Personal Story #2

As I went up the dirt and tree lined driveway,  I became aware of people following on foot in the wake of the slow moving police car. It was forty-five minutes after midnight on a relatively warm August 15th, 1979, when I arrived at 282 Brown Road.

The call was to some vaguely described “fight” which had happened according to dispatch, at this rather broken down residence, and that someone had been “hurt badly” As I pulled up, with only my headlights leading the way, an eerie sense came over me, a sense of something not being right, of sides closing in, of my mind involuntarily narrowing its focus. A survival sense in some ways. A sense of being acutely alone even though there were clearly people gathering now,  watching my every move, which in itself was rather unexpected.

Parking in front of the small dwelling, I walked up the couple of steps to the front door.

I found out later that this was the well worn, dilapidated residence, of a male named Nick Dugay, but there were many other transients who often sought shelter here for all the usual homeless reasons.  As I walked the two steps up to the porch, the battered screen door was slightly ajar, and the inner, once white door, was open slightly, angling and pointing inside. I called out, but there was no answer coming from the darkened rooms. There was no electricity, no lights to turn on.

My shiny yellow plastic RCMP issued flashlight, provided a dim beam, but it was enough to show the first five feet inside.  On the floor in front of me, my beam caught what appeared to be a human form, in the middle of the room. Two open imploring eyes stared at me. It took a couple of seconds, as my brain tried to absorb what I was seeing. Focus and process. But the eyes didn’t seem human.

As my eyes  slowly adjusted to the darkness, and the dank room smell alerted my other senses, the form became more distinct.  In fact what I was staring at was not a pair of eyes, but two nostril holes, part of a mostly disappeared nose. I assumed the nostrils were still attached to a head but I could not even be certain of that because of the state of what was before me.  I forced myself to look away a bit, and take in the rest of the rummaged room. As my light struggled to light up the rest of the residence, the single bedroom residence had obvious red splatter everywhere. It was as if a child had got out of control finger painting. On the walls, with no design, in some haphazard, helter-skelter styled message. In every corner, and on all the dirty white wall space, literally every square foot, including the ceiling, had what I now realized was blood, in various stages of drying. Coagulated, blackened blood was pooled around and pointed to the ravaged body.

My eyes continually returned to the body as some sort of reflex. It looked like a scarecrow with its stuffing mostly removed, and weirdly disjointed, as if the legs and arms were trying to get away from the torso. There were marks on the floor like incisions. The head was virtually gone except for some brownish curly hair, and one arm looked like it had been dissected from the body.

As my breathing slowed, at least to a more manageable  pace, my eyes began to tell my head what to process. I spotted an axe near the door, somewhat propped up against the wall, quite distinguishable from the sparse furniture.

I made an effort to check the rest of the very bare residence, although the house was very small and it was unlikely that anyone else could have been in there. There was no sound other than my now bloodied footsteps as I walked through the spartanly furnished house.

Just as I finished checking the single bedroom, Constable Renaud Bourdages came through the only door, and the one that I had entered, making me jump slightly. He looked at me with an apprehensive and nervous smirk; taking in the scene which I stood in the middle of, and then in his heavy French accent, and resorting to the usual black humour of policing declared, to me, his captive audience, that “this ain’t no suicide!”

His presence and statement was reassuring, and now made me realize that I was there for a reason, everything was indeed real, and not some grotesque dream. I stepped over the body, and I passed the axe, and went outside to my police vehicle to radio for assistance.

So how did I get to this place, looking over this horrific scene?

I arrived in the area in February 1978 fresh from the RCMP Training Center in Regina. Leon Spinks had just gone 15 rounds and defeated Mohammed Ali; Ted Bundy had just been re-captured in Pensacola Florida; and Roman Polanski had just skipped bail and headed for France after pleading to having sex with a 13 year old girl.

I was freshly scrubbed and had been now schooled in the finer points of the RCMP.  Of course that wasn’t true, I wasn’t really prepared for anything other than maybe an ability to follow orders and maybe some cursory knowledge of theoretical law.

This is where for me, police theory as it existed back then, and the law would meet reality for the first time.

It was an impoverished area with layers of religion mixing with unemployment,  and lives revolving around the expansive Miramichi river and the bridges that went over it. A small society enveloped in poverty, and as is often the case, it had become a petrie dish for violence and crime.

Unemployment rates were broaching 20% throughout the Province of New Brunswick, but this Miramichi region was the poorest of the poor. The religious overtones created a perversive warp, which cannot be easily identified, but was palatable to those policing it.

David Adams Richards, a celebrated novelist and a former resident of the area, writes about an “underlying anger” which infuses the area.

Just outside Newcastle, sits the small village of Chatham Head, where I found myself this particular night.  A bailey bridge spanned the Miramichi river and connected Newcastle to Chatham Head. If Newcastle and the nearby town of Chatham seemed to be a simmering melange of the criminal elements, then the small community of Chatham Head which lay in between the two major town sites, would be one of the boiling points. It was termed at the time by the locals as “little Chicago”.

The use of fire to cover ones criminal tracks was common, and knives, and axes were often a weapon of choice. Of course, hunting rifles were prevalent whether in a corner of the house or in a rack at the back of a truck.

Liquor and drugs, the usual fallback panacea for the poor, were often acting as the motivation, or providing the courage to fight, or steal. It was a time when driving while impaired was not a stigma.

Fighting was a rite of passage both for the public and the police. Physical policing, unlike now, was a prerequisite, considered by some to be a necessary characteristic of any self-respecting officer. “Community Policing” had not been heard of or imagined. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms had not yet been passed.

So this was my environment, with its underlying community futility, and a distrust of the police that I faced in emerging from the house.

There was little I could do now with just the two of us, other than protecting the crime scene, stringing the usual yellow “Police” tape, and await for reinforcements. By now quite a few people had surrounded my police car, but they were not wanting to get any closer; almost as if they knew something further was going to happen. No one was saying anything, they just watched in silence. They seemed to be anticipating something, but what that was, certainly wasn’t obvious to me.

While standing there, I did find and spoke briefly with a man named Art Leblanc, who was part of the crowd, and as it turned out was the one who had directed me up the lane to the house.  Also there was Jean-Guy Savoie, who I later learned was the person who had called the police.

As I approached Jean-Guy and began speaking, he answered, but in hushed subdued tones, clearly not wanting to have the others hear what he was saying. This was not abnormal, and to be seen to be talking to the police, especially in Chatham Head could bring about some problems for you. So I had to bend down to hear him.

He said that a woman had called him asking for a flashlight.

More significantly, he went on to say that a teenager named “Robbie Cunningham” had told him that “someone” had “attacked him” and that he “hit back” and the guy was bleeding and ‘hurt”.

Now I happened to know Robbie Cunningham, even though I had only been policing the area for about a year. About a week before, Cpl Ben Walsh and I had picked him up for firing off a rifle in a Provincial Park, and we had transported him to the local jail.

Robbie Cunningham, was a petty thief, always in trouble, and had grown up hard as they used to say. He was only 18 years old.

As I scanned the crowd there stood Robbie Cunningham; trying to blend in it seemed, standing by his father Vince. Vince was a well known local character in his own right. Allegedly,  Vince would often employ his sons in the passed down tradition of thievery. One of the “godfathers” of Chatham Head so to speak.

“Come her Robbie” I said as I walked over to where he stood, on the other side of the yellow tape.

He stared at me and didn’t respond.

The crowd of people present seemed to fall silent. A group imposed hush, no doubt wanting to also hear what was being said by this young police officer. I could feel all eyes watching and following me as I approached Robbie.

Now,  Vince, normally is a very vocal supporter of his kids, and would have no problem under any circumstance telling the the local police to fuck off, and then would quickly transition into a lecture as to his rights. But Vince didn’t say anything.

“Robbie come here” I said a little more emphatically.

Robbie looked straight ahead, seeming to twitch a bit,  agitated, but still refusing to look toward me.

“Robbie come here” I said once again.

I got closer to him but this time, I reached out, grabbing his arm, and began to pull him towards me. I was expecting a possible full out fight as I steered him to the car but it never materialized. He feigned resistance as would a small child, but he came under the tape, and once back at the car got in the back seat. Vince maybe tellingly continued to remain quiet.

