I must admit that when I reflect on the past Commissioners of the RCMP, I am very hard pressed to come up with something that I can point to which had some impact. Difficult to see where one could point to an overriding policy or change, that altered or influenced policing. There have been a succession of people in the post, of course, but very few seemed to have orchestrated significant change.
That being said, the RCMP, for the last five years has been under the guidance of Bob Paulson, who recently announced he is retiring this Spring. So, maybe it is a good time to review his record for posterity.
First a little bit of history on Mr Paulson. It will be remembered that Paulson came into the Commissioner’s job in 2011, where some in the media described him as “a 52 year old former fighter pilot with a known appetite for risk and pushing boundaries….”
I will confess to having been surprised at Paulson’s elevation to the office of Commissioner for a few reasons. Quite frankly, in my experience, I never saw him as an administrator; always a hands on, often a micro-manager, with a my way or the highway attitude. He did not suffer fools gladly, and in this more sensitive age of today, he may have even been termed somewhat of a bully. Socially, Mr. Paulson was one of the “boys” you might say, would not have been termed shy, and he enjoyed regaling the listeners of his past exploits as a crime fighter.
After leaving high school, Paulson had pursued a career in the military, where he trained as a “pilot”. Why he left the military is a bit of a question mark, and he was even asked about it by the media at the time but he did not offer any clarification.
Once he left the military, Paulson joined the RCMP, and began his service in Chilliwack where he remained for seven years; and then went to Courtney/Comox. This was followed by a stint in Prince Rupert where he worked in Major Crime and in his resume states that he worked on some of the files that later became known as the Highway of Tears.
In returning to the Vancouver area, from 1995 to 2005 his career began to rocket, going from Sgt to Inspector.
And it was in Vancouver where he fronted Project E-Pandora, where with some fanfare he boldly proclaimed, during his seemingly constant contact with the media, that the RCMP under his direction were going after the Hells Angels. In particular as it turned out, the East End Chapter of the BC Hells Angels.
Over $10 million went into this project, with the end result that there were 34 persons charged, 12 of them being members of the Hells Angels; and it was heralded as a significant dent in the East End Chapter of the Angels. There were a variety of offences, none of them of particular significance, but the usual litany of drugs, money and guns.
The Project was fully dependent on an informant turned agent, former doorman Michael Plante. During his acting as an agent, he was paid over $1.1 million dollars, an amount unheard of at the time. Equally out of the norm, Paulson’s crew allowed Plante to break the law while working for them, arguably in an effort to keep him credible.
Naturally by allowing Plante to break the law later came under serious court scrutiny, arguing over whether this allowance jeopardized or put the administration into disrepute. But, in the end he was allowed to testify, and the Project breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The second goal of this project was to have the Hells Angels declared “a criminal organization” under the Criminal Code, a ruling that needed to be based on the evidence they gathered during the Project. They made three attempts to do this, but none of them ended up working. This was considered a significant “setback for authorities”at the time, and to this day, the RCMP in British Columbia have been working without the ability to legally state that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization.
Paulson exuded confidence throughout, told the Vancouver Sun in 2003 that they had “rattled the Hell’s Angels” and that it had been a maverick investigation that “destroyed their illusion of impenetrability”, and he downplayed the inability to get them declared a criminal organization.
By way of comparison, both Ontario and Quebec were successful in their attempts to get the Angels declared a criminal organization, and have made managed to put a significant number in jail as a result. At one time, the Quebec Provincial Police claimed to have put about 150 bikers in jail; including at different times the head “Mom” Boucher, a prominent criminal lawyer, and the son of a mafia kingpin. The results of E-Pandora pale in comparison, but these Provincial agencies are rarely pointed to by the Federal Mounties.
It was then off to Ottawa for Mr Paulson, now glowing in the biker “success. After a couple of years in Ottawa and despite heavy competition, from other chiefs of police, persons with doctorates in law, and persons who had risen through the Federal government ranks he clearly managed to convince Stephen Harper, then the Prime Minister that he was the man for the job. Little doubt that part of the explanation would be his outlier abilities as an investigator.
He was not without detractors at the time, as the Toronto Star newspaper pointed out in an article on November 15, 2011, who had developed sources saying that Paulson had “left staffers in tears, been forced to apologize internally for blurting out insensitive comments about other members, and is a risk for government to take”.
