If he doesn’t start showing more cooperation in bringing about fundamental change to the nation’s police force, he could be headed for a change in his career path. Some critics would argue it comes not a moment too soon. The organization he runs is more top down than Donald Trump.
As the Force evolved in the Harper years, when labour laws were razed like old growth forests, Paulson’s Mounties are not exactly members of Dudley Do-Right’s RCMP. Paramilitary and politicized, the RCMP is in danger of becoming the fossil force of law and order in Canada — and far worse, the kept police of the government of the day.
Paulson’s immediate problem resembles arrogance. As one senator put it to me, Paulson recently “stiffed” a Senate committee by sending deputies — two assistant commissioners — to answer questions regarding Bill C-7, the very controversial RCMP union bill.
That did not sit well with Bill C-7’s sponsor in the Red Chamber, Sen. Larry Campbell, himself a former Mountie. Sen. Campbell believes there are some things Paulson himself has to deal with. The RCMP union bill is one of them.
“My understanding is that he is on leave. But we want to talk to him. He is the person in charge of all of the Force. We need his appearance,” Sen. Campbell told me.
Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, the official critic of the RCMP union bill and a former labour lawyer, agrees that the current bill fails miserably to bring the RCMP into the world of 21st century labour relations.
That’s why the Senate committee studying C-7, which would give rank-and-file Mounties the right to collective bargaining, decided late last week to hear from more witnesses before completing their clause-by-clause study of the bill. Paulson will be one of those new witnesses, a development that Sen. Campbell says makes him “sincerely happy.”
As for Paulson, he will not be sincerely happy to face one item that will be on Senator Campbell’s agenda, assuming the Commissioner indeed appears: exemptions Paulson supports in Bill C-7 as currently written and which he says are necessary to the functioning of the RCMP.
A lot of senators think the bill is freighted with far too many of them to facilitate a modernization of the Force. In fact, if passed unamended, C-7 will sustain large swaths of the stultifying status quo it was supposed to rectify.
For one thing, proposed collective agreements usually begin with everything on the table, and then each item is negotiated. The current bill contains exemptions on investigative techniques, staff appraisals, conduct, staffing levels, and even that famous uniform which contains a yellow stripe down the pant legs. It’s a fashion feature which Sen. Campbell has described as a “running target.”
Perhaps the silliest thing about C-7 is the notion that members of the RCMP would be excluded from resolving workplace harassment issues. This is no theoretical shortcoming. There are over 500 such complaints currently unresolved in the RCMP, from bum-pinching to bullying emails.
Of those still live complaints from the force’s own members, 45 per cent are from women. Since women make up only 20 per cent of the workforce, it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to conclude the obvious: despite management’s claim that all is either well or being dealt with, the RCMP still has a major problem with sexual harassment and bullying.
Paulson does not have an impressive record on this problem – unless you count his declarations that some of the harassment allegations are “outlandish.” True, he set up a special squad of 100 Mounties to investigate harassment complaints. Also true, he has pledged to rid the force of bullying and harassment.
Despite all that, though, there is a sense amongst his critics that he just doesn’t get it. The Chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP, Ian McPhail, testified before the Senate committee that his investigation into workplace harassment, requested by Public Safety Minister Goodale, had been impeded by senior Mounties. The Commissioner himself had forbidden McPhail to speak to RCMP members without the members first informing the Commissioner.
In McPhail’s opinion, that meant his investigation was compromised because he couldn’t guarantee confidentiality to those he interviewed. Paulson subsequently reversed his directive to his members as it pertained to McPhail’s harassment study. Was that proactive support or minimal compliance?
In the case of Cpl. Pete Merrifield, Paulson tried to discount the member’s damaging testimony before the Senate committee – that he had witnessed five RCMP supervisors continually harassing other members – by claiming that Merrifeld was leading an effort to unionize the Force.
And if the RCMP is dealing with the problem effectively, why is it facing two class-action lawsuits claiming gender-based sexual harassment and discrimination?
The Commissioner himself was hit with a bullying charge from one of his own men. After an investigation of Paulson’s allegedly abusive and demeaning language in an email exchange with Staff Sgt. Tim Chad that led to the charge, former Public Safety minister Stephen Blaney ordered Commissioner Paulson to apologize in 2014.
It is not all on Paulson. Since 2006, the RCMP has acted in such a way as to raise real questions about its independence and its impartiality. That was the year the Mounties weighed in to the federal election in dramatic fashion.
Former Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli publicly announced an investigation into the then-Liberal government’s handling of an income trust tax decision included in the federal budget.
The RCMP had two press releases prepared to announce their investigation a month away from the election — one including the minister of the day’s name, Ralph Goodale, and the other leaving it out. They opted to name, and some might say shame, the minister. Interestingly, Zaccardelli and other senior Mounties refused to be interviewed when the matter was investigated to determine if they had meddled in the election. Despite their non-cooperation, the investigator, Paul Kennedy, found no evidence of deliberate mischief. Perhaps more accurately put: no rules were broken because there were no rules.
Former PM Harper instigated a major criminal investigation into Helena Guergis and her husband Rahim Jaffer on grounds so thin that the Ethics Commissioner dropped the case after one phone call. The Mounties deployed seven investigators over three months only to find that the once famous Ottawa power couple were suspected of absolutely nothing — though Harper kicked Guergis out of cabinet and caucus anyway.
The RCMP were also there to investigate and charge Sen. Mike Duffy after former PM Harper harried Duffy out of the Senate and caucus.
The ostensible reason for that witch-hunt was expense abuses, and for receiving $90,000 from Nigel Wright, the PM’s former chief of staff. The money was to repay living allowances it turns out Duffy was entitled to — just as he maintained while resisting the PMO’s sleazy deal. The Mounties laid 31 charges against Duffy and were wrong on each and every one of them. Nor did the Commissioner ever explain why Duffy was charged but the man who wrote him that check, Wright, never was. Ironically, Wright is now being re-investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.
My advice to Dawson? Don’t use the Mounties — at least until they emerge from institutional feudalism.
Author: Michael Harris