Brenda Lucki should not resign as Commissioner of the RCMP. All of us – and that includes newspaper columnists – need to curb the impulse to demand that the person in charge be fired whenever things start hitting fans.
The RCMP is a deeply troubled institution. Commissioner Lucki has been on the job less than three years. Neither the force nor the Canadian public will be served by her resignation. She has some lessons to learn from recent missteps. Here’s hoping she learns them and then gets back to work at reforming the national police force.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is leading the call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to dismiss Commissioner Lucki, on the grounds that the RCMP failed to protect Indigenous fishermen in Nova Scotia who were exercising their constitutional right to fish lobster. Protesters allegedly committed assault and destroyed property, a flagrant violation of the rule of law.
“I am asking the Prime Minister to remove Commissioner Lucki and to replace her with someone who will focus their attention on public safety and combating racism,” Mr. Bellegarde said in a statement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh supports that demand.
“Commissioner Lucki denied the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP – then admitted it, but couldn’t define it,” Mr. Singh tweeted Friday. “Now, she’s defended the failure of the RCMP in Nova Scotia.”
He was referring to Commissioner Lucki’s controversial remarks in June, when she said: “I have to admit, I really struggle with the term ‘systemic racism.' … I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.”
She later backtracked, as she should have. Intolerance by white people toward those who aren’t white is bred in the bone of Western institutions, especially police forces. That is why it is so difficult to eradicate: Most people who aren’t affected by it can’t see it. But there is no reason to believe Commissioner Lucki did not learn from the incident.
Commissioner of the RCMP is one of the most difficult jobs in this country. Commissioner Lucki’s predecessor, Bob Paulson, called it “soul destroying.” Commissioner Lucki, the first permanent female commissioner, was chosen, in part, to address harassment within the force that Mr. Paulson had failed to eradicate.
His predecessor, William Elliott, was the first commissioner chosen from outside the force. Charged with reforming the RCMP, he left in 2011 with the mission not accomplished, and after a failed mutiny by senior deputies.
Under Mr. Elliott’s predecessor, Giuliano Zaccardelli, the RCMP was heavily criticized for political interference and low staff morale.
There have been so many controversies: accusations of rampant bullying; handing Maher Arar and others over to the Americans to be tortured; pepper spraying protesters at the 1997 APEC summit – these show just one example from each of the past three decades, which is why someone is always calling for the head of the RCMP Commissioner.
But how would replacing Commissioner Lucki accelerate efforts to confront and purge racism within the RCMP? How would it promote the full equality of women in the force? How would it improve the quality of officer training? How would it bolster morale?
There is good reason to investigate why the RCMP failed to protect Indigenous fishermen in Nova Scotia. Was that failure motivated by racism, or were there simply not enough officers available at the time to deter the assailants?
But unless that investigation reveals that Commissioner Lucki, as a result of decisions she made, contributed to the conditions that led to the violence, then there is no need for her to step down.
The Commissioner does need to watch her language. She needs to remember that defending your officers, an instinctive response for any police chief, can be seen as an intolerant refusal to acknowledge failings.
Most important, Commissioner Lucki needs to show demonstrable progress in reforming the RCMP: making it more responsive to community needs, with its officers better trained and its culture more tolerant and diverse.
If she fails at that, then Commissioner Lucki should leave. In the meantime, the rest of us should let her get on with the job.
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