Once in the back of the car, Robbie seemed to feel free to talk. His speech was somewhat slurred, but not the common fuzziness brought about by alcohol.  He launched into a running monologue, of mostly indiscernible mutterings, incomprehensible statements not following any particular thought process. Our conversation, if one could call it that was not helped by the plexiglass shield which separated us. I opened the small window insert, and Robbie continued to go on, clearly only making sense to himself.  He was clearly distressed. But I furiously and dutifully wrote down what I could. But then, out of the ramblings, Robbie said something about an “axe”.  There was no mistake that he said it, it was clear and concise. And I had never mentioned an axe.

Staff Sargent Dale Swansburg, and Corporal Ben Walsh arrived, just as I was beginning to conclude that a coherent conversation with Robbie was out of the question, and I could no longer keep pace in any event with what he was saying.

Leaving Robbie in the car, I re-visited the scene (somewhat reluctantly I will admit) inside the house with Dale and Ben, pointing out what I could.

Dale was the head of my detachment, smoked a pipe, and reminded me of the stereotypical absent-minded professor. One time he had even set his paper money in his pocket on fire while walking around the office after sticking a too hot pipe into his pants. More importantly I looked up to him, and saw him as a mentor.

Years before, he was the primary investigator along with Greg Kalhoon who had solved the murder of two Moncton city police officers, a sensational and horrific case that had rattled the entire country. The two officers had been killed in front of each other and buried in shallow graves.

He was calm, unshakeable despite the carnage, and puffing on his ever present pipe as he surveyed the scene; like an architect or landscaper, quite unlike the rookie cop who was almost bouncing beside him.

He asked who I had in the back of the police car, and I told him Robbie Cunningham and that I thought he had something to do with it; describing the initial call, and Robbie’s blurting of the word “axe”. Dale asked that Ben Walsh and I take Robbie back to our office, and that we should try and get a statement from him, so at 1:20 in the morning we headed back to the office. This may not seem like much, but to have a senior officer with the reputation of Dale, allow me, a rookie cop, to continue to be involved in this way was a true signal of confidence, which I remember to this day.

Once back at the office, as I predicted, trying to take a statement from Robbie was an exercise in futility; Robbie at times falling out of his chair. The ramblings continued, and I continued my futile attempt to write down anything that I thought could prove significant. Clearly he was high, but he did not smell of alcohol or of marihuana. I booked him into the cells for the homicide of Nick Dugay, but I will admit the grounds to arrest and keep him were thin, based on a a single word, and his presence and mention by others at the house.

But the case continued to grow, as they sometimes do when the Gods are smiling down on you. Cst Bourdages who remembered that Robbie had a sister in the area, went to the house, and recovered Robbie’s bloody clothes which he had gotten rid of, inside their washing machine. The washing machine had not been turned on, and the clothes were in a pile on top of other dirty laundry.

The usual flow of statements obtained by other officers, placed Robbie at the scene, and one theory that had surfaced was that Robbie had stored stolen property at the residence which Dugay had pawned or sold, and an argument over the monies led to the one-sided “fight”. In the parlance of the day, Nick was a “wino” who would often let the various thieves in the area hide their property at his place, in exchange for the odd bottle of booze.

It was estimated that Nick probably lived for 60 seconds of this attack. That is hard to imagine.  This was my purest example of the inhumanity of man as he had in fact been struck by the axe a total of  87 times; as those were the number of axe marks that went through his flesh and into the floor boards of the residence. The cuts in the body made it appear that at some point the killer had tried to dissect the body, striking several times were the limbs joined, in an attempt to dismember it.  We also found burned out matches on parts of the body.

As the evidence rolled in, over the next few weeks, Dale continued to allow me to be the presenter of the case,  prepare the reports, while he discreetly looked over my shoulder. Typed reports with carbon copies, hammering away on the single Smith-Corona available to investigators. All the reports were eventually submitted to Crown Counsel Fred Ferguson.

There were two difficulties with the case. Identifying that the body which was found was in fact Nick Dugay; and putting Robbie at the scene of the homicide. The case was weak in terms of putting Robbie swinging the axe.

We were able to eventually prove it to be Nick Dugay because of an operating room staple that we could see on X-Rays, and then were able to compare it to an operation he had undergone years before.

As to the second more perplexing problem as to how we could put Mr Cunningham at the crime scene we learned of a “new” investigative technique, which was being explored by a Doctor Bastarache in the Toronto Metro Police Crime Lab.

He was experimenting with blood “spatter” and what it could tell you. He was doing this by scientifically measuring the results of throwing blood on walls, and on floors, walls and floors made of differing materials. Dr Bastarache, would become our final witness at our trial, and testified that Robbie Cunningham, judging from his bloody clothes, was either swinging the axe, or was leaning over the body while someone else was swinging the axe.

Robbie was convicted of 1st degree murder, but in 1981 had the case reduced to “manslaughter” due to his level of intoxication. His sentence was reduced to 12 years rather than the 25.

My first directly involved homicide was over with a successful conclusion. The thrill under these circumstances is hard to explain. It is a combination of relief, anxiety and exhilaration which I never have been able to match unless under these same circumstances. It is this adrenaline which is addictive. Although in after thoughts and the usual press scrum, investigators talk about the welfare of the family, and the ability to bring closure to the family, for me, and if others are honest, it was much more, it is visceral.

Like many homicides there are a lot of side-stories, but in the interest of brevity I will not go into a lot of them in great detail at this time.

The most significant one worthy of mention is that Robbie Cunningham, in his defence, and in a later book, blamed the murder on a fellow named Allan Legere. Legere was Cunningham’s criminal mentor, Legere’s runner or go to boy, for menial tasks and criminal assistance.

This was not an insignificant person to point the finger at.

Legere would become infamous. He was convicted of killing a store owner in Black River by beating him to death, along with a Scott Curtis in 1986. However, while serving time for murder, he escaped from Sheriffs during a transfer. He would go on a killing rampage while on the loose, starting 25 days after his escape, with killing Annie Flam of Chatham. Five months later, he would kill Donna and Linda Daughney, and then five weeks after that would kill Father James Smith of the Chatham Head church rectory.  He was re-captured after a 201 day manhunt and  became known as the  “Monster of the Miramichi”. He was one of the first persons convicted of murder through the use of DNA.

So Robbie, by having Legere as a criminal partner gained misplaced stature in the community.

Five years before the Dugay killing, Cunningham and Legere were two of the suspects in the still unsolved murder of Mary Beatrice Redmond,  murdered in 1974, after coming home from church.

The 56 year old woman was stabbed over 80 times on her porch, never making it inside. In the same neighbourhood as Dugay.

Could Legere  have had something to do with the planning or execution of Dugay? It is quite possible that he may have orchestrated the event, but there is no evidence that he was at the scene of the crime during the murder.

The defence counsel for Cunningham trial for the killing of Dugay, also well known for his tenacious and sometimes impolite cross-examination, was Frank McKenna. McKenna would go on to be the Premier of the Province, and is now head of a committee seeking to determine the best candidate for the job of RCMP Commissioner.

Dale Swansburg, retired, is alive and well in New Brunswick, and in the last few months I had a chance to speak with him once again, and remind him of his impression upon me. He is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, but maintains a good spirit and is still as humble as he was some 40 years ago.

Ben Walsh, also retired,  is still going strong in Regina, but sadly lost his son to friendly fire while with the Canadian Forces. He will never be the same as the man who helped me on this case, but he too remains strong.

Cst Bourdages is still living in New Brunswick, having just recently retired, and having been a long serving member of the RCMP dive team; and he still speaks with the heavy warm French accent that I grew to truly appreciate.

I, on the other hand, after this case, had been instilled with a desire to do homicide investigations. This was my first where I could point to playing a meaningful role, and now I had the bug.

They had instilled in me confidence, made me believe that I could do the job. To see beyond the obvious, to look beneath the surface of the human condition. They showed me that there was a need to speak for the victim, as sometimes there was no one else who put any value on their life. It was a job that would take you to dark places, places where most people will never go.

They had shown me a team of people who wordlessly without direction came together; often with humour, a pride in their job, and with unbridled loyalty to their fellow officers. It was an environment of overwork, with each pulling its share without a negative word or comment, and then often helping the others without a need for applause. You needed to win at trial, there was no other option.

So, I did pursue this goal and would eventually be involved directly in over a couple of hundred homicides during my career. But, there is nothing like the first, and I always tried to mimic that unheralded crew who showed me the way.

Photo courtesy of the Author on a recent return to the area….the “new” bridge to Chatham Head from Newcastle over the Miramichi river..






