RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is making life more difficult for rank-and-file officers by stating publicly that there are racists on the force who he would like to remove from duty, the association that represents the force's members says. In a strongly worded statement, it said the commissioner's response earlier this month to questions about racism against indigenous people was rife with sweeping generalizations and puts officers in harm's way, both legally and personally.
"How is the public supposed to respect officers now, after their own commissioner throws them under the bus?" asked Rob Creasser, a retired Mountie and spokesman for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada.
The association's backlash comes on the heels of prolonged tensions between officers and the commissioner. It also follows an announcement by the federal Liberal government that legislation will be introduced in Parliament this winter to allow RCMP members to unionize but not to strike.
Commissioner Paulson, a veteran Mountie who was appointed to the force's top job in 2011, was invited to speak earlier this month at an annual meeting for First Nations chiefs in Gatineau. After the speech, Grand Chief Doug Kelly of B.C.'s Sto:lo Tribal Council told him that some of the worst racists encountered by indigenous people wear a badge and a gun issued by the RCMP.
"I understand there are racists in my force. I don't want them to be in my police force," Commissioner Paulson replied. "I would encourage you all, though, to have confidence in the [discipline] processes that exist, up to and including calling me if you're having a problem with a racist in your jurisdiction or any other problem."
Mr. Creasser said in a telephone interview on Monday that his association has received considerable feedback from its members since the commissioner's remarks were reported and it has been laced with anger and frustration.
"He was kind of painting everybody with the same brush," Mr. Creasser said.
There are racist members of the RCMP, just as there are racists in every other profession, he said. But, by telling chiefs who are having problems with racism to call him directly, the commissioner has "short-circuited" the system that is in place to deal with problems of that nature, Mr. Creasser said.
Complaints against the conduct of an RCMP officer can be made at any RCMP detachment. They can also be lodged by contacting the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, an independent agency created to ensure such grievances are examined fairly and impartially.
If an RCMP member "has committed an offence against the code of conduct by making racial slurs or acting in a racist way, he will be dealt with," Mr. Creasser said.
Calls to the RCMP about the police association's concerns with Commissioner Paulson's statements were not returned.
For years, the Mounties have faced allegations they have systematically mistreated members of Canada's First Nations. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission recently wrapped up an investigation into allegations of excessive use of force, rape and mishandling of missing person reports when dealing with indigenous people in Northern British Columbia. The results have not yet been made public.
At the same time, the force is facing a series of internal pressures on other fronts.
Nearly 400 female RCMP veterans are attempting to sue over claims of harassment, bullying and discrimination.
The RCMP has made it easier, in recent years, to release officers with serious mental or physical problems.
And, last spring, the force was charged with violating the Canada Labour Code for not providing appropriate weapons and equipment for "active shooter" incidents such as the one in Moncton in 2014 that resulted in the deaths of three officers and the wounding of two others.
All of which creates strain as the Mounties prepare to form a national bargaining unit that would represent all officers and reservists.
There is significant dissatisfaction among rank-and-file RCMP officers with Commissioner Paulson, just as there was with his predecessors, Mr. Creasser said. And, in the case of the recent statements about racism, he said, "he didn't handle it well and I think he has further alienated some of the members."
With a report from Mike Hager in Vancouver