The RCMP is “so dysfunctional” that internal conflicts like the one raging between Commissioner William Elliott and number of senior officers are quite predictable, according to author Paul Palango.
“As long as you leave the RCMP the way it is, it is ungovernable, it is unmanageable,” Palango told the Straight by phone from Nova Scotia.
While media accounts have focused on complaints about Elliott’s reportedly brusque management style, Palango, a former Globe and Mail national news editor who has written three books on the Mounties, explained that the structure of the police force itself is a major problem.
“So you have Elliott at the top, who’s really a counterintelligence-type officer, trying to bring control on the force and make it smarter about national security,” Palango said, referring to the extensive experience with national-security matters the RCMP commissioner acquired prior to his appointment to the force in 2007.
“Then you have 60 percent or 70 percent of the officers who are involved in contract policing, which is day-to-day policing,” the veteran journalist said. B.C. is one of the provinces policed through a contract with the RCMP, and negotiations are under way on a new 20-year agreement.
“There must be some significant changes afoot that are coming that threaten the fiefdoms of the officers who complained, because that’s how the RCMP works,” Palango speculated. “They’re very territorial, and they’re very protective of their areas. So I think Mr. Elliott probably gave the word that ”˜We’re going to do something now about the RCMP.’ What that is I don’t know.”
Robert Gordon is the director of SFU’s school of criminology. An avid RCMP watcher, Gordon suggested that in light of the strife within the organization, the federal cabinet should consider striking a commission to restructure the police force.
“The RCMP needs to find a way of no longer being everybody’s policeman,” Gordon told the Straight. “It needs to pull out of municipal and provincial policing. It needs to figure out what its role in national policing is in Canada. There is a need for a body that has a national investigative function. The [RCMP] organization as it is currently constructed is an anachronism.”
In his 2008 book Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP, Palango highlighted complaints about the way Elliott treats his officers. He quoted one insider as saying: “Elliott is a screamer. He reams senior officers out in public, and he belittles them. Some of us are ready to pack it in all because of him.”
However, B.C.–based police psychologist Mike Webster notes that the RCMP workplace has long been a toxic environment, even before Elliott came in. He cited a 2007 report by Carleton University’s Linda Duxbury in which the organizational expert noted that a significant number of RCMP officers and civilian employees “do not feel trusted, respected, fairly treated or well led”.
“I think it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black,” Webster told the Straight by phone, referring to the officers’ complaints against Elliott.
Webster, who has worked with the Mounties and other police forces, wants the federal government to consider Vancouver police chief Jim Chu for the job of RCMP commissioner.
He said that Chu, who was appointed chief constable in 2007, has consistently stepped up to the plate in addressing complaints of misconduct against his officers. “I knew him when he was a constable,” Webster said. “He’s a very ethical guy.”