Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug.  2, 2010)

Sorry, Not Qualified

By Bob Cooper





You could have set your watch by this one and I’m surprised it took so long.  I’m referring to the top management of the RCMP complaining to the Prime Minister’s Office about offensive treatment from Commissioner William Elliott including screaming fits, temper tantrums, and actually throwing things.  Liberal MP Scott Brison and Liberal Senator Colin Kenny have criticized the Prime Minister for appointing a bureaucrat with no law enforcement background as Commissioner.  Brison called it a “recipe for disaster” while Kenny said that it is difficult to expect someone who has no familiarity with policing to come into a large, complex organization and be expected to bring about change.  You won’t often find me agreeing with Liberals but there you are.

Critics of the RCMP are lining up to question the motives behind the complaints and suggest that this is simply an attempted coup by senior officers disgruntled over the appointment of a civilian and the fact that they were passed over for the top job (as if that would somehow nullify the Commissioner’s juvenile  behavior).  RCMP insiders say that Elliott’s abrasive, bullying style and explosive temper are nothing new and the fact that the government spent $44,000.00 to send the Commissioner to a ‘special school’ for ‘executive coaching’ in Scottsdale would seem to bear that out.  Funny how these institutions are never located in Cleveland or Newark.  Looks like the government should ask for its money back.

I see two issues here.  Firstly, the appointment of any civilian to this position was guaranteed to cause a lot more problems than it would solve.  I’m sure the Prime Minister felt that bringing in an outsider with no baggage or personal loyalties, a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective, (choose your buzz phrase) might be what the RCMP required.  Several armchair quarterbacks have opined that any executive who has run large organizations could run a police force.  None of them have ever been policemen.  A police force is not a business and no matter how big a whiz a guy was as a CEO he will never have the respect or loyalty of the troops because he’s never walked in their shoes.  David Eby of the BC Criminal Liberties Association is quoted as saying “the assumption that only someone who has worn a badge can run the organization is one I don't share".  I threw in the Eby comment for anyone who needs more evidence that it’s a really stupid idea.

Secondly, even if you support the idea of bringing in a civilian, Elliott is not the man for the job.  Police officers are expected to remain calm and to exercise self-control in trying circumstances.  What sort of example is the Commissioner setting with his contemptuous nature and hair-trigger temper?  The best bosses are the ones who lead by example and motivate their people with praise and encouragement.  When criticism is required it’s done privately and in a constructive fashion without belittling the person.  Recruits get yelled at as part of the training and conditioning process and to see how they perform under stress.  There is a specific purpose to it.  These men were senior officers who had devoted their lives to the RCMP.  This treatment was gratuitous, unbecoming, and belies a serious character flaw.

The RCMP have almost 19,000 sworn members from coast to coast.  I would guess that at least a couple of thousand of those would be commissioned officers.  If a qualified candidate for the office of Commissioner couldn’t be found in those ranks then perhaps the situation is worse than the mainstream media would have us believe but I doubt that’s the case.  Elliott’s appointment was all about optics and merit was never a consideration.  If you insist on an outsider get a Chief Constable from one of our major cities or an officer from the military with a proven track record of being able to command respect by showing some.  Either way, the government needs to fix this mistake and the last thing needed here is a stall tactic like bringing in another outside bureaucrat to conduct a ‘workplace assessment’.

I’ve said in the past that problems within the RCMP can be traced in large measure to Trudeau’s action in bringing them under the thumb of the federal government and making the Commissioner a Deputy Minister.  Law enforcement agencies must be accountable and subject to oversight but they should always operate at arm’s length from politicians.  Government must restore the independence of the RCMP and my advice to any prospective candidates for the Commissioner’s job would be not to touch it with a barge pole until that happens.  The RCMP deserve better.      


Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver police officer. He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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