OTTAWA - RCMP Commissioner William Elliott says the word "glacial" aptly describes the RCMP's internal disciplinary system.
"It is far too slow," he said. "It is far too cumbersome and far too legalistic. Among other things, we need to revise the array of sanctions available. We go from a maximum of the loss of two weeks' pay to being fired. The firing takes forever," he said in a candid interview with the Ottawa Citizen.
"We need to streamline that process and speed it up. That's true of other processes within the RCMP as well. Our grievance process is also in need of significant changes."
According to the RCMP, 78 officers currently face formal discipline; 47 of them are suspended.
More than half of the 78 disciplinary cases were initiated during the 12 past months. Ten of the suspensions date back more than two years. The oldest dates to 2004.
Two of the suspended officers — one being Kevin Gregson, accused of killing an Ottawa police officer in December — are not receiving a salary.
Pay and allowances are cut only in "extreme circumstances," say the RCMP.
Changes to the disciplinary system require legislative amendments to the federal RCMP Act, Elliott said.
"We will bring them to the government, (and) hopefully they will agree to bring them to Parliament."
Gregson is charged with stabbing Const. Eric Czapnik, 51, after driving to an Ottawa hospital in a car he had earlier hijacked outside a Tim Hortons. At the time of his arrest, Gregson was wearing two RCMP-issued bulletproof vests.
Czapnik died from a knife wound to the throat shortly after being attacked.
Elliott said more could have been done to help Gregson.
"You've got to think that given the end result — the killing of an Ottawa police officer — somewhere along the line, we and others could have or should have done more or different for Gregson," said Elliott, the RCMP's civilian chief.
As an Ottawa Citizen investigation revealed, the 43-year-old was at war with his superiors for much of his 12-year Mountie career. He was on paid suspension for several years as he fought the RCMP's slow-moving disciplinary system.
Despite the charges against him, Gregson is still officially a Mountie and is still officially appealing a decision to dismiss him from the force.
Gregson, who visited the homes of several senior officers to complain about the way he was treated by superiors, showed up at Elliott's door in March 2008 to ask the top Mountie for help with a series of perceived injustices.
The visit was in defiance of a previous order issued in Saskatchewan that barred Gregson from going to the homes of senior officers.
Gregson arrived at Elliott's home with his mother and some home-baked cookies. He also brought along documents related to his own history of alleged injustice — some of the same material he had been attempting to get his bosses to read.
The commissioner's son answered the door. But Elliott said that had he been home, he would have invited Gregson in to talk.
"I don't think I, or my family, knew enough about the man," said Elliott. "I look back at that visit to my house and wonder what might have happened. Had he come back, we probably would have opened our door to him.
"Knowing what I know now, if he came to my house, I would call the police."
Although Gregson's years of often irrational behaviour had set disciplinary precedents within the RCMP, his case had yet to reach Elliott's desk.