Saturday, August 15, 2009

Have the Conservatives Tainted the RCMP for Political Gain?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been a cherished institution in this country for almost a century, so when I learned that the Conservatives have been politicizing the force, it gave me grave concern.

If we believe that the RCMP favour one political party over all others, where does that leave the 2/3 of Canadians who are not fans of the Reform Conservatives?

Even if it is only a handful of Mounties playing these political games, it's a handful too many. With so many investigations currently launched against the new Conservative party, can we hope for justice? Will they be given special privileges?

I'd like to think not, but perhaps they'd better do something quick to reverse the reputation they are receiving or there may be no coming back.

Case in point? Why are so many Conservative MPs and candidates ex RCMP officers? Kingston's Brian Abrams' is and he's running again, and trying to use his history with the force to make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

Conservative MP and ex-RCMP officer Rob Clarke, even had a uniformed officer delivering campaign signs for him, sending a clear message about who's side they were on.

One of Brian Abrams partners in crime, Blake Richards dismissed the RCMP watchdog as a paper pusher when he wanted his budget increased because he had difficulty doing his job.

Sadly, what I discovered when researching this was that I'm not the only one concerned with the relationship between the RCMP and the Conservative Party of Canada. It's very troubling and should be of concern to all Canadians, regardless of party affiliation.

Investigating the RCMP
National Post editorial board:
August 14, 2009

In Canada's public imagination, the RCMP is synonymous with law and order. But according to Paul Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, the force falls short when it comes to investigating in-custody deaths and other serious incidents.

Canadians already are familiar with high-profile cases such as the allegedly taser-related death of Polish migrant Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver, as well as the RCMP's involvement with Maher Arar, who was shipped off by the United States to face torture in Syria. But what they may not know is that many RCMP internal investigations of such matters sometimes are performed using questionable methods. As Mr. Kennedy emphasized, many investigations are performed by officers who are known to the officers being investigated--or by officers who are lower in rank than those being investigated--or both.

Mr. Kennedy made the sensible suggestion that, at the very least, cases involving death should be investigated by outside police forces. Then, the public might have more confidence that justice was done in such cases as the 2005 in-custody death of Houston, B. C.'s Ian Bush, who was shot after being arrested for drinking beer in public. The officer who shot Mr. Bush -- Constable Paul Koester -- was cleared following an investigation... by the RCMP itself.

RCMP Commissioner William J. S. Elliott should take this counsel to heart. But instead, he seems to be exhibiting a knee-jerk opposition to Mr. Kennedy's findings. "This creates an inordinately negative and inaccurate picture," he told the media, playing down the relevance of findings that "relate to structure, reporting relationships and level of response."

Yet such details as "structure" and "reporting relationships" are indeed important to ensure the integrity of self-investigations. And if the Mounties' top brass doesn't understand that, then perhaps outside investigators need to be deployed in all cases of alleged RCMP abuse.

More than a year ago, another journalist had concerns about the integrity of the RCMP. ironically, it was just about two weeks before they raided Conservative Party headquarters because of alleged fraud, now dubbed the "In and Out". Harper is suing us to keep the case on the back burner, and called an illegal election in 2008 because the ethics committee was getting too close.

Will Canadians get Justice for that? Only time will tell. But more on the politicizing of the RCMP:

RCMP now too tainted to probe Parliament
April 08, 2008

Having been taught a difficult lesson by public inquiries that were too inquisitive, Jean Chr├ętien happily left it to the RCMP to investigate those smells that failed the critical sniff test.

As a political tactic, the Chr├ętien method offers obvious advantages. Focused on criminal activity, RCMP probes leave ethical judgments to others and have the added benefit of often taking what seems forever to reach unconvincing conclusions.

Sadly for those in power, all good things come to an end. An ever-lengthening list of Keystone Kops pratfalls from the Maher Arar affair to the internal pension scandal is finally forcing Canadians to accept that a national icon is broken.

Worse still for ruling elites, former commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli's pivotal and unexplained intervention in the last election means an RCMP investigation no longer provides political cover.

That new reality casts some light on why Stephen Harper, who once stressed the importance of taking a political punch without complaint, is now suing Liberals for their Chuck Cadman accusations. Even if Conservatives hadn't appointed a new commissioner with old Tories ties, an RCMP probe alone won't clear the air around what was or wasn't offered to a dying man to decide the Paul Martin government's fate.

One alternative is Parliament's committees. But their investigative worth plummeted after failures to pick apart the sponsorship scheme and Brian Mulroney's curious dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. In any case, the Conservatives are now stonewalling justice committee attempts to measure efforts to change Cadman's mind and vote.

Worrying as it is, the Cadman question is a small part of the capital's bigger conundrum. If not the RCMP or MPs, then who can be trusted for honest answers?

It's such a short list that Harper is now relying on Kevin Lynch, the country's top civil servant, to plumb the NAFTA leak that embarrassed Canada and Barack Obama in the Ohio presidential primaries. What makes Lynch a good choice is that he's highly respected and is, by definition, non-partisan. What makes it bad is that he both serves as the prime minister's deputy and works closely with Ian Brodie, Harper's very partisan chief of staff who reportedly dripped to reporters the first small NAFTA drop.

That puts Lynch in an impossible position. No matter what the truth or how thorough the investigation, any report minimizing Brodie's role will be met with skepticism.

As always, it's even more complicated. There's deep suspicion here that Conservatives hope to scapegoat foreign affairs bureaucrats they neither like nor trust. But as clerk of the privy council, Lynch is also responsible for the civil service and for managing its increasingly strained relations with a Harper administration more interested in aye-aye policy implementation than listening when mandarins speak truth to power.

While there's no quick fix, there is a starting point. A precondition for restoring public trust in the RCMP and its investigations is to pull back the covers on its politicization. That means full examination before the next election of Zaccardelli's motivation in effectively, if not necessarily intentionally, throwing the last one to Conservatives.

Politicians must always be held to a higher moral standard than the criminal law. But every citizen has every right to demand proof that the federal force will conduct its most sensitive investigations without political fear or favour.

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