Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crisis In the RCMP: A Musical Run-around

A Canadian Icon, the world around. Photo Credit: Mrs Logic
The RCMP are not just a police force. They are an iconic organization, inextricable from our collective identity as Canadians. 

We expect them to do far more, with far less, with more scrutiny than others and we expect them to do all this while serving as one of the great symbols of our nation. 

The great difference between police in other nations (and indeed, even other Canadian police forces) and the RCMP is that to some degree, people think of police in general as "them," while somehow, the RCMP are seen as "us."

Astonishingly, this works. More often than not, members of the RCMP live up to this impossible standard with elan. And while everyone knows it's an impossible ideal, that could only be achieved in film and story... it's amazing how far trying can take you.

So, when the RCMP fucks up, when it's members do things that are very much beneath the standards of outcome that we expect... well, if you happen to be an American... imagine having your flag spit on you!

We. Are. NOT. Pleased.

This leads me to a couple of open questions which seem to be illustrated by problems within the RCMP. There do seem to be long-standing issues that needed to be addressed. But things are clearly becoming worse, rather than better and that the result of the Steven Harper Government and it's Authoritarian brand of Conservatism, a philosophy which seems more and more radical and autocratic as each day passes.

You see, in Canada (and I would like to think that would be true in all civil contexts), respect is earned, authority is granted to the able and worthy; trust is cultivated and traditions that maintain and enhance trust in institutions that are worth trusting are diligently maintained and preserved.

Progress in all realms, social and political, is made by building upon foundations well-laid in the past. The RCMP are one of our cornerstones. There is more than a little concious myth-making involved here. These are the stories we tell each other that state who we are as a Nation, as a People, as Canadians. It is what we want our children to aspire to. It is an example we strive to live up to. It speaks to us of our commitment as a people to what outcomes we expect.

We do not wish to have an adversarial relationship with our police, nor may they ever become the iron fist of autocratic power.

Peace. Order. Good Government. THAT is our ideal. There can be no peace, order or good government when government sees itself as above their fellow Canadians, indifferent to their welfare and without need of their good will.

So when a civilian bureocrat is appointed as the "top cop" by a Canadian Prime Minister, you would reasonably draw a number of conclusions.

First, that the institutional structure of the RCMP is considered to be part of the problem, and that "fresh eyes" are in fact honouring an exception to the rule in the breach of it.

And second, despite his outsider status and perspective, that person would be selected due to being an exemplar of the values we hold; someone who was willing and able, conciously and tempermentally, to earn the trust and respect of this iconic force. Someone extraordinary, in other words, with the skills, perspectives and background to bring such an important institution back on track.

Well, no such luck there. The CBC reports:
Senior RCMP members have complained about Commissioner William Elliott to some of the highest levels of the federal government on two separate occasions in the past seven days, CBC News has learned.

Senior RCMP members have complained about Commissioner William Elliott to some of the highest levels of government on two separate occasions in the past week. (Canadian Press)
The complainants, possibly as many as 10, include some of the force's top officers, including deputy commissioners Tim Killam and Raf Souccar.

They have accused Elliott of being verbally abusive, closed-minded, arrogant and insulting. One complaint described Elliott, who became the first civilian to head the Mounties in July 2007, in a rage, throwing papers at another officer.

The Prime Minister's Office didn't deny the complaints were made but declined to comment Monday. Neither Elliott nor the deputies would comment.

"The RCMP is a very hierarchical organization, where people respect the rank," said Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University who wrote a study on the Mounties and their command.

For members to go outside the force with "a complaint against the head of the RCMP means that many people have been pushed beyond a point where they're willing to tolerate it," she said.

Fate rests with PM

The apparent protest against the commissioner comes a month after Canada's top spy, CSIS director Richard Fadden, made comments to CBC News that the agency had two provincial cabinet ministers and a number of municipal politicians under surveillance for their relationships with foreign governments.

Both Elliott and Fadden were appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their fate rests with him. The CBC's Brian Stewart, who has followed the Mounties for decades, said the RCMP protest is unprecedented.

Harper will have to sort out whether this is a valid protest by top RCMP staff or whether Elliott has made a lot of enemies trying to reform the organization, he said.

"That's what the prime minister is probably going to have to sort out very quickly and then decide, I think, which force is going to have to go: either the commissioner or the group protesting against him," Stewart said.

Now, I'm sure there are many problems and I'm equally sure there is more than enough blame to go around. However - and of all people, Mr. Harper should understand this - how you go about dealing with a problem, and how your approach is perceived by the people and institutions you see as being problematic may well make it impossible to do anything useful whatsoever.

Further, I think it a fair observation that, given the nature of Mr. Harper's missteps, his vision of what Government is and who it is intended to benefit is to some measure divergent from the ordinary Canadian. In particular, his repeated Prorogues of Parliament have been seen, by this writer, at least, as an unwillingness to be held to account.

This leads me to suspect a lack of accounting skills as well as a willingness to be seen as a cheat, so long as the cheat happens to work for a while. A man, in other words, unwilling or unable to live up to the expectations of his station. Not a leader, an overseer. Not an authority, but an Authoritarian. One who expects the tug of a forelock as his due.

I'm starting to think of Mr. Harper as being not so much a bad Conservative as a moderately decent Republican, sharing the general Republican distaste for a government that might inconvenience powerful sponsors and donors.  He seems willing to advantage cronies and the like-minded without any regard to an overall understanding of or respect for our traditions, our history, or the rather marvellous and beautiful place that Canada has become. And his response to criticism is at best evasive, and at worst amounts to, "oh yeah, whatcha gonna do about it?"

Canada became what it is despite people like Steven Harper. I very much do not wish to see us go down the path our southern cousins have taken, where the mere suggestion that the fortunate have some investment in or measure of duty toward their less fortunate neighbours is assailed in terms so ugly and intemperate that I can barely abide reading it. What decent person would wish to live in a society defined by the Sarah Palins and Andrew Brietbarts of this world, who think of these reprehensible and uncivilized persons as exemplars of citizenship? How could you be comfortable with any end that could be achieved by such means?

No doubt the lure of power without the need for proper accounts of it's use is tempting. It is ever so much easier to rule a people who see the abuse of power as being emblematic of power, and wish you to do more of it on their behalf, in order to justify their own lack of character.

To me, I'm reminded of people who spend twenty or thirty thousand dollars "investing" in a commercial grade kitchen, to be used only for microwaving hot-pockets and noodle cups. I'm not interested in voting for a man who's every ambition is fulfilled by being called Mister Prime Minister and who will consider his legacy complete by having had the opportunity to repay a few old grudges or engage in some theatrical warfare. There must be a substance evidenced by the appearances - and I do not believe our current crop of Conservatives understand as a party that there is a distinction to be made there.

But that brings me back to the RCMP an institution that is entwined with our entire concept of the rule of law and our high expectations of ourselves. We need them to find themselves again, for their loss in that regard is ours; clearly, we need a leadership that actually understand how and why our nation has been governed as it has long been, and to what ends and to what ideals and for who's benefit that governance is each Canadian's rightful due.

We have no need and will gain no benefit from a slavish imitation of how things are done by a rulebook written in a borrowed stateroom of a yacht owned by some US Neo-conservative think tank. A man who would be welcomed at the C-Street Church has no place within any proper Canadian political party.

I anticipate the next election with no little pleasure.

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