Lessons in the testimony of James Comey….when politics becomes part of policing

Policing, throughout Canada, both in our Federal and our Municipal policing agencies is increasingly political, and it may be  proving detrimental to our form of government and the ability to do objective investigations.  Everything from recruiting and hiring, to what is being investigated, or how it is being investigated has become subject to the vagaries of a leadership which often cowers and acquiesces to its political masters.

Some would argue that this has always been a problem in our country, that this is nothing new. Others argue that the abject adherence to the desires of the political leadership has reached a more dangerous precipice.

Historically, we have adopted in this country the Westminster system, a system or division of powers where the model of governance forms around three distinct branches; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It has always been felt that the police fall on the judiciary side of the branches, and in terms of governance and accountability, the police are meant to remain above partisan politics. They are hoped to be apolitical and autonomous, above the fray so to speak. The public in our democratic system, need to have faith in the police, and their ability to do their jobs immune from political influence, otherwise there is the potential for chaos. As stated by  Robert Peel   “the police are the public and the public are the police”

So there are three distinct functions within our government; those that make the rules or laws (the legislative bodies and the executives of those bodies), those  that enforce those laws(the police), and those that are there to settle the disputes (the judiciary).  We run into trouble in this country when these levels get blurred, when politicians exert control over what or how rules are enforced, or begin to dictate how those police agencies are run.

This is not to say that the police should not be accountable, they should, and it can be argued  even more so than they are now. But they should be accountable for monies, operations, and their administrative management, not for determining investigative worth, or the focus of those same investigations. The judiciary are in place to hold the police responsible,  for the  proper enforcement of the laws, and the use of proper investigative techniques. This creates the needed counter balance. The police are on the judiciary side of the scales of justice, in counter balance to the executive and legislative branch. One balancing the other.

Which brings me back to former FBI director Comey, and his most recent testimony to the Senate Committee investigating Russian influence in the American election. Mr Comey is articulate, intelligent, and polished. His testimony to the Committee was thorough, and believable, which of course will hold problems for the bombastic Mr Trump, who has now established himself as a proven and often compulsive liar. However, it also underlined to me how Mr. Comey was not head of the FBI because of an illustrious investigative career with the FBI, but for the fact that he is good at playing the political game.  His “leak” to the NY Times after being fired, was a blatant example of how much of a politician he had become, as he admitted that he did the leak to help force the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. As much as I admired Mr Comey and his testimony, that was a shocking admission. This was all of course after Mr Comey came under fire for announcing the further investigation into the Hilary Clinton email fiasco. Mr Comey on both occaisons jumped with both feet into the political arena.

It is becoming more obvious in this country that heads of police offices, whether Provincial, Federal or Municipal, on many levels, are no different than Comey; they are playing the political game, they are appointed because of their political adherence to the politics of the day. They survive, get promoted, and reach the top ranks not because of their investigative or enforcement prowess, or because of their integrity, but because they reflect and mirror their political masters of the day.

We are about to have a new Commissioner of the RCMP appointed. So the Liberals have now appointed ex-Premier and staunch Liberal, Frank McKenna to head a selection committee of up to 10 people. Is there any doubt that this person will reflect the wishes or policies of Justin Trudeau?  In an article by Allison Crawford, quoting from an internal memo by Ralph Goodale (Solicitor General)the Liberals are pushing for someone versed in sexual harassment, bullying,  workplace relationships, mental health issues, and post traumatic stress. Lofty goals, and not necessarily wrong in their intent, but investigations and the ability to lead investigations, or to be adequately schooled in the law and the operational problems facing the RCMP seems to have been slid to the back burner.

It is highly unlikely that whoever is chosen will be appointed because of their abilities proven in the police environment; it is far more likely that they will be “representative”, reflective of the Liberal principles and someone who will protect, support, and promote the Liberals politically.

It is a rather small step to think that who and what gets investigated becomes something determined by the politicians, or at the very least under the influence of the political elite.  And when the politicians decide who or how to enforce the law, you are indeed in very dangerous territory.

If you don’t think that it is possible, ask Mr Comey, who was being told to close off the investigation into  Flynn by the President of the United States. Look back to Nixon in the U.S. or if you prefer Canadian examples,  how about Harper and his executive assistant in the Mike Duffy investigation, when Vic Toews oversaw the RCMP and even monitored correspondence between the RCMP and government.

If you combine these thoughts with the recent talk of a civilian oversight for the Mounties (again, not absolutely bad), the ability for a police department to be unduly influenced by their political bosses because even more of a possibility.

Did you know that the commanders of RCMP detachments are often needed to be approved by the local government, so that the Mayor of Surrey for instance has a say in who leads the local detachment. Without their approval they are unlikely to get appointed. In a place like Vancouver, or Victoria,  the Chief of Police is appointed by the government of the day.  On what criteria do you think they would base their decision? When Jim Chu retired as Vancouver Police Chief, he was appointed to the Translink board, clearly another political appointment, and I am not so sure Mr Chu was a transportation expert. Do you think Mr Chu may have been loyal to the local politicians when he was the Chief? It is a very fine line to walk between accountability and subservience.

It goes even lower than this in the rank structure. In many of the recent RCMP appointments, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity are clearly playing a significant role in promotions and advancements. Of course it is all sold as being “reflective” of the community, but when does being reflective turn into pandering to special interest groups.

This is not to say that any of these appointments are bad, or wrong, but they need to be scrutinized as they open up the question as to where the loyalties of these chiefs or these officers will lay if they are ever in a position like Mr Comey found himself. The police need to exude objectivity, we need to trust in their ability to be fair, open, and not influenced by outside forces.

We have lost sight of the 1st goal of policing, to enforce the laws. Not to make judgements or to show favour to particular groups of society, but to enforce them in an objective and non-political manner. The rash of charges against white officers in shootings of blacks, again in the U.S., is clearly politically charged. There is a demand for charges from Black Lives Matter and similar groups, and lo and behold charges in these cases are growing astronomically. The fact that most are being acquitted by the judicial system doesn’t get enough mention, but there is little doubt that political groups are influencing the politicized District Attorney system in the United States.

By way of a Canadian example, clearly one of the Liberal platforms is indigenous rights and reconciliation. To that aim, financial accountability by these groups has been specifically lessened under Trudeau. The Liberal Justin Trudeau government reversed Harper in the need for the Bands to show their financial records. The compliance rate for these documents has now dropped further, and the potential for fraud has greatly increased.

Do you think that investigations of fraud on these very same Reserves will ever be brought into the investigative light under a new Commissioner of the RCMP, a Commissioner who in seeking this promotion and who has been told that he or she must be more incorporative of the indigenous groups? It would seem unlikely.

It is subtle influence, probably unspoken and unmentioned, but it is there non the less.

This is all to say that there is evidence building in Canada that policing has and is becoming more political, more subjective than objective, and more guided by special interests. There is a greater danger looming in that the public will lose faith in their police; that they will come to believe that their agency is politically motivated, not in search of the truth, but in search of a mandated truth. A politically tainted truth.

When leaders such as Trump emerge, we are reminded that there is a need for preserving unswerving integrity. We must be reminded as Julian Assange said in a recent documentary that “most principled people don’t last very long”, and therefore we too are susceptible. We must always be on our guard for breaches in an always fragile democratic system, a system with its separation of powers and governance that binds our democracy together. We, often docile Canadians think we are above such things, or immune to impeachable politics.  Do we think that any politician who caters to special interest groups, or represent a certain constituency that they are not open to unduly influencing policing authorities to bend in their favour.   As Sandra Day O’Connor the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice said:  “It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two”. We need to be cognizant of our history, learn from that history,  and be reminded by the lesson of Mr. Comey that politics and investigations of integrity do not mix.

Photo and Caricature Courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr Commons some Rights Reserved

lawyers, judges, and the need for a speed


In  2016 the Supreme Court threw out its previous guidelines on trial delays, and in a 5-4 decision they said that the previous rules of 1992 had created a “culture of delay and complacency”. In other words, the previous rules had given the lawyers and the judges to much leeway, allowed them to go beyond a reasonable time limit for cases to get before the courts.  So in 2016,  they are now saying that there should be a limit, and have now put in place a guideline to put a limit of 18 months for a Provincial case, and 30 months for a Supreme Court matter.

Interestingly, when the guidelines were announced, there was a hue and cry from the lawyers. Even the minority group on the Supreme Court wrote that it was “wrong in principle and unwise in practise”.  So anytime lawyers get angry or judges speak up, I tend to perk up and take note, and in this day and age, this usually means that someone has cut into someones pay cheque.

