Feb 08 2011
by Jim Bronskill
OTTAWA - A senior RCMP officer says morale sank so low under Commissioner William Elliott that he had to take a stand against his boss's bullying.
Elliott's abusive behaviour began when he became top Mountie in 2007, and it boiled over last summer into a public furor, Raf Souccar told a House of Commons committee Tuesday.
Discontent about Elliott's leadership within senior RCMP ranks has prompted several insiders to describe the commissioner as an abrasive, rage-filled manager.
Souccar said the commissioner - who plans to leave the force this summer - would embarrass and humiliate members in group settings. Senior managers would walk into Souccar's office to complain, "some in tears."
He spoke to Elliott and emailed him "to try to get him to be more respectful."
Despite Elliott's admissions that his outbursts had caused friction, "he either refused to change or could not change," Souccar said.
He told MPs he was not willing to stand by and see the core Mountie values of respect and compassion be trampled.
"Someone had to stand up and I chose to do so, along with others," Souccar said.
"I believe then, as I do now, that this was the right thing to do, the honourable thing to do."
Souccar and former assistant commissioner Mike McDonell - two of Elliott's staunchest critics - were called to appear before the Commons public safety committee.
McDonell said the RCMP's senior management team underwent a "neutering" with Elliott at the helm. "I felt that senior management members were not respected for their opinion and that there was no debate, especially if someone put forward a contrarian opinion."
Elliott shut down any suggestion that the pace of change within the force was too slow, McDonell added.
"The commissioner quickly took over the lectern and very passionately admonished everybody in the room.
"I described it as the battered-wife syndrome, writ large."
In an interview Tuesday, Elliott denied he was dismissive of others' ideas.
"If that's how they described me, I don't think they know me very well. And I would say that that's not reflective of how things worked around here," he said.
The storm at RCMP headquarters has passed, Elliott said. "We turned the page. The mood is very good. The senior management team is very strong and very united."
Elliott says he began to think about his departure from the force as long ago as early last summer. "There was certainly more thought on my part about that in the context of these complaints being made public."
In October, Elliott acknowledged there were problems with his style.
"I have made mistakes, I do have shortcomings," he told a news conference. "I certainly acknowledge that I need to find ways that are more constructive to deal with situations, to deal with people and to deal with my own frustrations."
A "workplace assessment" of the RCMP by a former CSIS director found that the slow pace of reform inside the police force had also irritated some Mounties.
Souccar was stripped of his role as deputy commissioner of federal and international policing last fall. He said Tuesday that in a meeting to inform him, the commissioner accused him of leaking news of the internal dissension to the media.
But the career Mountie says he did no such thing, nor has he spoken to reporters since, despite many requests.
Elliott acknowledged Tuesday he had no proof Souccar went to the media.
"That is my opinion. I don't have concrete evidence of that," he said. "I just sort of put two and two together and get four."
In any event, Souccar's duties were taken away for other reasons, Elliott said, adding he would not discuss them.
The conflagration over Elliott became public after departing senior deputy commissioner Bill Sweeney flagged the issue during an exit interview, Souccar said.
Souccar was subsequently contacted by Privy Council Office officials, including Marie-Lucie Morin, the national security adviser to the prime minister.
In July, he met public safety deputy minister Bill Baker, who was "shocked" by his descriptions of Elliott's tirades, Souccar said. "I told him that it happens very frequently, sometimes daily."
This led to seven or eight assistant commissioners meeting the deputy minister to relate their own experiences, he added.
McDonell had complained to the government that the desire of rank-and-file members for change within the troubled RCMP was thwarted by "inertia" under Elliott's leadership.
McDonell, who spent 35 years with the RCMP before leaving to join the Ontario Provincial Police last summer, laid out his concerns about the commissioner in a July 21 letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
While a series of crises had primed the pump for transformation within the RCMP, "any changes that have taken place were already in motion" when Elliott arrived, McDonell said in his letter.
He also took issue with Elliott's leadership, noting the commissioner only expressed a desire to visit police command centres for the G8-G20 summit - the largest security operation in RCMP history - at the last minute.
McDonell told the committee Tuesday he asked for an "exit interview" to discuss the concerns, but the request was denied.
Souccar endorsed the idea of an independent board of management that could challenge the commissioner on various issues - a recommendation from a 2007 task force and later supported by an arm's-length, reform-implementation council.
"I would dare say that if a board of management was in place this whole affair of last summer would not have happened."