It was not an easy time for the new Commissioner, as criticism of the RCMP had been growing for several years, and the dam seems to have burst once he took office. In no particular order, here are some of the highlights.
a) In 2012 the Oppal Commission stated that the RCMP had produced inadequate and failed police investigations. They called for an independent police agency for the Vancouver area.
This was the 2nd time there had been this recommendation and it has been an ongoing theme for several years, in particular, in the Lower Mainland of B.C. . The RCMP, in this case, now headed by Paulson chose to simply ignore the recommendations.
To lose the RCMP in the Lower Mainland of B.C. would be a major blow to the organization in terms of numbers alone, and one has to wonder if ignoring the issue will in the end backfire against them.
b) Some Freedom of Information requests in 2014 exposed an internal RCMP report which showed that in the previous 11 years there had been 322 incidents of corruption inside the RCMP; involving some 204 officers.
Most of it was relatively minor, as most of it of it involved fraud, such as expense claims, and the sharing of information with unauthorized parties. Paulson and the RCMP gave the pat response that they had “adapted many” of the recommendations of the study, and this seemed to placate the media and the general public, but it is very difficult to find what if anything was done to remedy these types of offences within the RCMP.
c) The shooting on Parliament Hill in 2014, was arguably the most noteworthy and tragic event to occur during Paulson’s administration.
On October 22nd, after shooting Cpl Nathan Cirrilo in the back three times, Michael Zehauf-Bibeau, hijacks a vehicle, and then drives up to the entrance leading into the Parliament buildings, carrying with him his long rifle. He was eventually gunned down and shot 31 times, the fatal shot being one in the “back” of the head. A viewing of the videos of all the events reveal a very unprepared group of guards and police who clearly had not anticipated anything like this happening.
The suspect wrestled a guard, and ended up shooting one in the leg, was shot at by another guard who emptied his gun at him but did not hit him; and Zehauf-Bibeau then ran away down the halls. He was confronted by the four Mounties, who finally had the presence of mind to form a tactical wedge, and go towards the shooter, where they eventually shoot him. This was pretty well the only thing that went right in the course of those brief minutes.
The Ontario Provincial Police did an external review (there were three other reviews) which was politely scathing to say the least. Among the things they discovered was that the Mounties had a chance to prevent Zehauf-Bibeau from entering Parliament, but that garbled radio communication caused a chance to stop him not be realized. The fact that there was no radio communication between the various security groups and the Ottawa Police led to over 300 officers responding with no guidance or understanding of what was going on. There had been many who worked on the Hill in the previous years who had complained to their managers about this untenable and indefensible problem
They went on to say that there was clearly a lack of “operational preparedness ” and that it was all a “grim reminder that Canada is ill-prepared to prevent and respond to such attacks”. The approach to protection on the Hill was “highly inadequate” and that further planning, training and resources were needed.
There were a total of 66 recommendations, based on some of the findings of limited resources due to 2011 budget cuts; and the fact that there had been previous recommendations to increase security and radio communications which had not been dealt with.
One would think that the RCMP would have been embarrassed, but A/Commissioner Gilles Michaud in his news conference, in true RCMP spin, did not apologize, but only talked about how they were now implementing changes as a result of this tragedy and they were very confident that this would not happen again in this way.
Now, everyone in the RCMP has known for years that the Hill was not a favoured posting, and the RCMP often staffed it with people who did not want to be there, and sometimes even as a punishment. At the time they were using reservists, and persons on overtime to supplement the relatively meagre units there. They have now established a detachment styled “Parliamentary Protective Service “headed by the RCMP. Of course, it is still a posting nobody wants, so the RCMP had been recently putting recruits, fresh out of training in Depot to man the Hill. These individuals would not have done any everyday policing, so it is not clear whether the RCMP has learned anything from this event.
There was a second fallout from the Hill. Paulson, after this event, began to put the fighting of “terrorism” as a priority, no doubt wanting to make an impact after the embarrassment of the Hill.
He began to re-align resources out of Major Crime and the organized crime groups to beef up INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team). A total of 500 persons by Paulson’s calculation. INSET up to this time, internally, was not known as being on the vanguard of investigations, but terrorism is their mandate, and therefore it fell to this unit to lead the charge.