At first blush, I thought that this 18 month parameter for Provincial Court seemed reasonable as did the 30 month parameter for Supreme Court matters.  I struggled to try and remember a Provincial court matter that took me longer than 18 months to put together; nor can I remember a Supreme Court matter, such as a homicide file which took me longer than 30 months to get before the courts once a charge had been approved.  That being said I can think of a few horrendous public files that seem to be taking forever to get to some settlement; for example the Surrey 6 file will be going on 10 years before Mr Bacon sees inside a Courtroom.  Why are these long winded affairs different than the others, is there some commonality to certain cases being a marathon more than a sprint?

How many cases are actually being  constrained by these timelines, how many are in jeopardy because of this ruling?

Statistics Canada measures the length of time for trials and the types of cases which are “completed” in adult court. So here are some of the things which stand out when you delve into the numbers:

In 2014/2015 in terms of all adult cases in Canada; 49% were completed in less than four months; 42 % between four and eighteen months; 6% between eighteen and thirty months; and 3% were greater than thirty months. So of all the adult cases in Canada, there is a potential for 9% of those cases be in some sort of time jeopardy.

Now one must also remember that this is when you lump all the adult cases both Provincial and Superior Courts into one envelope. An overwhelming 99% of all adult cases in Canada are at the Provincial level.

And 77% of those 99% adult cases are “non-violent” which include such things as impaired driving, theft, breach of probation and similar type offences.

The findings of these cases show that 63% of all cases are settled by a finding of guilt, or by guilty pleas. Probation is by far the most common sentence. Only 37% of cases end in custodial sentences, and 88% of those custodial sentences,  the average sentence was 6 months or less.

In terms of how long these cases take, the average or median length of time for the vast majority of Provincial cases is 120 days or 4 months. Clearly, these cases are falling inside the time parameters that have now been outlined, however, despite this decent average, 23,850 cases in Provincial court took in excess of 18 months.

One measurement of movement of a case through the courts would be how many times there is a court appearance, how many times are counsel and accused appearing, only to have the matter set further over. On average, again according to Statistics Canada, these Provincial matters took 5 court appearances, roughly the same amount of appearances that it took 10 years ago. So not much has changed in that regard.

That being said those matters going to a Superior Court took on average 565 days and over 15 court appearances. That is about 18 months, still in reasonable time considering these cases now have a 30 month window. (Homicide cases take an average of 493 days and 19 appearances)

In reviewing these numbers, there is one item that stands out, in terms of length of trials. That is the use of the Preliminary inquiry. For those unaware, a preliminary inquiry in effect is a trial before the main trial, where the Crown is obligated there is enough evidence to go ahead. One must keep in mind that this is a court option if you have been charged with an indictable offence, or a more serious offence under the law.

In Regina vs Hynes, the preliminary inquiry was described by Justice McLachlin as : “…the preliminary inquiry is not a trial. It is rather a pre-trial screening procedure aimed at filtering out weak cases that do not merit trial. It’s paramount purpose is to protect the accused from a needless, indeed improper, exposure to public trial where the enforcement agency is not in possession of evidence to warrant the continuation of the process.”

What is happened over the years is that Crown to avoid being rejected for trial often errs on the side of caution,  and produces its case in its entirety. In three decades of going to Court, I never experienced a case being rejected at the Preliminary inquiry stage. Its unlikely that I was lucky, the simple matter is that few cases get rejected at this stage. As a result there are two trials of similar duration and length. Now before one says that maybe it is time to get rid of what seems to be an increasing waste of time and effort for a minimal advantage to the accused, one must realize that the Preliminary inquiry as a process is fully codified in the Criminal Code of Canada beginning at Section 535.

Is there a chance it could be amended? Yes, but keep in mind lawyers in Parliament make up the vast majority of the House, so what is the chance that they are going to cut into a segment of the law society that benefits and is able to monetize some extra court work? Like the Charter of Rights a preliminary inquiry is a costly process, but make no mistake about it, it is something that benefits lawyers.

But lets at least consider the figures for those cases involving a Preliminary hearing. There were 9179 adult cases that were completed after having gone through a preliminary; 7432 were completed in less than 30 months; however, 1747 of those cases took over 30 months.

If we total those possible files that may be in jeopardy due to the length of the cases, there is clearly a problem, with just a rudimentary examination of the stats showing that in Canada there could be 25,000 cases both at the Provincial and the Superior court level.

The damage is now beginning to come to the fore and several cases have been dismissed by the courts for not meeting the now imposed deadlines. In a recent murder case in Alberta the case against the accused was dismissed, but the case had taken five years to get to court. The accused killer walked free of the charge. Is this not as damaging to the legal system as an improperly convicted accused?

A little closer to home, as another example, the police officers charged in the Surrey 6 case with four officers facing over 20 charges has yet to go trial, and that was six years ago.

The Willy Pickton case took three years to go from the preliminary hearing to the trial itself.

All countries don’t seem to share our problem, it does seem to be part of a Canadian narrative.

For instance, in comparison, the Oklahoma bombing perpetrated by Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, which killed 168 people, took place in April 1995 and was the deadliest terror attack prior to the World Trade Centre. The FBI conducted 28,000 interviews, and collected close to a billion pieces of evidence. Both parties were tried and convicted in 1997, just two years after the event.

There are many other U.S. examples but suffice to say, none seem to match the turtle like pace of Canada. And yes, their laws are different than ours in some respects, but in terms of getting the case into court and tried our Canadian courts are,  as now outlined by the Supreme Court, clearly built on delay.

More judges are clearly needed. Walk through the Surrey Courts anytime, and count the number of unused courtrooms if you want to see it for yourself. At a glance it would appear that at least half the courtrooms are empty. In a busy place like Surrey or Vancouver, should we not also be thinking of an evening court?

It is obvious to those who participate in this judicial system on a regular basis that the goings on inside these hallowed buildings is askew. The roosters are guarding the henhouse; what the Supreme Court calls “complacency” is actually a system well suited to lawyers, a system which is slow but lucrative. Every police officer who has spent endless hours sitting around a courtroom, can easily testify to the length of trials, the constant delays, the constant abuse of the system which seems to only aid the lawyers, and of course the accused.

There are many well known cases that seemingly drag on for months, even years. The delays are almost invariably the justice system itself, which in essence is the lawyers and judges, and to a lesser degree the Sheriffs.  (A recent case in Victoria was thrown out because there were insufficient sheriffs to get the accused to the courtroom, which after having spent 3 decades going to court was a new one on me)

Ask anyone who has had to be a witness to a case recently, and ask them what they thought of their experience there. To a person, I am betting, they will say that they will never get involved again, as they sit there day after day, delay after delay, usually all in aid of the accused. They sit on hard benches for hours on end, often taking time off work, only to have the case dismissed; or to be told to come back another day. Meanwhile the lawyers seem to be always scurrying about with a practised harried look on their faces.

It is a system that must change. Eliminate endless court appearances, look at getting rid of the Preliminary inquiry, appoint more Judges and Sheriffs. Always keep in mind that a wronged person going to jail is a horrible outcome that must be avoided at all costs, but the accused person walking free because of simple inefficiency is equally in-excusable in this 21st century.  Lawyers undoubtedly will be in favour of more judges, but don’t expect them to be carrying the torch for remedies which impinge on their livelihood. It will be interesting to see how many cases get dismissed before someone steps in to push things forward.

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Epilogue: On Wednesday the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued a 205 page report on legal reform in light of the Jordan decision. Not surprisingly they say that the justice system is in “urgent need of reform”. They say the courts need to do a better job of managing files (you think?) and they point out after numerous interviews of judges and lawyers in the system; that it takes 5 to 10 times longer for cases to get through the system compared to the U.K. , Australia, and New Zealand. They point to the Stinchcombe decision and the need for more urgent disclosure (see previous blog) and they also say that lawyers need to shorten the number of motions etc. They also affirm the “culture of complacency”. The Liberal government, and in particular Jody Wilson-Raybould are offering up no solutions yet, and in fact they are farther behind in Judicial appointments then ever.

“Stinchcombe” and the need to reevaluate how investigations are done

In 1991, Stinchcombe vs the Queen was before the Supreme Court of Canada; a case where a fraudster, who happened to be a lawyer, was the central figure of the case.  The Court ruled in favour of Stinchcombe, who was arguing that a witness statement that was in the possession of the Crown, but never used at trial, hampered his defence. It was argued that the Crown held it back due to it being positive to the accused.

