Sunday, January 24, 2010

When in doubt, turn to a party hack - UPDATED

A few days ago, I accused the Harper Government of suffering fear and indecision that prevents them from addressing management difficulties of the federal police:
Exactly no one outside of RCMP management believes the police force is adequately structured and commanded. Yet, the Conservative government is paralyzed by fear of change.

Before Harper pushed him out the door, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan made one timid step, appointing lawyer Ian McPhail as Vice-Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. That role has been vacant for more than a year. The position of Commission Chair remains unfilled.

New Vice-Chair McPhail has no experience in policing nor does he have the skill set of his predecessor Brooke McNabb who was a lawyer, Professor of Conflict Resolution Studies and had served four years with the Commission. What McPhail does have however, is a long history as a back-room operator for the Conservative Party, including service on the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

At a time when Canadians need dedicated effort to restore the reputation and capabilities of the RCMP, the Harper Government engages a political spin doctor. Clearly, the intent is not to resolve the problems but to discourage public discussion of any difficulties. This matches RCMP policy that is at the root of trouble. Admit nothing, conceal everything.

The perverse intent of the Harper Government is clear. Despite indisputable calls for improved oversight of the RCMP and changes to its organizational structure, nothing is achieved. Public Safety Minister Van Loan recently claimed that he was waiting for another external report before choosing a course of action. However, he was shuffled out of the portfolio January 19 so it is a safe assumption that change is not going to happen anytime soon. Additionally, the new Minister, Vic Toews, is expected to be a short-term appointment. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:
In May 2008, it was discovered that Toews wanted to leave politics and be appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. He denied the story, but it was later confirmed he wanted out of politics altogether in the wake of a divorce and revelations he had a relationship with a Tory staffer.

Tories made this move at the same time that a Cape Breton family filed a civil lawsuit against the RCMP, arguing that police wrongfully entered the home of John Simon on the Wagmatcook First Nation and shot him dead. Police had attended the home after receiving a report that Simon was suicidal. Perhaps the ultimate irony, "To stop you from harming yourself, we're prepared to kill you."

There are questions unanswered about Simon's death. It was recently announced that no charges will be filed against the police shooter and the RCMP refused to answer questions or release the investigation report. Halifax police supposedly conducted the investigation but RCMP officers were closely involved in the "independent" examination. This came despite former CPC Commissioner Paul Kennedy criticizing the force for investigating their own members.

Police claim they cannot release the report because of privacy concerns. Simon's family was told they would have to file a Freedom of Information request for the report but the redacted version would be almost entirely blacked out. BC Civil Liberties Association claim the privacy excuse is used frequently to protect police from public scrutiny after a suspicious death or assault.

* * * * *
Update #1 Regarding John Simon Shooting

Cape Breton Post:
Chief and council of the Wagmatcook First Nation have ended their contract with RCMP and accepted a proposal from the Cape Breton Regional Police Service to begin policing the reserve on April 1.

The decision comes just over a year after fisherman John Andrew Simon, 44, was fatally shot in his Wagmatcook home by an RCMP officer who was responding to a 911 call.

. . . Simon’s family was told they could not see the full report due to Canada’s privacy laws.

“The issue around John Simon and his shooting death and the subsequent lack of transparency on the report ... caused a major concern for the family and for the community and the council,” said band director of operations Brian Arbuthnot. “There were some other incidents that have occurred that caused some concerns with the band and it was felt that a change would be appropriate.”

Update #2 Regarding Vice Chair Appointment at RCMP Complaints Commission

The Globe and Mail:

The new man in charge of holding the Mounties to account is a Toronto estate lawyer who describes himself as “collegial.” But his predecessors question whether a “neophyte” with that mindset is up to the job.

Ian McPhail, who has spent most of his career focusing on wills and real estate, acknowledges he has much to learn about the RCMP. While he has worked as a Conservative organizer and chaired Ontario government bodies, he has never before tried to police the police.

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