Former Ontario Securities Commission head David Brown was asked by the prime minister in 2007 to investigate allegations senior RCMP officers covered up problems in the administration of the force's pension and insurance fund.
In his report, released in June 2007, Brown recognized that many of the problems with the pension plan abuse and investigation came from a much broader problem; a truly dysfunctionally managed agency allowed to simply stagnate in place for a hundred years.
Since it has been five years since the report and a subsequent task force recommendations were released, I attempted to find out what changes have occurred. As was the case in 2010, when I last looked into this, communication with Ottawa has been sketchy, with a few rays of hope in the form of people who promise to talk to me at a future date. There have been changes in some areas. For example, the RCMP can boast of having had three commissioners look at the Brown Report, scratch their heads and struggle to figure out where to go from here.
Two years ago I reported seeing a drill sergeant comment "We are not the police, we are the RCMP" in a Depot produced training video. Once again I came face to face with the reality that RCMP traditions do not encourage a view of the broader field of police collegiality. They are not trained with members of other forces. This homogenous, insular training by subtle design encourages members to keep to themselves. They have an opportunity to look over the fence but getting too close is frowned upon. Keeping other police at arms length encourages the status quo.
In re-reading the Brown reports I was struck by the following paragraphs prompted by interviews with hundreds of officers across the country.
...We also witnessed despair, disillusionment and anger with an organization that is failing them. With remarkable, but disturbing consistency, we heard of chronic shortages of people and equipment, of overwork and fatigue, of issues of wellness, health and even safety.
We learned about basic human management systems that haven't worked for years: mandatory unpaid overtime; discipline and grievance systems that don't work; a promotion system with little or no credibility; a sometimes embarrassing record of accounting to the people they serve. These and many other issues came tumbling out through poignant stories of personal experiences related to us personally and in the over 500 confidential emails we received.
What emerged was a picture of an honourable and revered Canadian institution with rank and file members and employees struggling to do their best under the tremendous burden of an inefficient and inappropriately structured organization.
I polled members of the Blue Line Forum on their vision for the RCMP's future. For better or worse, here are their recommendations:
The RCMP must have a collective bargaining organ to negotiate working agreements and represent the membership. Every other Canadian police service has one and there is no reason it cannot work for RCMP members. It is the one single factor that would take away at least 90 per cent of the problems they face today.
The RCMP must control its own budget. The elusive, unresponsive and unreachable treasury board has been the phantom scapegoat for a tight fisted senior management loathe to admit it likes shoestring budgets.
The RCMP must give up some of its omnificence. It cannot be all things to all people and solve every problem. Where feasible it should move out of municipal and provincial policing.
Retain territorial and specific federal policing functions.
Eliminate duplication. If a government agency has an enforcement and investigative branch, there is no need to duplicate that effort.
Adopt best practice training and take on internal police investigations, police service accreditation and cross border organized crime.
Retain police forensics, where feasible, and national computer databases.
Retain VIP and embassy protection services.
Instill a management attitude and culture which encourages the brightest and best in the ranks.
The problems facing RCMP management are challenging and it's not easy to change old war horses. In the analogy of horse training, change will only occur after considerable pressure is applied to each and every desired manoeuvre. Long held beliefs, customs and tradition are deeply entrenched. It will take an entirely new generation of management people to blaze a new path – a path that every other police service has long established and embraced and that the RCMP could smooth over and greatly expand upon.
My challenging question remains unanswered. Five years on, what progress has been made? The RCMP is a valuable part of Canada and we all deserve to see an annual progress report.