The Court favourably ruled that any accused did in fact have the right to see all “relevant” information gathered by the Crown; saying that “fruits of an investigation are not the property of the Crown …but the property of the public to be used to ensure that justice is done”. They said all information needed to be placed before the accused, and further stipulated that the investigational information had to be provided prior to a plea or prior to going to trial.

The Stinchcombe decision has been hailed as groundbreaking by many in the legal community,  and a landmark decision for Canadian jurisprudence. The result is that now all police agencies have to be prepared to present full “disclosure” of a Crown’s case prior to any plea or trial.

It is difficult to argue the logic of the Court, that an accused be given the right to all the investigative information, the right to full and frank disclosure.  And it is unlikely that the issue of the need to disclose will be contested to the Supreme Court level in the near future; so it is here to stay.

However, despite its apparent common sense rationale,  Stinchcombe and its application has become the Moby Dick to the police’s Captain Ahab, an alarming thorn in the side of those concerned with investigational flow and quick action.

It is subverting trials; causing massive delays in cases going before the courts; using up untold numbers of officers in disclosure preparation; and costing extraordinary amounts of money. Cases are being dismissed because of police failures to disclose “all” the relevant information, and arrests are being delayed because the police haven’t got all the disclosure information fully available. Charges are being withheld as Crown refuses to move forward without an all encompassing police report on the evidence.

So what happened in the application of Stinchcombe, this seemingly altruistic ruling? What is going on? Why has the turning over of evidence to the courts become such a costly and lengthy nightmare? It is not discussed in polite police circles, or observable to the general public,  who are ultimately the ones paying for excessive trial delays and grossly inflated costs. It is a dull subject when it comes to police reporting and therefore unlikely to grab many headlines but “disclosure” is a fundamental building block in the policing world, and it needs to be at the very least brought to the forefront of police managerial discussions.

The problem stems from the single fact that investigational files are getting larger. Processing these much larger files has become a central cog that will need to be addressed in each and every investigation, big or small, serious charge or minor charge. Technology and the current police approach to files, has turned what was once simple to now being complicated.

What used to take two people, now takes ten. Every investigation is grossly expanding in terms of documentation, and the larger multi-year investigations have almost become immobilized by the sheer level of the “disclosure” package. The often referred to investigational triangle of managing, now includes “File co-ordinator” as one of the central three roles. It is the result of the modern way of criminal and civil investigation information processing; more specifically electronic formatting, and the numerous investigative tools and formats that often are tied to technology, which are now being adopted and utilized by the police, sometimes without sufficient study and cost/benefit review.

This is of course contrary to what one would believe in that technology should by its very definition speed up the process. It has actually had the opposite effect in policing.

As an example, lets take a simple witness statement.

Now in the “older” days prior to the mid 1990’s for argument sake, a witness statement would be hand-written by the police officer as the witness dictated what they saw or heard. He/she would then make a photocopy and everyone gets a copy.  Then along came the typewriter. No longer would the Crown take a statement that wasn’t typed. So the police, began then taking the statement in writing, then provided it to an administrative clerk,  who then needed to type the statement, and then the copies would be turned over to the Crown etc. This of course is a built in time delay, and added more additional manpower, as the typing pools began gathering up reams of written statements that needed to be typed.

And then along came audio and video. Now officers routinely audio and video record all witness statements, whether big or small. The audio or video or both is then submitted to transcription.  After being transcribed. (It is estimated that one hour of audio or video takes 8 hours to transcribe) then all audio and video statements are returned to the officer and reviewed for accuracy. They review the statement in real time and compare the audio to the transcribed statement.  Any alterations are once again submitted back to the transcribers.

Of course as most people who use audio on a regular basis can attest, when someone is recording a statement it will run extensively longer as it is effortless, compared to writing it by hand,  so the transcript is often filled with “uhmms” or “ahh’s”, pregnant pauses or long drawn out conversations with no relevance to the actual matter at hand. All now duly transcribed.

So now the one step process has become a four step process, and the 3 or 4 hour process of a hand written statement could now involve 27 or 30 hours. Some larger cases could involve numerous statements, even into the hundreds. Thousands of person hours are the immediate result, and the costs begin to bloom accordingly.

And of course the video, or audio simple statement and the transcriptions, and any alterations are all added to the now digital file.

In speaking with a Port Moody officer he described having a case, where a lone gunman attended a residence in Port Moody, with the intent of killing the girlfriend or father, ran away, and later that day ended up being tracked down after having committed a sexual assault in Coquitlam.

Now in the bad old days, that may have led to a long hand written Crown Counsel report, maybe 100 pages or so.  After 48 hours, Port Moody using the electronic system and falling the modern guidelines to a tee, submitted a 5,000 page electronic document to Crown. Maybe not a fair comparison, but “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy,  rated as one of the longest books ever is 1440 pages. Clearly,  a day of police investigation had a much longer and greater story to tell than that of the Bolkonsky family and Russia in the 1800’s.

In the Willy Pickton case, according to various police sources, there was  17 persons fully assigned to the disclosure group; and that at one point they were disclosing up to 45,000 electronic pages per month, which needed over 6 Crown Counsel to review.  Hundreds of investigators were used, but the case boiled down to a single crime location, and about 20 key witnesses, a few key pieces of physical evidence, and a key statement made in the presence of an undercover operator.

However, the investigative team, seized 600,000 exhibits, 200,000 DNA samples, and they sifted through 383,000 cubic yards of soil. (it should be noted that no evidence was found below ground).  The vast majority of the information turned over in this case would not be used in court, some not deemed to be “relevant” to the case, and therefore of no real probative value. The problem was that hundreds of investigators generated hundreds of notes and reports, they seized and processed, everything regardless of investigative potential.  Everything was forwarded to allow for “full disclosure” and to eliminate the risk of defence calling foul.  There is very little likelihood the defence even read all of the material, as this mountain of paper would have been a logistical nightmare.

A preliminary inquiry for Pickton was held in 2003, and then four years later it finally made it to trial in 2007, with the major delay being the full “disclosure” of the reams and reams of investigational material.  In December of 2007 he was found guilty of six counts of second degree murder, and the remaining 20 charges were stayed.

The cost of this investigation is estimated at $70 million. Roughly $12 million per conviction. By normal homicide investigative standards, that is an exorbitant amount. The specific cost of just conducting the disclosure and the efforts of Crown to deal with the massive information has never been articulated.

Of course the police were in a very difficult situation with a large pig farm being the scene of the crime, and the political pressure was mounting in relation to the missing women, so investigators spared no expense; brought  in more investigators; seized more exhibits than the Lab was able to initially process. Maybe it was impossible under the circumstances to use a smaller investigational team, that they be more scrutinizing in terms of exhibits,  but it is a question which never got asked. It is a good example of the exponential growth that these files generate when monies and resources are not an issue and spending oversight is put to the side.

These investigational files  grow for two reasons; the first one being the “piling on” of investigators, regardless of the actual operational need. This is basic math. The more investigators, the more information is generated.

Fifteen years ago, as an example, when a body was found and called into the police as being suspicious, two officers from the Serious Crime Section (of which I was once part) would attend the scene. To assist them if needed they would draw on the local uniform officers that had answered the original call.

Today, the uniform officers in Surrey call IST (a plainclothes team attached to the Watch, usually consisting of 4 or 5 officers), they in turn would call the Serious Crime Section in Surrey (who insist on being the ones to make the judgement of whether it is a homicide or not) who will also send 3 or 4 officers. The Serious Crime Section then would call IHIT who are actually responsible for the investigation (Integrated Homicide Investigative Team) who would send their usual team of eight officers. All those attending would have to supply notes. So the two persons of the old style homicide team, just on the initial call, has now grown to 10-15 persons.  As a result, the current first step in any of the homicide investigations has become a “briefing”, with the initial few hours of the crucial 48 hours, being largely taken up by having to sort through the initial investigative maze of the parties attending.

The second reason is the electronic formatting, which is now the tool that allows for larger and larger files. Video files, audio files, electronic statements, photos can all become part of the file. Technology in the policing world is now often equated with sophistication, the more technology employed, the greater their believed investigational worth. Size matters in policing, and there is a misguided belief that the bigger the file the more skilled the lead investigators. (if you don’t believe this, check any press conference held by the police on a file, and see if they don’t talk about how many investigators have been assigned to the file)

So as these enlarged investigational groups accumulate all this information, but as Stinchcombe stated, supposedly that they only need to provide the “relevant” information.

