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Monday, April 02, 2007

Time to rein in the horsemen

Quis Custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will police the police? That question was first posed by Plato almost 24 centuries ago in the Republic which was his work on government and morality. It is still a question we still do not have an effective answer to two and half millenia later.

Here in Canada the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an institution which goes back 133 years, is once again being tarnished by scandal and misconduct. The last time the Mounties were in this much trouble, back in the 1970s after a bizarre series of barn burnings and illegal break ins, they had their spy license revoked and a new agency CSIS was created.

The allegations of a major scandal involving RCMP pension funds are indicative of a police force that is poorly led, unaccountable and increasingly out of control. If he is to save the RCMP from itself, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day faces a monumental task in trying to rein in its horsemen.

It is not just the public, but members of the force itself who are losing confidence in the RCMP. Recent weeks have seen senior Mounties breaking down and crying when testifying before the federal public accounts committee about the untrustworthiness of the RCMP’s leadership. Retired RCMP sergeant Ron Lewis told the commons committee that in looking into pension-fund irregularities he was "met with inaction, delays, roadblocks, obstruction and lies.” Lewis also alleged that the person who orchestrated the cover-up was none other than former RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli.

That allegation remains to be proven in a court of law. However what is already known is that under Zaccardelli, the RCMP acted atrociously in the Maher Arar case. Justice Dennis O'Connor concluded that the RCMP mislabeled Arar as an Islamic extremist with terrorist ties and that this led to his deportation from the United States to a Syrian prison cell, where he was tortured. Zaccardelli resigned in early December amidst concerns about his conflicting testimony to a parliamentary committee reviewing the Arar affair.

It is not just in Ottawa but here in BC the RCMP has been increasingly mired in scandal. In January of 2006 former Mountie Gary Stevens resigned from the Kitimat detachment after being charged with sexually assaulting two teenage girls while off duty. He is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence.

That same month former RCMP Constable Nancy Sulz won a $950,000 lawsuit for long-term harassment she was subjected to by her former detachment commander while stationed in Merritt.

Over in Houston many residents are still seething over the fact Crown Prosecutors refused to lay criminal charges regarding the shooting death of 22-year-old Ian Bush by a rookie RCMP constable. Bush had been arrested over a minor incident involving an opened beer can at the local hockey rink.

In October of 2006 a case against a Prince George RCMP officer accused of having sex with underage prostitutes was thrown out by an internal disciplinary tribunal — comprised of three RCMP officers from out of province — because the force failed to bring allegations against the constable in a timely fashion. Constable Justin Harris was one of nine officers in Prince George named in investigative reports alleging links to underage prostitutes.

In testimony before the tribunal, Constable Harris was accused of hitting a teenaged prostitute when she refused to perform oral sex on him because he didn't want to wear a condom. Another teenaged prostitute told an investigating officer Harris was “drunk and aggressive” on the two occasions she had sex with him.

Again in October of 2006 the B.C. Supreme Court was told that RCMP investigators intercepted and taped a cell phone conversation between Premier Gordon Campbell and his then-minister of finance, Gary Collins, during an investigation that included an unprecedented police raid on the British Columbia Legislature in December of 2003.

As a follow up to this matter, in February 2007, a wide-ranging application for disclosure was filed by defence lawyers which alleges that the RCMP were not forthright with a second judge when requesting permission to wiretap government phones and they also failed to tell the second judge that their application to get warrants to wiretap government phones had been denied twice by a previous judge.

In March of 2007 the witness protection program and the case of Agent E8060, a paid RCMP informant was brought to light. The informant, Richard Young, an unemployed man from Victoria was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the RCMP for what turned out to be fabricated information. British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Dean Wilson called Young’s evidence a “cruel charade”. Despite the exposure of his lies, Mr. Young was placed in the federal witness protection program and, under his new identity; he was convicted of killing someone.
But because it is a criminal offence under the Witness Protection Program Act to disclose anything about Mr. Young's new identity or whom he killed even the victim's family cannot be told the truth.

The House of Commons is now looking at amending the Witness Protection Program, but what is really needed is a top to bottom house cleaning of the RCMP. There clearly also needs to be the establishment of an independent agency that is completely separate from the RCMP and responsible for investigating any and all allegations of incompetence, misconduct, and/or criminal wrong doing involving the RCMP. It is only by having such an independent agency that some modicum of confidence can be restored in the RCMP.

Mr. Day you have your work cut out for you.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

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