The investigation of the shooter, Zehauf-Bebeau and his associates, according to many sources, knew no boundaries. Several operational groups such as Unsolved Homicide in B.C. were depleted of manpower, in the Ottawa directed pursuit of “Muslim Mike”, as he was known by his co-workers. He had a history of drugs and violence and had wanted to travel to Syria but most would say that he was not anyone’s definition of the classic “terrorist”. That did not stop the Mounties from their pursuit. So far, there is no evidence that anything has come of this, despite millions of dollars and extraordinary efforts, and all to the detriment of other operational units which had been put on hold.
d) In 2016, Paulson captured headlines once again when he tearfully announced that the RCMP had settled the harassment suits brought forward by 500 members, and had established a $100 million fund as a base point.
There are many that are now predicting that the numbers of claimants will reach into the thousands. With this settlement for offences dating back to the 1970’s, the Mounties by signing and agreeing have forever restricted the ability of these various investigations to ever be seen by the public. Learning the nature of all these complaints; who had been named or accused in these complaints, and whether any discipline ensued will not be subject to public examination. All are being hidden due to “terms of the settlement”.
Cynically, one would presume that the Mounties had no interest in any of these circumstances being exposed to the public. Even if one assumed that some of these cases did not have merit, there would be still a massive number of officers implicated. Some believe that this may turn out to be the biggest coverup ever perpetrated by a government agency, where the nature of these complaints reached to the higher echelons of the RCMP.
Catherine Galliford, who was one of the initial complainants and a controversial figure as a result, settled previously, but stated “I can not trust Commissioner Paulson or anyone in senior management…”.
e) Of course, there was the minor kerfuffle when Paulson used on duty RCMP officers to form his honour guard for his 2nd wedding. Initially they tried to mitigate this, but in then end he was forced to reimburse the expenses. It was embarrassing if nothing else, but it may have been wholly consistent with someone not in touch with the regular rank and file.
f) The other tragic incident during his tenure was the mass slaying of RCMP officers in Moncton.
Justin Borque went on a killing rampage, killing three officers and wounding two others on June 4th, 2014. This was the deadliest attack since Mayerthorpe.
This was followed by calls for a public inquiry because the RCMP had ignored previous recommendations put forward after Mayerthorpe, which had told the RCMP to better equip their officers. However, the RCMP fought off the suggestion of a public inquiry, and instead called for an internal review by one of their own.
That RCMP internal report ( McNeil report), stated that there had been problems with communications, and that at issue was the the officers who had not been wearing their protective body armour at the time.
This was unsatisfactory to the officers involved, and there were calls for further review. This led to a complaint of unsafe working conditions, and the eventual laying of four charges under Section 148(1) of the Labour Code, which relate to the equipment, training, and supervision at the time of the shootings.
The trial is supposed to start April 18th of this year and is scheduled for two months. No managers or supervisors are named. The RCMP have pled not guilty and could face fines up to $1 million. Do not be surprised if the Mounties try to settle this one before trial.
g) In January 2017, charges which had stemmed from an incident in 2010 when a boatload of Tamil refugees arrived aboard the MV SUN into Vancouver, Canada. A six year investigation ensued. This investigation was being, once again, driven by Ottawa, Immigration Canada and the RCMP. I was hearing from individuals as to the nature of this investigation and the constant battles the investigators were facing in dealing both with their Ottawa bosses and the higher ups at Immigration. Well in the end, three of the four were acquitted, and the fourth had his charges stayed.
Defence counsel, Mark Nohra, echoed what I had been hearing, and said at the end of the trial that he was not surprised “I felt that there were so many problems with the way things were done that the jury would see that”.
h) Morale in the RCMP is described by all as being low, fueled by the fact that currently, the RCMP is now one of the lowest paid police forces in Canada. They are now 72nd out of 80 other police agencies. Nothing further needs to be said, when the RCMP used to feel that being in the top 5 was where they should have been being Canada’s National police force.
i) Finally, there is Bill C-7 which was forwarded to the Senate for review, after the Supreme Court of Canada had given the powers to the RCMP to unionize. In a 6-1 decision the Court stated that the system employed by the RCMP was “deeply unfair” and a “violation of the right to freedom of association”. Those outside the RCMP you may not be aware of the decades long internal battle that has been going on to keep unions out, so you must keep that in mind in terms of context of this development. It is also easy to say that unionizing of the RCMP could be the biggest battle ever undertaken by RCMP management, which would have far-reaching consequences.