The police by their very makeup are conservative organizations, not known for thinking or stepping outside the box. So when they are left with the original review of what is relevant, and what is not, in a criminal case, especially a serious criminal case, they err on the side of caution. Rather than deem something irrelevant, and run the risk of having to defend their decision, it is much easier so the thinking goes, to just give them everything. Can’t make a mistake if you don’t make a decision would appear to be the logic.

So is the Canadian system doomed, is their no answer to this Canadian system of ridiculous amounts of time to get a case into the court system? Has Stinchcombe bound the police to the point of no return? One of the biggest misconceptions out there is at policing has become more complicated, more advanced. Not true to a large extent, but then again we can not return to the times of pen and paper.

Technology can be good and lead to innovative investigational strategies, or be used for the filtering and dissemination of investigations, sometimes leading to the quicker identification of suspects. The Boston Marathon bombing would be one of the best most recent examples.

But disclosing everything is resulting in ridiculous sized files, warrants of stupendous length, overblown lengthy statements and reports. Another Pickton case could effectively bankrupt a police agency like the Vancouver Police Department if it happened to fall in their jurisdiction.

I think part of the solution if not the entire solution is to minimize the investigative “teams”. There needs to be greater control of the nucleus of investigators. The smaller the team, the less the resulting fallout from the team. Stop the sometimes ridiculous staffing levels of those files that are deemed to be highly political. Get seasoned investigators who can make decisions on cases on the go; less referencing to “expert” groups. “Interview teams” and “warrant teams” for example should not be used on files as a matter of course. Original investigation teams should look at getting smaller rather than larger. And before anyone says that they are better at solving files now, the statistics say otherwise, solvency rates are going down over the last several years.

Police estimate that over 1100 investigators were involved in the Surrey 6 case. Over 400 statements were taken. To demonstrate that they had expended all police effort, millions of dollars were spent, which resulted in four people being charged with the six murders and the conspiracies to commit those murders. The case by the way is still before the courts with the last suspect, Jamie Bacon; a decade, after it all started.

And of course one of the latest defence motions is the lengthy delay in getting to trial.

Now I am not saying that 5 or 6 people could have done the Surrey 6  file, but 1100 investigators was ridiculous by any measurement. I can assure you that 400 statements did not end up in court.

The police need to spend their technological dollars on hardware and software that further the investigation, and they need to employ file management tools that smooth out the process and are intuitive, not just on programs that compile and accumulate information.  The current system being used by IHIT is called E&R (Evidence and Reports) a file management system developed by Ottawa in 1998 for the Swissair plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia. Really, this is the most advanced case management tool? Maybe they should be exploring greater technologies in the fields of artificial intelligence, advanced imaging, tools, and machine learning  that could speed up the process, not slow it down.

Finally the police need to take a stance on relevancy, that is accepted by the Crown. These files need to be skinned down into their bare necessities in terms of meeting the goal of full disclosure, so that a trial can begin in months, not years.

The current Supreme Court has now dictated that these trials need to be sped up, and have put up time restrictions for cases to get to Court. The very same court that gave us Stinchcombe is now saying that the process has to be less complicated, less onerous, and it needs to speed up. Hopefully this now imposed deadline will force all involved to take a hard look at how files are being managed, processed and readied for Court. They have to, or more people are going to be walking out of the Courts, free because of stifling bureaucracy. It is not the fault of investigators who are under daily pressure trying to cope with this ridiculous system, it is the fault of our modernized police managers who ferociously stick their head in the sand, refusing to rock the proverbial boat. These delays are not going to be cured by more judges, more Crown, or more Sheriffs; not if the investigational file can not make it through and into the court system in a more timely and cost effective manner.  Twenty-six years after Stinchcombe, maybe they have had enough time to begin to address the problem.


Image Courtesy of Keith Williamson via Creative Commons licence some rights reserved

A Personal Story #1

Like most everyone when we think of our mothers,  I have a certain specific image which comes to mind. Something we quickly go to, without thinking, that seems to reflect who they are or were. For me, it is her sitting in a brownish green, worn,  La-z-Boy chair, next to the picture window in the living room. The room is tidy, with couch and other chairs, a few knickknacks, but nothing which catches the eye more so than the windows. This particular window,  looks out onto a large bay, part of Lake Ontario. And as you look out, through a mid size birch tree and a maple or two, you also notice a somewhat imposing cement government wharf in the foreground. It is seldom used for its intended purpose, which is a customs stop for any Americans boating across the Lakes to the Canadian side. It is better known as a swimming platform for local teenagers, or for fishing for small pan-size perch and sunfish. It is the platform for many a small child’s first caught fish.

My mother’s chair is worn but comfortable. It is like her preferred clothes, some sort of stretched working style sweatpants, a popular  garment of the older crowd, and usually a sweatshirt from a big store brand like the Bay or Sears, so no logos, or sayings in bold letters. She is sitting with her over-sized 1990’s headphones, eyes partially closed, listening to either a French broadcast,  the news, a classical music station, or the latest business report out of Toronto.

Of course this is an image which comes about from the last twenty or thirty years; in easy memory range, as it is much more difficult for me to remember her when I was a small child, or even a teenager. In the overall time spent in life, I lived with my mother for 18 years, and have been away from her, unable to observe her on a regular basis, for more than 40 years.

It is much more difficult to know of those younger years, as Edan Lepucki wrote about in the NY Times recently, those years “before they were a mother”. Pictures from those times help and allow us to put some substance to our image, but for the most part we rely on a string of stories, heard at off times, always accepted to be true, and with little corroboration from others. My mother did not even have a lot of photos, none on display in the usual mantel or bedside table.

So I needed to rely on stories. And as best as I can tell, in those more formative younger times, she was not atypical of women of her generation; a stay at home housekeeper performing all the normal assignments of her generation.  Cleaning, laundry, making meals, and making beds were the regimen.

There was little that disrupted or interrupted this routine. We, even as a family, rarely went out for dinner, never went to church, never went to the movies or to sporting events. So I never saw her outside that achingly routine element.  I have no recollection of me being out with just my mother, none of the usual mother son interconnection, and I am not sure about this, but I don’t think that there were many kids of this generation who did. However, we did go on vacation in the summers to our cottage, but even for those two months, she would fall into that familiar role of meals and cleaning regardless of where we were.  We kids, running, swimming, and fishing, always on the move with friends, always banging in and out of the cottage doors on our latest mission. And she would always be there.

Everything seemed inevitable. Meals was fish on Fridays when we were going through the charade of being good Catholics, and on the other days, always meat and two vegetables.

There was no shepherding of children from one “activity” to another like today.  I played a lot of sports, but can not remember my mother or my father for that matter, at a game, or even having driven me to a rink or a playing field.  Even if she had been there, I can not imagine my mother jumping up and down on the sidelines as is required by the overly enthusiastic driven parents of today.

It was the day and age when families had one car, and that was taken to work in most households by the father or in the terminology of the day the “breadwinner”.  So in practical terms, by necessity the home maker was stranded on this island of domesticity, with a front and back yard. Stepford wife like, but without the pearl necklaces and dinner dresses, and they were real of course, not robots. This was the 1950’s and the 1960’s where the custom of the day seems now so bland and accepting of the routine that it is often difficult to imagine.

In my mind’s eye she was always serious, determined, but maybe confused about the ultimate goal. She grew up of course where custom dictated marriage, family, loyalty, and that your role in life was to move your family further along the economic ladder and to let your children have it better than yourself.

I do have slivers of memory, brighter, and pronounced surrounding certain moments of time.

For example, my mother crying sitting on the sofa, dishcloth in hand, not saying anything when I came in the door from school.  The assassination of John Kennedy had just occurred in Dallas, gunned down in the back of convertible while he waved at the crowds. It seemed to stop time, even for me as a 9 year old. Something was gravely wrong, my mother never cried, and here she was crying real tears as Walter Cronkite intoned the news of his death. I didn’t understand a lot, but it showed a side of my mother I didn’t know, a side which seemed foreign to me.

Her younger pre-motherhood personality is even more difficult for me, as I try to put pieces of the fragmented memories into an overall picture, like a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing.  To even envision her being single, and acting with the frenetic pace of someone in their early 20’s, nor can I conjure up her being frivolous, or lackadaisical, as only younger people are allowed to be.

She went off to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto after high school, where she studied piano and trumpet, but she spoke little about it in terms of enjoying or hating it. I have seen clippings of her public piano recitals, with small town newspaper write ups of a few column inches.  But, I do know that she cherished her graduation ring, and it was one of the very few things she kept in a 3″ x 6″  wooden jewelry box, one of maybe five or six items.

