by Jim Bronskill
Jun 20 2012 OTTAWA - The federal government wants to arm the RCMP commissioner with greater powers to discipline or even fire people who give the force a bad name.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says there is too much red tape in the current process for weeding out wrongdoers.
"There's no doubt that changes are needed,'' he told a news conference, flanked by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
"The RCMP Act has not been significantly amended for over 25 years.''
Toews announced proposed changes Wednesday, intended to untie Paulson's hands as he looks into complaints.
Several female RCMP officers have come forward since Cpl. Catherine Galliford went public in November with allegations of harassment within the force in British Columbia.
Men have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation.
Paulson, who took over as commissioner late last year, says ridding the force of dark-hearted behaviour is one of his priorities.
He recently expressed frustration about the bureaucratic barriers to doing so.
The legislation introduced Wednesday - as the House of Commons prepared to rise for the summer - also includes measures to modernize the watchdog that handles public complaints about the RCMP and enhance transparency when Mounties themselves are under police investigation.
Toews said the RCMP's current disciplinary procedures are outdated and inefficient.
"The process is overly rigid and bureaucratic. Proceedings tend to be drawn out, over years in most instances,'' he said. "Front-line managers such as detachment commanders have very few options available to address misconduct.''
Paulson said the RCMP needs to move towards increased accountability and efficient employee management, "so that when the small minority among us fail to respect our core values and meet the expectations of Canadians these issues can be dealt with quickly and appropriately.''
Currently, any serious cases - those requiring more than a reprimand - must be referred to an adjudication board composed of three senior officers who follow a heavily regulated process, he noted. Matters can take up to five years to be resolved and the manager is largely cut out of the loop.
Managers would be given more responsibility to deal with day-to-day disciplinary issues, Toews said.
If dismissal is a possibility, the manager would be required to refer the case to a conduct board. But the board members would have power to resolve the matter in the most informal and expeditious manner under the circumstances.
There would no longer be a strict requirement for a hearing in every case, Toews added.
"The formality and administrative burdens will be significantly reduced in favour of a fair, streamlined and proportionate system.''
The force weathered intense criticism over a case in which a senior Mountie was not fired despite having sex with subordinates, exposing himself to a colleague and drinking on the job.
Instead Staff Sgt. Don Ray was reprimanded, demoted a rank and fined 10 days pay.
Paulson would not discuss specific cases, but said the newly proposed measures would give him the power to appeal such decisions handed down by a conduct board.
"We can appeal that and have that reviewed, and I become the final authority on that.''
The RCMP commissioner would have the power to fire members for various non-disciplinary reasons, such as poor performance or absenteeism.
The legislation would also give the commissioner the authority to establish a process for the investigation and resolution of harassment complaints.
But Toews said procedures alone won't solve the problem of harassment within the RCMP.
"Attitudes need to change.''
Legislation introduced two years ago to overhaul the RCMP watchdog died on the order paper. The newly tabled bill would create the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, replacing the existing Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP.
The new commission would have greater access to RCMP information, enhanced investigative powers, authority to summon and compel witnesses, the ability to conduct joint investigations with other police review bodies, and power to do policy reviews to ensure the RCMP is complying with laws, regulations and directives.
It would consist of one chairman and up to four additional full- or part-time members. Members would be appointed by cabinet for up to five years. Former members of the RCMP would not be eligible.