr. Elliott became the RCMP's first civilian leader three years ago.
"There was considerable discontent with the manner that the commissioner conducted himself, both around senior and junior officers. The tension was palpable, and I'm not surprised that people felt compelled to step forward," said Mr. Sweeney, who left the RCMP on July 1 after nearly 36 years of service. "The commissioner is a man of extremes. In some instances, his conduct was unacceptable to others around him."
The Clerk of the Privy Council responded to the crisis by launching a "workplace assessment," hiring an independent adviser to determine the cause of the tensions and see whether there is a potential reconciliation among senior managers.
Mr. Harper's office sent a clear message to the RCMP brass on Tuesday to calm down, saying the current exercise has "to occur expeditiously and without further rancour."
Mr. Toews added: "Frankly, it is unacceptable for individuals in leadership positions in an organization as important as the RCMP to air internal disputes through the news media."
Senior officials who support Mr. Elliott feel the conflict could be related to personal ambitions and rivalries between members trying to move up within the RCMP.
"The commissioner is a passionate guy," said a member of the senior executive committee. "He expects the best out of everyone."
Sources described the complainants as "Ottawa-centric," saying Mr. Elliott does not face the same problems with senior leadership in the rest of the country.
But Mr. Sweeney defended his former colleagues, saying he believes their motivations are honourable.
"Many felt that the behaviours that [Mr. Elliott]was exhibiting were inconsistent with what we are asking our front-lines officers to do when dealing with the public. That contradiction was just becoming intolerable to some," he said.
A number of RCMP watchers are questioning the government's "workplace assessment," arguing the rift between Mr. Elliott and his senior officials can no longer be bridged after more than a year of friction.
"This is too little, too late," said Linda Duxbury, an expert on the RCMP at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business.
Ms. Duxbury said the police culture is "based on trust," and if the government insists on keeping Mr. Elliott in his position, it will have to ask, "How many of his leadership team need to be replaced?"
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, who has studied the RCMP extensively, said the Harper government needs to act decisively and appoint a new commissioner, all the while creating a board of directors to oversee the RCMP.
Mr. Elliott did not agree to an interview on Tuesday. Reached at his home after a CBC report on the matter the previous night, he blamed the conflict on "tremendous changes" within the force. A number of senior RCMP officers are nearing retirement and are being replaced, and there is tension within the force over the need to centralize or decentralize operations.Report Typo/Error