Mike Webster wants to take the Mounties out of their paramilitary uniforms and into civilian clothes.
The renowned B.C.–based police psychologist also plans to stop the RCMP from doing contract police work in provinces, territories, and municipalities. He believes that the 26,000-strong force should be trimmed and focused instead on federal law enforcement just like the FBI in the U.S. Webster likewise intends to allow RCMP members to form a labour union.
Obviously, the 67-year-old Victoria native could only do all of this if he were the RCMP commissioner.
That’s the reason Webster is applying for this position. William Elliott was appointed as the first civilian to head the force in 2007, soon found himself at loggerheads with the RCMP’s top brass, and is leaving this fall.
“I’ve been so critical of the RCMP that it was time for me to put my money where my mouth is, and to throw my hat into the ring,” Webster told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
In his application letter, Webster pledges that he’s “committed to radically transforming this once credible organization before it destroys itself from within”.
“When I am done the organization will have a new face, a new business model, and a new direction; the Canadian public will have renewed confidence in their national police service and the membership will have rekindled their smouldering motivation,” he writes. “Moreover, by the time I am done I will have identified a new (and permanent) Commissioner and Senior Executive from within the organization who are committed to ‘turn around change’.”
Three names have been mentioned in various news reports in recent weeks as top candidates to head the RCMP. These are Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, a former army chief; Luc Portelance, president of the Canada Border Services Agency and an ex-Mountie; and Ottawa police chief Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner.
A former RCMP member who served for one year in 1988, Webster considers himself different from the others.
“There’s a great chance here that those individuals who have also made applications for this position, they don’t really understand how sick the RCMP is, how badly in need of change it is, and the only thing that’s to change it is turnaround change, transformational change,” Webster told the Straight. “And I don’t think that people coming from within the RCMP really have the motivation to engage in drastic changes because they’re bogged down, they’re burdened by tradition, history, sacred cows. So that’s why I see myself as the alternative choice. I’m willing to do those kinds of change.”
Elliott will start his new job as Interpol’s special representative to the United Nations in November.
As a professional psychologist, Webster has worked with and acted as a consultant to various police forces in Canada and abroad for over 30 years. He is a specialist in crisis management and an expert on matters relating to the application of force.
On May 13, 2008, he testified before a commission of inquiry that looked into the fatal encounter of Robert Dziekanski and four RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport that saw the newly arrived Polish immigrant zapped repeatedly by a Taser.
“I am embarrassed to be associated with organizations that taser sick old men in hospital beds and confused immigrants arriving to the country. Frankly I find it embarrassing,” Webster declared at the inquiry.
In the application package he put together, Webster included three articles he wrote about the RCMP.
One is titled “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Organizational Psychopathy: Policing in an Ethics-Free Universe”. In it, Webster identified what ails the RCMP. The top problem he pointed out was the RCMP’s failure in the “area of public trust”. He cited as an example the 35-percent increase in public complaints against the force in the year ending March 31, 2009.
In the same paper, he also referenced an independent report prepared by Carleton University professor Linda Duxbury. The 2007 report showed massive demoralization within the RCMP. Half of its work force “do not believe the organization is concerned about their health, safety and well being, treats them fairly, or treats them with respect and trust”, it stated.
In his interview with the Straight, Webster said that he finds it “ridiculous” that the RCMP actually prides itself as unique in the world because it is a federal, provincial, and municipal policing body, all rolled into one.
“They don’t wear any of those hats very well today, and soon they’re going to be wearing them with even less money,” he said. “They’re going to be spreading themselves even thinner. The RCMP is already the Walmart of policing. You couldn’t get a cheaper police service than the RCMP.”
According to Webster, there’s no possibility that the force can continue on into the future in its present form.