Has the time come for Ottawa to consider reorganizing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the ground up?
That was one of the conclusions of the devastating report by Michel Bastarache, a former Supreme Court judge, into a history of sexual harassment in Canada’s iconic national police force, covering thousands of cases dating back to 1974.
“The time has come for an in-depth, external and independent review of the organization and future of the RCMP,” Mr. Bastarache wrote.
The toxic culture described by Mr. Bastarache is alone enough to force a serious rethink of the Mounties. But it’s not the only question hanging over the RCMP.
The officers wearing the force’s famous red serge uniforms are part of an organization whose responsibilities are remarkably broad – possibly too broad. A police force entrusted with the most complex issues of national security is the same one in charge of breaking up bar fights in small towns.
This issue resurfaced with a vengeance in April after a gunman shot and killed 22 people in Nova Scotia, the worst mass murder in Canada’s history.
The tragedy began late on April 18 when Gabriel Wortman assaulted his domestic partner and went on to kill neighbours, acquaintances and random victims, while travelling 155 kilometres over 13 hours.
For much of the time, the shooter was disguised as an RCMP officer and driving a replica Mountie patrol car – information that the RCMP knew early on in the rampage but waited 12 hours before sharing with the public.
Some family members of the victims believe their loved ones would still be alive had the RCMP put out an alert detailing the nature of the threat. Critics also wonder why the RCMP called in backup from a detachment 90 minutes away in Moncton instead of working with local police forces in Truro and Halifax.
Truro Police Service dispatch call logs from the period of the 13-hour rampage show that RCMP officers were constantly a step behind the killer and looking for him in the wrong places. When officers finally confronted and killed the shooter, it was because he pulled into a gas station where an RCMP tactical team just happened to be refuelling.
The circumstances of the Nova Scotia tragedy would have tested any police force, but it’s fair to ask whether the way the Mounties are recruited and organized, and the scope of their responsibilities, contributed to the confusion.
As a national police force, the RCMP is responsible for enforcing federal laws on money-laundering, human-trafficking, organized crime, financial crime and national security. But up to three-quarters of its 18,500 peace officers do something quite different: serve as local cops in 750 detachments, many in rural towns and remote areas across Canada (except in Ontario and Quebec, which have provincial police forces).
In his report, Mr. Bastarache made much of the fact that the RCMP has to recruit more than 1,000 new constables every year to keep up with demand. He questioned whether the bare-minimum hiring requirements – being at least 18 years old, having a high-school diploma and no criminal record – were enough to ensure that recruits could meet the demands of the job.
He pointed out that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which does much of same complex national security and law enforcement work as the RCMP, but which has no role in local policing, requires candidates to be at least 23 years old and possess a university degree.
National police forces in Sweden and Norway also require more experience and education.
Mountie recruits, on the other hand, are almost all trained at a single facility – “the Depot” in Regina – in a paramilitary fashion that Mr. Bastarache says contributes to “harassment, bullying and an apparent refusal to acknowledge the realities of a diverse society and workforce.”
A national police force with an out-of-date and toxic culture is a problem, to say the least. So is an organization that may be overstretched by being asked to do too much. A generation ago, Ottawa reviewed the RCMP’s scope, and decided to slim it down. It gave up the business of national intelligence, which was given to a new organization, CSIS. This year has made it clear the role of the Mounties needs to once again be rethought.
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