Past Opinion, Edition 75-February 1, 2010
Edition 75-February 1, 2011
RCMP reputation in tatters
National police force needs civilian oversight
By Thomas Terrio

The recent video released to the public of Kelowna, British Columbia RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler’s arrest involving excessive use of force against 51-year-old Buddy Tavares is another fine example of why BC and the federal government must legislate more public accountability when it comes to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In the video, Tavares is seen complying with Constable Mantler’s commands and is down on all fours, unarmed, when Constable Mantler viciously kicks Tavares in the face without warning, while pointing his 9 mm pistol at his head. Tavares then collapses into a bloody puddle facedown on the street. Tavares was in the process of recovering from a brain injury suffered six months earlier.

To add insult to injury, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says the RCMP then made allegations of domestic violence against Tavares in an effort to smear him, which appears to be a consistent pattern going back to the Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007. The RCMP portrayed Dziekanski in the media as a violent alcoholic.

Further to an already busy file, the BCCLA says “between 2002 and 2006, 56 percent of all RCMP in-custody deaths in Canada occurred in BC. Only 33 percent of the RCMP police force is situated in BC. During this time, the BCCLA became quite concerned with the rate of in-custody deaths in BC, and little has changed since then. Since 2005, the BCCLA has filed police complaints regarding in-custody deaths, serious misconduct, and policy concerns.”

RCMP members pledge allegiance to the RCMP Act and the Queen, but not the municipalities they serve or people of Canada. And most certainly not the present provincial government or even parliament. This is the underlying systemic flaw directly related to its responsibility to the public and local municipalities, and can only be remedied provincially with the RCMP’s inclusion in the BC Police Act.

In my view, both the provincial and federal governments in Canada have several issues related to the public accountability of police, specifically the RCMP. Firstly, there is an obvious conflict of interest when police investigate police. Secondly, it is wrong to have any police force work outside the reach and scope of the local community it serves vis-à-vis the mayor, council, or other civilian oversight agency. Thirdly, everyone appears to be under the scrutiny of the RCMP, with no leadership being shown anywhere, either federally or provincially.

The only person who made an attempt to rein-in the RCMP is former Solicitor General Kash Heed who served the people of BC with a clean and untarnished record for 30 years as a Vancouver police officer and Chief of Police for the City of West Vancouver, before being elected as Liberal Member of the Provincial Legislative Assembly for Vancouver-Fraserview in 2009.

Heed now finds himself under investigation by the RCMP for fraud and misappropriation of funds. How coincidental, since the RCMP’s 20 year $20 billion dollar provincial contract is up for review in 2012. When Heed was solicitor general, he attempted to make the RCMP more accountable to the public by having them sign-on to the BC Police Act along with the formation of a new civilian oversight agency to investigate RCMP officers involved in serious injury or death. Heed was soon forced to resign because of allegations against him brought about by an RCMP investigation, which recently included the release of personal e-mails to the media by police.

What the RCMP lack in my view is good judgment, a serious ingredient for any police officer. Knowing when to use appropriate force, or when to give a fair warning without causing fellow citizens and their families undue discomfort and stress by having their personal lives turned upside down by a violent police arrest that results in jail time, serious injury, or death. In other words, creating criminals where criminals would not exist to begin with. After all, criminologists tell us the majority of crime in Canada is committed by a minority of criminals known to police. So why is the RCMP using excessive force, seizure, and smear tactics? Even Commissioner William Elliot appears to be a “Lame duck” when it comes to his subordinate officers, because he is a civilian and not considered—one of the faith. To add insult to injury, Buddy Tavares spent the week-end in jail after his violent arrest.

In a paper written in 2009 favouring the creation of a Metro Vancouver Police Force, Robert Gordon, Ph.D., Professor and Director for the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University says, “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the third political force, even though they should not be influencing decision-making at any political level. The RCMP have a great deal at stake in British Columbia, both financially and in terms of the prestige associated with being a major player at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of policing. They also have Imperial designs. They are in favour of amalgamation, but only if the amalgamation involves RCMP domination of all policing in the Province.”

It appears the RCMP is a political animal as well as a police agency aside from the provincial and federal governments that needs to be brought under more strict public scrutiny. Because of the recent RCMP history and obvious problems related to discipline, judgment, accountability and obvious smear campaigns, the now Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister of BC Rich Coleman, who by the way is a former RCMP member and security specialist himself, must make the right decision by tightening the reins on his former agency, if he and his provincial Liberal government is to have any credibility with the public in Kelowna or any other municipality in BC.

Is Canada on the path to becoming a police state? If not, then why wasn’t Constable Geoff Mantler immediately arrested and charged with assault? After watching the video of the Tavares takedown, any police force worth its credibility to the public would have arrested Constable Mantler immediately, charged and suspended him without pay pending a review. But no, Mantler was first placed on administrative duty receiving his full salary until he was finally suspended, with pay of course. How outrageous.

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