Older Canadians will remember when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were a source of national pride.
Formed in 1920 through the amalgamation of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (founded in 1873 at the North-West Mountain Police) with the Dominion Police, the RCMP served for decades as a respected provincial police force, and even saw duty overseas as part of United Nations missions.
The RCMP website notes that today, the force’s scope of operations “includes organized crime, terrorism, illicit drugs, economic crimes and offences that threaten the integrity of Canada’s national borders”. The force also provides protection for visiting VIPs and offers resources to other Canadian law enforcement agencies.
Today, however, the RCMP has an image problem. Complaints of harassment within the ranks and incidents of misbehaving officers have given the force an ongoing series of black eyes. Bob Paulson took over as RCMP commissioner in late 2011 with the task of cleaning up the force, but five and a half years into the job, it’s clear there’s still a lot to do. That work will be left to a new commissioner, since Paulson has announced he will retire in June.
Bullying and harassment continue to plague the force, says a new report released Monday by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. The commission adds that major changes to the way the RCMP is run are needed in order to turn things around.
Among the report’s recommendations was a call for civilian governance or oversight for the RCMP.
The RCMP did introduce new harassment policies and processes in 2014 to deal with conflicts within the ranks.
However, the new report found that the bulk of complaints since the new policies took effect involved claims of managers abusing their authority, including using abusive language.
Also Monday, former auditor general Sheila Fraser released a report reviewing four harassment lawsuits launched by female members of the RCMP. Fraser also called for major reforms within the police force.
While Paulson noted the reports contained some good recommendations, he said bringing about the necessary changes won’t happen overnight.
“I’ve characterized it as generational,” Paulson said in a Canadian Press story. “As long as we can continue to demonstrate progress, I think we should give these things time.”
There’s no doubt Paulson’s efforts to overhaul the RCMP was handicapped by a long-entrenched system already in place when he took the top job. “I am trying to run a modern police force with a discipline system that was current 25 years ago,” he noted in June 2012, a few months after taking the helm.
Paulson’s probably right that changing the culture within the RCMP will take time, but neither can it be too slow.
The RCMP still has important work to do and if there are broken parts within the organization’s machinery that affect its performance, fixing those things needs to be a priority, not only for the sake of the Canadian public on the receiving end of RCMP services, but for its members, too.
The RCMP still has an important role to play in Canadian society, in everything from community policing to national security. Its members played a crucial part in last year’s Fort McMurray fire to help ensure the safety of citizens being evacuated as the blaze approached.
Most members of the RCMP continue to uphold the police force’s long-held values. It’s the ones who aren’t that are the focus of the needed changes.