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Senior Mountie defends his role in conflict with commissioner

Raf Souccar, then Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP, leaves after testifying before the Commons public safety committee on June 10, 2008.

Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press

Raf Souccar still has his Mountie uniform, but no job to go to.

The RCMP deputy commissioner with 33 years of experience was sidelined last October as he lost out in a power struggle against Commissioner William Elliott, ending up with no official responsibility in the national police force.

In an appearance before the Public Safety committee of the House on Tuesday, Mr. Souccar laid out his version of events for the first time, trying to dispel the notion he led a mutiny against Mr. Elliott or created a public firestorm by leaking details of the dispute to the media.

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The main revelation was that Mr. Souccar did not go out of his way last year to denounce the sinking morale in the RCMP or his problems with Mr. Elliott's leadership style and allegedly abusive behaviour. In fact, Mr. Souccar said he simply answered truthfully when officials in the top bureaucratic department in Ottawa, the Privy Council Office, called him at home to ask about Mr. Elliott, the first civilian commissioner in RCMP history.

At the time, the PCO and the Department of Public Safety had heard worrying descriptions of the working environment inside the RCMP from Bill Sweeney, a newly retired senior deputy commissioner.

Mr. Souccar said after he and other senior RCMP officers responded to the government's queries, his statements were held out against him as the matter became public. On Oct. 7, when he learned he was being pushed aside, Mr. Souccar said he was told by Mr. Elliott that he was "widely seen as the person who brought this matter to the press."

Speaking to MPs, Mr. Souccar denied the allegation and said he was willing to take a lie-detector test to prove it.

Listening to the testimony, Liberal MP Mark Holland felt the government completely mishandled the situation.

"It looks to me that he was punished for answering questions honestly and in a forthright way," Mr. Holland said after the committee hearing. "It will send a chill through the bureaucracy."

Still wearing his dark blue uniform reserved for official appearances, Mr. Souccar told MPs that he is currently on leave. His future inside the force is unclear, as Mr. Elliott has announced his departure from the force this summer.

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Mr. Souccar has expressed a clear desire to return to policing in the RCMP, where his wife and son are working.

He said he hopes that the government will take action on the creation of a board of management to oversee the RCMP and make the organization more independent.

"If a board of management was in place, this whole affair of the summer wouldn't have happened," he told MPs.

Mr. Souccar said there was a large number of people inside the RCMP who shared his view that Mr. Elliott could be abusive and disrespectful, with a tendency to chastise or humiliate his officials in public. For the first time in his life, he said that he didn't look forward to going to work, and that he had to comfort employees in tears in his office.

As he spoke in early July with senior POC officials Patricia Hassard and Marie-Lucie Morin, as well as Public Safety deputy minister Bill Baker, Mr. Souccar said he felt it was his responsibility to be straightforward.

"This was a matter that was best handled in private. It was tried on numerous occasions by face-to-face contact, by e-mail, by telephone, and failed," he said. "It got to the point where things had gotten so bad ... someone had to act, somebody had to stand up. Standing up was not an easy thing."

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While the government received statements on the matter from Mr. Souccar and seven or eight other senior Mounties, it only ordered a workplace assessment a few weeks later, when the CBC broke the story about the internal conflict.

"Action was taken after the matter hit the media," he said.

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