When she finished at the Conservatory, my mother went to work in a music store in downtown Montreal.  I never determined why she went to Montreal, there was no reason ever given but this would not have been a logical choice for someone from rural Ontario. But, this was my youthful mother, who at that time must have had the same stirrings of any person in their 20’s. She must have met friends, socialized, fallen in love, or woken up hung over. I can’t be sure, but there were hints. There was even shadowy talk amongst relatives, of having had a possible abortion.

In those days the music stores often contained musical instruments where patrons could come and try them out, or practise when they could not afford to buy.  One day, a large black male piano player, came into the store where my mother worked, and sat at the piano to practise. The free piano and place to practise in a quiet space, meant that he, and the single female employee, developed a friendship,  and as the story goes, it became an ongoing meeting. He would often ask my mother to play with him, affectionately calling her “Ruthie”.  This bear of a man, with a natural but dour smile was Oscar Petersen. He went on to a rather remarkable career throughout the 1950’s to the 1970’s, playing Carnegie Hall in New York, and becoming one of Canada’s iconic figures in music.

I have no idea whether he fully appreciated the long-lasting affect that he had on my mother, it is unlikely. This was a time in the 1940’s, that my mother spoke softly about, with a seeming tenderness. It was a remembrance, that she would recall and bring out at those sporadic family story times. They were the same age, and I have no idea whether this was anything more than a meeting, or a rehearsal, but I like to think at the very least, there was a fondness between the two. A shared laugh, or a shared sidelong glance, an implied romance and that my mother was happy.

Of course real life intervenes, and my mother went off on the well worn path to marriage, children, and saving for the eventual retirement. She married my father after the War Years, becoming a maternal head of an Air Force family,  living in squat and square private military residences.

We were an Air Force family and therefore moved every three or four years, and even had a stint living in France. Of course this meant new friends needed to be made, easier for us children, not so easy I suspect for my mother. She was somewhat aloof, or distant, and had only a passing interest in those people who would be in our Air Force dictated social collective. She never seemed interested in the “normal” wives circles.  I often speculate that my mother was born and lived a few decades too early. She would have fit into my generation easier I believe, maybe  even more at home with the Millennials of today.

An obvious side affect was that quite naturally she began to slowly withdraw, entering into a more insular world, a naturally fermenting process, maybe due to the boring sameness of her routine, or her square peg trying to fit into the round hole that had been dealt to her.

Although excluding herself from others, she often used the time to pursue her interests. She was a person who taught herself French by listening to cassette tapes and by listening to the Francophone news. She  had a broader interest in the world, in economics and politics, which as I got older often launched us into long political debates at the dinner table.

There was another significant factor in her life. You see, my father was prone to violence. I never saw him violent to my mother but he never held back on me though. It was a day when any kind of domestic abuse was hidden, kept from the neighbours, blinds pulled down. My mother of course was the silent witness to these beatings and I believe it drove a wedge between her and my father that could never be fully repaired. As for myself, I was saved when I physically got bigger than my father, and left the house at 18. I left with a sickly guilt of leaving the my mother and younger brother behind, like the wounded soldier leaving the battlefield to let the others continue the fight.

When I did return home for a visit, I was often updated about the continuing dysfunction between my parents. My mother and I would take long walks and have conversations, the recurring theme being her unhappiness,  and the need to escape. She told me she was going to leave “him”, that it was finally over, that she could not take it any longer. She never did leave him. It was rarely done in those days.

As time marched on, the family group evolved, and then there were just my two parents living together, children gone, and a seemingly more peaceful air, however stagnant, seemed to settle over the house. My mother continued to withdraw, not wanting to socialize or even remain in communication with the few friends she had made over the years.

While at the same time holding a mysterious sway and control over my father. Routine became the god they both worshipped, with my mother sitting next to God.  Maintaining that routine — with meals, breakfast, lunch at 12, dinner at 5:30  setting the parameters under which everything needed to fit. My parents seemed aware of each others existence, but just barely. Coming together to eat, and then once again retreating into their own apparently cloistered but contented spaces.

This almost hermit like existence, meant reading or watching tv, or listening to the radio, and sitting for long hours at a time. Her short afternoon naps became longer and like many older people,  her maladies began to exponentially increase with the years, spurred on of course by the latest reading of the medical encyclopedia.

She  never delved into or questioned what my actual work entailed over those many years. She seemed content to pictured me in some form of uniform, writing tickets. She did not believe that policing was a righteous living, it was a blue collar job and not the one she envisioned for me. She refused to come to the police graduation as she did not equate it with some sort of accomplishment.

Always at the end of the weekly Sunday long-distance conversation which went on for many years, she always expressed concern and that it would be good if I could get “off the street”  but I do not think the danger was really known to her. It was likely imagined from some television version of policing.

Her only brother, Royal, was a pilot during WWII, a dashing dark haired man, with the Errol Flynn moustache who as legend had it, cut a large swathe through both the enemy and the ladies on his return home. But he was an alcoholic. He lived in the skid rows of Canada for the vast majority of his life, but it seemed clear to me that my mother missed him dearly. Every few years, my mother would ask if I could confirm where he was, using my police contacts, or where he was living, or just whether in fact he was still alive.  He died in the streets of Calgary with the usual grotesquely distended liver, in a single room flop house, as alone in many respects as my mother, never their two worlds managing to come together after the War years.

During the 1980’s my mother was discovered to have a brain tumour, which turned out to be benign, but the operation itself, left her somewhat deaf in one ear, and suffering from partial paralysis on the right side of her face. She no longer needed to have a reason for cancelling any of the usual social interactions as this became the un- spoken and somewhat tenable reason to withdraw.  Even going to buy groceries became impossible she explained, due to her “infirmity.” She did not want people to see her, or have to talk to others, happily sending my father to “town” instead.

For me and the kids, living away, birthdays were always a card and a cheque for $100, with a “Love Mother” inscription. No notes or urgings to eat better, or get lots of rest. I was o.k with this, as this was the mother to whom,I had grown accustomed, and I gave it little thought. Clearly the 3000 miles that separated us had become a mental distance as well as physical. She never came to see her grand-children, only visiting Vancouver once from her now closeted life in Ontario.

The tenuous thread to which we clung was that often mandatory Sunday phone call. This call was often brief, punctuated by the  “wait until I get your father on the other line”, and ending with “we better let you go, it costs a lot of money for this call”.  Curiously though, she seemed to look forward to that call and would always remark on the odd time we could not keep the Sunday deadline.

From her chair, she contented herself by watching  the business reports, moving monies around her various accounts, now free to do it from home with the advent of telephone banking. She clearly longed to be a business woman, and she clearly enjoyed the thought of saving money, and listening and debating the latest moves by the Bank of Canada. Predicting the next depression was a favourite topic.

Curiously she also began to divest herself of many of the objects around the house which formed any memories. Objects which would normally be cherished in family circles. The garage was emptied, the storage room equally removed of items big and small; the chess table made by my brother in high school shop classes, old baseball gloves and child toys were without ceremony sent to the dump.  She was a hoarder in reverse. It was not talked about, and there did not seem to be an excuse given or felt to be needed.

And then it all ended.

Three years ago today, my mother got up in the middle of the night, walked out the front door, walked down to the dock she used to stare at for years, and at the age of 89, jumped in, drowning herself in the dark frigid water of Lake Ontario.  She was eventually located by a search and rescue helicopter, when a diver jumped in and pulled her into the dangled rotor blown basket.

She left a note saying “It was not what you think, it was everything else.”

To this day “everything else” remains inexplicable;  was it for an entire life, something that happened in that life, for being unfulfilled, for being unhappy, for not being loved, or all of it together? I don’t have an answer. As much as I cared for my mother, it was difficult for me to grieve. I have been too many suicides, always trying to get in the head of the victim, and to comprehend and put a logical framework around the mental thoughts at the time when they pulled the trigger, put the rope around their necks, or took the clearly fatal dose of pills. I felt guilty that It was just as hard for me to understand my very own mother.

On a recent trip to Ottawa I was strolling with no particular purpose  on the sidewalk which lines the Rideau Canal, and I came around a corner at the National Arts Centre.  As I rounded the corner, there stood  a life size black stone statute of Oscar Petersen. He was seated at the piano, captured with that same smile. Inexplicably, uncontrollably, tears began to run down my face as I stared at it, trying to focus and understand these emotions coming over me. I needed to sit on the cold marble bench to compose myself.  It seemed so real,  where for a few brief seconds, I had been transformed back to that music store in Montreal, and for a few seconds, I was sitting there with the two of them.  “Oscar” and “Ruthie” in the florescent lighted store, after hours, surrounded by vinyl records and instruments.

