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Justin Ling is a freelance investigative journalist.

On April 18, 2020, the small town of Portapique was turned into a war zone by one of its own.

Corporal Aaron Patton walked down Orchard Beach Drive, the night illuminated by the street’s burning homes. Gunshots rang out. Bodies lay in the street. Still, Cpl. Patton walked forward, identifying survivors in the wreckage. He radioed back with a critical piece of information: The killer “has a car that looks like a police car.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police command received that report, and ignored it.

Acting Corporal Stuart Beselt was terrified that more locals could be in danger. He asked dispatch “Is there some kind of emergency broadcast?” Instead, the RCMP sent out a tweet.

Constable Vicki Colford relayed that there was a small dirt path the killer could have used to escape “if they know the roads well.” Local RCMP did not acknowledge or note the report. In fact, the area commanders did not know the area at all, and the force’s map software wasn’t working that night – a staff sergeant at headquarters had to pull a map off the wall. Constable Colford was right, but it was too late.

This is a snapshot of some of the errors that occurred in just the first hour of the attack. From 10 p.m. that night until noon the next day, the killer hunted down 22 people. With each hour, the failures of the RCMP – the local police force for much of Nova Scotia, which is also contracted to provide policing in seven other provinces and three territories – stacked higher and higher.

On Thursday, the joint federal-provincial Mass Casualty Commission released its report. It laid out how broken bureaucracy, operational dysfunction, outdated communications practices, outdated technology, inadequate equipment, a lack of trauma-informed training, and outright incompetence turned individual errors into failures.

Individuals made mistakes, as is human. But we have institutions like the RCMP so that they can be more than the sum of their parts. The Commission lays bare how the RCMP is less than those brave officers. It takes their hard work and dedication and squanders it. Worse yet, it seems fundamentally incapable of doing better.

One failure, in particular, carries a devastating symbolism. The killer drove a replica RCMP cruiser, using the symbol of service and bravery as a weapon. His fake vehicle, however, had a very real push bumper – a simple metal device that is typically mounted on municipal police department vehicles, used to intercept other vehicles safely. Constable Heidi Stevenson’s real RCMP cruiser didn’t have one. She tried to intercept the killer anyway, and died trying to stop his rampage. A fellow officer sat with her body, waiting for backup, as the killer drove off to continue his murder spree.

The failures inside the RCMP are not just systemic, they are endemic. They have continued despite report after report showing how the RCMP has failed Indigenous women, missing people, even their own officers.

That history of failures is why the Commission called on the RCMP to “adopt a policy of admitting its mistakes, accepting responsibility for them, and ensuring that accountability mechanisms are in place for addressing its errors.” This policy of penance should “be a criterion for any promotion within the RCMP.”

When interim RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme addressed the report at a press conference on Thursday, there was no admitting of mistakes or taking of responsibility. Journalists asked why. “The report was tabled a couple of hours ago,” he said. “And I have not gone through the review just yet.”

The RCMP leadership was given a copy of the report more than 24 hours prior.

The evidence is clear: The RCMP will not and cannot fix itself. Ottawa is unwilling or unable to, as Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino promised, “hold the RCMP…to account.”

The Trudeau government and the RCMP brass will promise reforms, then retreat to their Ottawa sanctums. That is where change and accountability go to die. It is not good enough.

The upper leadership of the RCMP needs to be replaced immediately, for starters. But it is also time to take this accountability out of Ottawa’s hands: End contract policing and let towns, cities, and provinces make policing – and accountability – a local concern.

Even that radical change may not be enough. This is an institution, as the Commission notes, defined by “a resistance to acknowledging and grappling sincerely with difficult institutional truths, including the operation of sexism and systemic racism within the RCMP.”

The Trudeau government needs to provide, in the coming month, a detailed plan for how the RCMP will be fixed – or abolished.

Anything else is just another failure.

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