Time to ride into the sunset
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, April 26, 2008

It’s past time to put “E” Division out of its misery.

Oh, I know. Studies, recommendations and implementation plans for rehabilitating the RCMP are underway but it’s unlikely the overarching need for leadership, streamlining and a clear cut mission will arrive soon enough to prevent more catastrophes. Like the taser death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport, the botched communications that allowed a man in violation of a court order to visit his three children in Merritt, B.C., then to be charged in their slayings, tops a history of missteps and out of touch police work.

So “E” Division has to go. With some 6000 officers in 126 detachments throughout British Columbia, the contract for Canada’s largest RCMP division is up for renewal in 2012. And as retired Judge Wallace Craig has argued in Vancouver’s North Shore News for the last few years, it is now or never to decide B.C.’s policing arrangements for the subsequent twenty years.

He also argues it’s about time British Columbia grew up and reclaimed its own police force.

Under Section 92 of the British North America Act, the provinces must carry out the administration of justice. And from the helter skelter days of the gold rush in the 1850s, a provincial constabulary then the British Columbia Provincial Police Force did just that. But on August 15, 1950, British Columbia abdicated its constitutional duty and the era of RCMP contract policing began.

In post war Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was riding high. With a sterling record of achievement and near mythical status, it seemed infallible and capable of taking on any task or structural change. One among many would be the departure from federal into contract policing for the provinces. But could the legendary command and control paramilitary force with lines of accountability only to Ottawa meet the test of rural and integrated policing? In B.C., that meant working with a civilian force numbering 2500 in 11 different communities – all accountable to police boards appointed by local mayors.

No it couldn’t. And it hasn’t. No mish-mash of “three legged” policing styles and mixed lines of accountability could hope to work or to endure. By 2005, Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed to staff shortages, chronic underfunding and undertraining. More recently, an ex RCMP Commissioner observed in the Globe and Mail that resources were stretched so thin, “…international crimes don’t get the attention they deserve.”

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reports that Vancouver has become Canada’s per-capita capital of gun-related violent crime. Gangland killings are routine even as the city has become the destination of choice for criminals seeking easy drugs and easy sentencing. A Vancouver Police Department website also reports that Greater Vancouver is second only to Miami in all North America when it comes to property crime.

Why property crime? Much in the way most gun crime is related to drug deals, property crime results from drug addicts seeking cash for quick fixes. But few would dispute a major root of West Coast crime, as in much of Canada, exists in the failure of enforcement officers to extinguish the marijuana grow-and-export trade to the United States. Now worth over $5 billion in British Columbia alone, it purchases guns and harder drugs for import into Canada thus fuelling a perverse cycle that is further fueled by demand from addicts, weekend tokers, adolescents and, increasingly, children.

Restoring “E” Division’s duties as a federal police force begins the streamlining process. But even this relatively simple step won’t be possible without leadership capable of galvanizing and steering the forces on clearly defined missions.

Did I hear you say the name General Rick Hillier? The celebrated and soon to be former chief of defense staff is a natural for the job of RCMP Commissioner. Not only would the forces readily accept a ‘civilian’ of his stature in an RCMP uniform, but he is just the man to speak up for the officers, to motivate and to guide them.

And need I add that he is the man to lead the RCMP in Canada’s War on Drugs? If persuasion is required, just remind him of Mike Duffy’s recent interview with Derek Ogden, head of the RCMP’s Drugs and Organized Crime Centre, where we learned 3% of Canada’s 7-11 year olds are now using marijuana on a daily basis.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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