Restoring integrity of RCMP is essential

  • July 12, 2007
{mosimage}The debate over whether the new commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should have risen from the ranks, or even be allowed to wear the red serge, is beside the point. The real objective should be to restore integrity to the RCMP and William Elliott should be judged on his ability to do so.
Canadians need an RCMP they can trust. Public integrity is a moral issue for all of society and all societies. Canadians rightly look to their public institutions to model for them an ideal of moral rectitude; this much we have all been taught by the righteous furore over such scandals as sexual abuse by clergy, shareholder abuse by chief executive officers of large corporations and political corruption.

For the right reasons, the RCMP had a reputation as being incorruptible. Canadians took pride in their Mounties and gave them a trust and respect that had been earned over more than a century of devotion to peace and security in this country. But recently, the Mounties’ reputation had been tarnished by scandals. To wit:

  • The RCMP was complicit in Maher Arar’s ordeal in a Syrian prison, sent there by U.S. intelligence forces on information from the RCMP. Arar was completely innocent and the Canadian government has apologized and paid him millions of dollars in compensation. But RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli was forced to resign after giving contradictory evidence to a House of Commons committee about what he knew of the situation.

  • Zaccardelli was also in charge when another scandal broke at the RCMP over the misuse of pension funds. Whistle blowers who brought public attention to the problem were punished.

  • In British Columbia, a coroner’s inquest recently finished looking into the case of 22-year-old Ian Bush, who had been arrested for giving a false name to an RCMP officer and holding an open bottle of beer outside a hockey arena. Within 30 minutes of his arrest, he was dead, shot in the head by a young constable. The inquest featured evidence suggesting the officer had been given far more advantages than anyone else would have received in a police investigation of a suspicious death.

One by one, the controversies have damaged the RCMP and something dramatic had to be done to restore accountability. Elliott, a senior bureaucrat in the Public Safety Department, was the unanimous choice of the non-partisan selection committee and has been praised by those he worked for, including members of the prime minister’s office under Paul Martin.

Yes, he will probably be given a rough ride by those to whom custom and loyalty are the litmus tests of membership in this elite fraternity. But he deserves support both within and without the force; a new face with no internal debts to pay stands the best chance of bringing change to one of Canada’s most cherished — but also most traditional — institutions.

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