The culture is the problem in the RCMP


Shirley Heafey is a former Chair of the Commission of Public Complaints of the RCMP that oversees public complaints into the RCMP. She recently wrote an open letter to the next Commissioner of the RCMP which was published in MacLean’s magazine. Here’s that article: Fixing the RCMP: An open letter to the next Commissioner

Heafey sent me the piece to read and I replied to her in an email with my thoughts. I thought many of you would appreciate the discussion so I have posted it here in its entirety.

Leo Knight



Interesting. As you may or may not know, I am a former member of the RCMP. I left the Force to transfer to Vancouver PD where I served for the next decade.

You get close to the problem in your letter, but you don’t quite hit the nail on the head, but merely deliver a glancing blow.

Leadership is exactly the problem and the problem is historic. I have often referred to the RCMP as 144 years of tradition unhampered by progress. I say that mostly tongue-in-cheek, but only mostly.

You see, the Force serves three masters. The public which it serves daily, the political party in power to whom it must answer and the traditions of the Force itself, the primary of which is never tarnish the buffalo, meaning the buffalo in the centre of its logo and badge.

This last piece is drummed into members starting in Depot and reinforced in word and deed throughout their careers. It is this aspect of things that leads to all manner of problems. From the way the Old Boys’ network works to why members feel their complaints aren’t heard to transfers instead of handling problems and covering up as best they can instead of admitting a problem. Finally, when there is a problem made public for all to see, in many cases individual members are scapegoated for the greater good.

Those are leadership issues that are ingrained. It’s why the Harper government tried Bill Elliott as the first Commissioner from outside the Force. The problem was that Elliott was by nature a bully himself and ultimately failed in the role Harper foresaw.

The culture is endemic and changing it will require a monumental shift and a leader who understands what it will take to do that. I do not see a serving member at the senior level who is that leader at this point in time. Nor do I see one emerging without someone or something to shake the leadership in the RCMP to it’s very core.

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  1. I like your quote there Leo “144 years of tradition unhampered by progress”.

    I’m reading Douglas Clark’s 2010 book ‘Thin Bruised Line’ in which he quotes Jeffrey Robinson, a best-selling author, “As long as we live in a world where a seventeenth-century philosophy of sovereignty is reinforced by an eighteenth-century judicial model, defended by a nineteenth-century concept of law enforcement that is still trying to come to terms with 20th century technology, the 21st century will belong to transnational criminals.”

    The Mountie mentality must change in order to keep up with criminal trends and leadership challenges.

  2. I’m flabbergasted to hear a well-reasoned analysis from such an apologist as you, but kudos for this attempt.


    You are still not realizing, I think, how desperately the RCMP needs an unbiased gut-check. I am supposing it is the forced introduction of females into the force that has caused all these problems. When the females chicken-out, the males wonder,”Well, why should I go into the danger zone when my fellow officers DON”T!”. It should work the same way as the army, where it is called ‘cowardice’, where the offenders are dismissed, or shot.

    That’s why you get three unarmed citizens shot in the head dead in BC in the last few years, and one poor man tasered to death by four RCMP officers. Cowards all. And murderers.

    I’m not saying that RCMP don’t play ‘Big Brother’ too, with their female colleagues. I saw one case in N.Vancouver where a man I knew was driving home after a trying day, stopped second in a row by a female officer 50 yards from his own home. Sick to death of pointless interference by police (i.e.RCMP) he tore out of line in a 180 degree turn, and shrieked to the other end of the road, into his back lane, and drove to his garage. There, other RCMP officers stopped him, out of his car to open his garage, forced him to the ground, and stood on his throat. Just to teach him. As usual, it was four against one, which is the only circumstance where they will act.

    You can’t teach simple courage. You can’t teach common sense. You can’t teach respect towards the public they are SWORN to serve.

    But! I don’t see the need to employ so many as public servants when in actuality they are merely self-servants. Mountie mentality must indeed change. Or, just their hiring practices.

  3. The selection process seems to be a facade of background checks and probing questions that do nothing to establish some sort of measurement or predictor of workplace performance as a Mountie. I know people who are stellar human beings and would be amazing officers, yet they do not “fit the core values” based on who-ever’s interpretation of their questionnaire – because that’s what it all boils down to in the old boys club – is whether or not they like you. The fact that all of the hiring is done online and over the phone now, they are sending the wrong people to depot. I know of others who are useless monotonic pieces of meat who happened to scrape by and answer everything in order – and they are Mounties. Of course the average in between applies as well.

    What are your thoughts on how this contributes to the culture of the force?


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