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the public purse

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson listens to questions from journalists on May 31, 2012.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Members of the RCMP's iconic Musical Ride team spent a recent Thursday afternoon in another ceremonial role – acting as an honour guard at RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson's wedding – a part that normally isn't played by officers on duty.

Update: Mr. Paulson has since apologized and reimbursed the government for the salary of the officers.

The Mounties, when first contacted by The Globe and Mail, said the officers were volunteers, which is the practice, but when pressed revealed they were on a paid shift.

Commissioner Paulson and Erin O'Gorman, a director-general in Transport Canada, were married at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Ottawa on Aug. 16. The bride wore a strapless white gown; the groom was in his RCMP uniform, said guest and parishioner Marlene Pignat.

The low-key wedding was attended by about 80 guests – plus a full "honour guard" consisting of eight RCMP officers dressed in their red serge uniforms, who formed a bridal arch with their lances. "They were dressed in all their finery," said Ms. Pignat. "It was very nice. The couple seemed to be relaxed and enjoying the moment."

When The Globe enquired the following day, RCMP spokesman Corporal David Falls said the eight officers were members in training from the Musical Ride branch who volunteered to be at the wedding."These duties were performed voluntarily at the end of their workday," Cpl. Falls said in an e-mail.

But sources familiar with the situation say the eight trainees were in fact assigned to attend the wedding as part of their regular duties. Because the wedding happened at 4 p.m., their shift was changed that day to start at noon instead of 7 a.m.

When pressed for clarification, Cpl. Falls acknowledged the wedding in fact happened "in the middle of the [modified] shift" and that the commissioner requested an honour guard. But the spokesman insisted the trainees "were polled for their possible interest in this event. They were not assigned." Again, sources familiar with the situation say that in fact they were assigned and did not volunteer.

While the officers were not pulled from active police work – they are spending the year learning to ride and care for horses before joining the ceremonial riding team next year – they were assigned to attend a private function on their employer's time, to the benefit of their boss.

Commissioner Paulson has made it his mission to clean up the troubled organization.

The Globe made several attempts to contact Commissioner Paulson, who is on leave until Sept. 4. He was not available for an interview, and it is unclear whether he knew the officers were on duty.

One retired high-ranking RCMP official who asked not to be identified said he'd never heard of anyone being assigned during their working hours to perform honour-guard duties at a colleague's wedding. "These are things that in the past would have been looked past, but in this day and age, when everybody's looking at how we spend the public purse, they aren't."

Tim Killam, a retired deputy commissioner with the RCMP, pointed out the officers pulled in for wedding duty were performing a ceremonial role in their regular day jobs in the first place, and that RCMP officers regularly show up at sporting events and other public forums as part of their assigned duties to do little more than stand upright and look iconic. "We do honour guard all over across this country because people look at the RCMP as a national symbol. How do you say no to that?" he said. "We've been doing it forever and people want it. People are proud of traditions. This is a duty I would think [the trainees] would want to do. It's a great gig. It's this, or what do you do back at the stable?"