Bill C-7 was the government’s legislation to abide by the Supreme Court ruling. The Senate in its review however noted that the bill as it was being forwarded to them had left out a great many of what normally flows form unionization, such as rights to govern work conditions etc. Now one would assume that the RCMP in HQ had some input into the drafting of this bill. Did they intentionally leave out working conditions knowing full well that this could cause severe monetary and resourcing problems for the RCMP?
In any event, the Senate put in their amendments to bring it back into line, and now the bill sits waiting for re-introduction. The government seems in no hurray to get it back into the legislature, which may be explained by now being fully aware of some of the possible policy and monetary implications if it is passed.
i) Finally I am going to end on another case, where the RCMP was bound and determined to get some terrorism convictions. That of course is the Nuttal and Korody case out of Victoria where they were accused of planning to blow up the Victoria legislature. Again, there had been hearing rumblings of the RCMP sparing no monies or effort in order to get this case before the courts. Many comments were made about the fact that these two parties were far from being the classic terrorist suspects.
Of course, as you now know, both were acquitted, and they were granted a stay of proceedings, with the Judge ruling that the two had been “entrapped by the RCMP”
In summary, how does one judge these past few years. This was clearly an eventful five years under Mr. Paulson. Is the RCMP in better shape now than they were five years ago?
Morale is bad, officers are complaining about their wages, the RCMP is facing Labour charges, there are numerous harassment claims to be settled over the next several years, PTSD has become the flavour of the day, the terrorist investigations have been a dismal flop, and more negative news is coming with the Indigenous Inquiry around the corner.
One could easily conclude that the RCMP are in worse shape than before Paulson took over as Commissioner. Again there seems to have been no redeeming accomplishments during his tenure.
Mr Paulson, is articulate and intelligent, but he was a leader without a game plan, one without an overall vision as to the good of the Force. The RCMP lack of accountability has been an issue for years, and it continued under Paulson.
He remains out of touch with the rank and file, with no better example than the recent granting of executive bonuses with an included raise.
(Deputy Commissioners got an average $34,000 bonus, Assistant Commissioners an average of $10K each. This was there “at risk” pay, and for having met all their “commitments”.)
This was a slap in the face to the rank and file.
Furthermore, just recently E Division and the Officer in Charge Craig Callens (approved no doubt by Paulson) have elevated a few positions to the A/Commissioner rank. No apparent reason given; they including the head of the Surrey RCMP Dwayne MacDonald, and the leader of CFSEU Kevin Hackett. A nice bonus if you can get it, but clearly a “let them eat cake” mindset worthy of Marie Antoinette.
Perception is now the guiding principle of the Mounties, they are seemingly consumed by it. The job functions have become secondary. The management group has become a political entity, quick to show empathy and shed tears if the situation dictates. If cornered and confronted, they obfuscate, and have learned to dance with the best of them.
It is time for a constructive change, but admittedly it is difficult to locate optimism amongst the rank and file. Those being rumoured to replace Paulson currently are the same old guard.
It will take an impressive, true leader, to deal with the RCMP in the upcoming years, and it is not clear as to whether the Liberals are capable, or even have an appreciation for the issues.
Any new leader must be seen to be conversant with the issues, and be trusted by the mainstream members of the RCMP while at the same time, capable of making tough and politically difficult decisions. They must be able to stand up to the elected politicians and be truthful. They have to become apolitical. The cronyism must come to an end.
These are not good or even pleasant times to be a police officer in this country, or anywhere for that matter.
So it is time for Paulson, and the other managers who are part of this generational clan to go quietly, as history is unlikely to determine that the past five years were remarkable, but may in fact conclude that it was the beginning of the end. That what emerges in the next few years, will be a reconfigured RCMP, slightly tarnished, one that we may not recognize, one that may not be the gleaming icon it has been for the last century.
Photo courtesy via Creative Commons by the Province of British Columbia with some rights reserved. (the Photo features Paulson looking on during the swearing in ceremony for Craig Callens, who has also announced his upcoming retirement)