OTTAWA - RCMP Commissioner William Elliott plans to stay on for what's expected to be a historic opportunity to ordain the Mounties' next generation of top leaders.
"We're going to have lots of turnover at the top, so actually I'm looking to provide some stability, both personally and with respect to a number of my colleagues," Elliott told the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board Thursday during a candid 70-minute exchange about the challenges facing the national police, including renovating its scandalized image and shoring up slipping public trust.
Speculation about Elliott's tenure and the future of the RCMP's leadership mounted following a recent report that all 11 members of the force's senior executive committee will be eligible to retire with full pensions by 2012. That creates a rare opening for a commissioner to appoint a broad new executive suite cohort capable of carrying on the government-ordered reform of RCMP culture and governance, the task Prime Minister Stephen Harper hand-picked Elliott to initiate as the force's first civilian head in July 2007.
More than two years into the reform process, recruiting rank-and-file members has become one of the notable success stories, with the RCMP fielding a record number of recruits last year after years of falling short of its target.
The critical question now facing the Conservative government is whether to allow Elliott to construct the up-and-coming senior executive command team, or appoint a new commissioner for the job, which carries an indefinite term.
Ottawa police Chief Vern White, a former senior Mountie, is expected to be among the names on the government's short-list.
Elliott, however, made it clear he has no intention of leaving the post just yet. "Vern White and others are going to have be patient for a while," he said. "I will stay until the time arrives I'm either tired of them or they are tired of me. When I arrived, I indicated that I thought I would stay around for at least five years. There is no magic to five years, but generally speaking, it's good to have turnover, including turnover at the top.
"We have been very busy, very active in working to bring about positive change in the organization. I think we have been very successful on that front... I recently gave us a C+... but I certainly believe there is far more for us to do than we have accomplished. I and others are a little frustrated at the pace of change."
His comments came the same day the RCMP formally apologized to Zofia Cisowski for their role in her son Robert Dziekanski's death.
"My reaction was probably the same as most Canadians, it was a disturbing image and a very disturbing event," he recalled Thursday. "At it's most basic, we had a man die on national television. I think that's very traumatic for everybody involved and I wince every time its played. I really think it's unfair to his mother and others to have that image repeated over again."
Dziekanski's death prompted the RCMP change their Taser-use policy, including restriction of their use to incidents of officer or public safety, annual recertification and enhanced reporting on all use-of-force incidents by all RCMP officers. Regaining the previous level of public trust will take longer. "I don't think that it's accurate to suggest that Canadians don't trust us," said Elliott. "We'd like them to have reasons to trust us more than they do. We can't provide services on which Canadians rely if they don't trust us.
"I think certainly, it is to be hoped that we would never make mistakes, (but) I'm quite certain we will never attain that goal. But we need to work very hard to try and do that, to minimize the number of occasions where we misstep and, most importantly, to learn from our experiences."
The notoriously media-shy force is attempting to reform its relationship with the press and, by extension, the public, an acknowledgment that effective and open communication is the essential requirement in dealing with problems.
"We are making a contentious effort to try and be more engaging and forthcoming with the media than we have been in the past," said Elliott, noting Thursday's session with the Citizen was his first-ever sit-down with a newspaper editorial board.
"We believe that, obviously, there's a huge amount of interest in the RCMP and unfortunately, occasionally, some controversy about what we do and don't do and how we do what we do."
h1. EXECUTIVE DIGEST
h2. Apr 05 2010
WINNIPEG - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the federal government is looking at making it harder for some criminals to receive pardons such as the one granted to convicted sex abuser Graham James.
h2. Apr 05 2010
TORONTO - Tasers with cameras attached to them that produce video evidence when the controversial weapons are used on people is an option Ontario is considering, the provincial government says.
h2. Apr 07 2010
OTTAWA - A plan for a beefed-up security regime in the federal parliamentary precinct along Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa is beginning to take shape. First, submachine-guns will now be made available as secondary weapons for the Mounties assigned to patrol Parliament Hill.
h2. Apr 07 2010
CORNWALL, Ont. - Cornwall’s deputy police chief says the city police force is well positioned to have all the recommendations from the Cornwall Public Inquiry in place by year’s end.
h2. Apr 07 2010
SARNIA - Switching from a municipal police service to the OPP isn’t just a question of dollars and cents, says Sarnia’s police chief.