She was in the end no doubt  more courageous than I have ever been, but also burdened by some sort of undiagnosed depression. But, I think she was also scared, and I wish it could have been me who had pulled her from the water. Because of my working life, I am forever burdened by the fact that I am still able to graphically picture her in the water; bluish tinged skin, blank stare, matted clothing and hair.  A fragility having taken over, a pallor that comes with death. I wish I could have been able to hold her one last time, that I could have pulled her from the water, to give her back one last somewhat uncomfortable hug, to tell her that it was now o.k.  I really did not want her to be alone at the end. But as usual I was a distance away.

Later, my brother and I would put her grey ashes back in the lake, the very same lake she had been pulled unceremoniously from, in front of that very same window, about 100 feet from where she used to sit, physically comfortable, but I think somehow uncomfortable in the life she had been given. As we approach Mother’s day you will forgive me I hope, for having a mixed bag of thoughts, pieces of the cheap life puzzle still  unaccounted for, scraps of memory whirling like torn pieces of newspaper never to be re-assembled.  Some good some bad.  Eighty-nine years, and for sixty of those years she was my somewhat flawed mother, but she was my mother all the same, and I miss her.

Breaking News…well, not really, just kidding

In this story rich times of Donald Trump, where the President of the United States and POTUS politics have become a long running (about 100 days so far) sitcom, a combined version of a political Gilligans Island and a Washington DC Survivor series. Like everyone else I have tuned in daily to see if the Americans with Mr Trump as their fatuous leader have launched another tweet, then a defense of said tweet, and then the round of procrastinations that follows on the alt-right and the liberal left. Its tiring but enthralling. Now that Mr Trump has thrown bombing targets of zero resistance into the mix, there now has become an element of danger added to the fray.

The media has been reinvigorated, subscriptions are up in newspapers, such as the NY Times, and the Washington Post, and the major cable news-stations are attracting more viewers, like me. Which all leads me to my complaint.

I watched two full hours of CNN, the other night, and every story line, was preceded by the announcement by a breathless anchor, usually in a sombre voice, intoning about how the next story was ” breaking news”.  One story would be followed by another “breaking news” story.  Eventually, I had to shut it off, I could not handle this artificial exaggeration of a story, which was not “breaking”,  and sometimes would not even be considered “news” on any kind of  importance scale.

CNN of course is the worst offender in this, but it is a attention getting tactic which seems to infuse all the media, including our local media here in British Columbia. They combine this with the often heard line “and in a Global exclusive”…or in “a CTV exclusive” which in the end usually means that someone talked to them and nobody else. Whether it is newsworthy seems to be secondary to saying that it is exclusive.

Of course the papers can’t sound the alarm in this way, so the newspapers instead make the headlines bigger, in capital letters, or with exclamation marks, which forty years ago usually meant the start of a war, or in the Tabloid circles of England was reserved for the Royal watchers when another baby was born into the monarchy.

A few weeks ago, in an anticipation of another snowstorm, Global dispatched all their reporters around the LMD so that they could report on the grief and upheaval that a few inches of snow may bring. The storm did not materialize, so we were left with anchor Chris Galius describing in great detail, dressed in the pre-requisite parka, telling us of the “slushy” road conditions as if a tsunami had been barely avoided.

It caters of course to a generation with numerous sources of information, a generation that seem for the most part only interested in the headlines, maybe not so much the explanation, and can scroll through several media outlets with a quick twitch of their thumbs.  The traditional media outlets are drowning in this undertow of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They are in a desperate fight for every viewer and advertising dollar that another claim to a set of eyes will bring them. At some point it becomes pathetic.

Everyone is falling to this ruse, and the police media sites are in full drive trying to keep up with bringing “breaking news” to us, the apparently eagerly anticipating public. Now to be fair, the media is often pestering and pushy when dealing with the police, because they want to get the “exclusive”, and break that “breaking news” story.

So the police issue ridiculous and premature summations often are short on detail,  such as that the killing “was a targeted hit” or “there is no safety concerns for the general public”.  They are  often issuing these pronouncements after a very short period of time at the site of the incident, so in other words they don’t really know if it was a “targeted hit” or not.  A few years ago it became au courant to have someone of a higher rank there for the photo opportunity, armed with a few day media course offered to police. A nattily attired Inspector would make sure he or she was present at the scene, to be the focal point for the 30 second sound bite.  Fire chiefs and police chiefs alike are drawn in like moths to the light.

There is also a real concern of details being spoken about which could be detrimental to the case, but that concern seems to fall on deaf ears, when there is that need to speak to the public within minutes of an event. At some point this need to feed has become secondary to a possible investigative need.

Well here is a news flash for you; every murder is targeted. And if someone is shooting someone in public places, there is a concern. These trotted out phrases have little or no actual meaning to the circumstances.

By the way, do you need to be told again that the police “are seeking the public’s help”, or do you need to see another table of guns, money, and stolen goods laid out for the photo shoot to demonstrate that there were actually things seized. Is it possible that they just keep the same table, with fake guns and money on it, and then bring it out every news story? Just kidding, but it could save a lot of time and effort.

Another trend is to have a number of senior officers at every press conference, with 5-10 individuals standing behind the speaker, not saying anything, not adding anything to the conference. But clearly, trying to make some sort of impression, as to their strength and to give one a photo impression of long and complicated investigations. The  Warhol quote “everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes in the future” seems to be in full evidence as they are often jockeying for position in this media directed receiving line.

To guide this growing police media presence,  the police now call themselves media “strategists”.  (When and why did the police feel the need to have a media strategy?) The police have gone from a “strategy” of saying nothing to the media and a perfunctory “no comment”  to one where they feel that they need to control  and guide the media stories, creating a “spin” conducive to the police efforts.

The police have become more sophisticated in their approach, and are now using the media appetite for a video or grainy photograph to use to an operational advantage.

For instance, when investigating homicides or other major crimes, the police have often used video or photographs to draw the publics attention, while at the same time not really caring about the general public commentary; but behind the scenes,  concerned with drawing out or observing a suspect once it gets played in the media, hoping the reaction of any suspect may further the investigative case.

This of course is tenuous ground, fraught with cynicism, but it invariably worked. The  media sites are forever pulled in by a 10 second black and white fuzzy video without any kind of editing or wondering of its relevance.  This should make everyone pause when seeing the news, and a police bulletin, or alert, or a “breaking news story”. Approach with a modicum of caution, as it may be part of a “strategy” of the police.

So where does this leave us in this world where Facebook now is the supplier of news for 44 % of the American public and where fact checking  and “fake news” has become a growth industry.

As writer John Irving observed in a NY Times feature, “I don’t think the news has changed much over the years, only the way we report it”.  And how it is reported of course determines the level of sophistication of its readers, and their ability to discern reality from imagined, when it is being bombarded with screaming headlines, full of pizazz,  but lacking any discernible mature content.

How can we trust when it is possible that the news is being manipulated by the hackers of Russia, or Wikileaks with their clearly political agendas. Or maybe, an investigative agency closer to home who is “strategizing” the news release to orchestrate a reaction.

It leaves us in a quandary. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression states that (in an opinion shared by many others) that Canadian’s have a right to information; which is “the raw material of expression…enables citizens to engage fully in a democracy and hold their governments to account”.  A lofty principle no doubt, but the journalists themselves and the people they work for are abandoning or have abandoned the ability to provide researched and accurate information, and are busily festooning themselves in “Breaking News” and Youtube videos. Graphics have become the news.

They should be held accountable and follow the lead of such media sites as Politico, or the Atlantic, and the Washington Post who are some of the few remaining stalwarts of accurate and well done journalism, and who have recently been brought to further life with the advent of Trump.

In Canada, the CBC and its clear political slant pervert their attempts to be fair and accurate, and the Globe and Mail tips to the right sometimes to their detriment. Locally in British Columbia, our newspapers are dying before our eyes, as they continue to downsize their journalist ranks. The ethical use of sourcing and journalistic integrity seems to be degrading. I worry about the truth being delivered, and the truth actually being read.

As to the police. Please stop with the pat phrases, stop the officers from wanting to be in the spotlight, stop worrying about presenting a diverse set of talking heads, and please stop spinning the story. Stop being breathless, or crying, or feeling the need to show empathy as if it is more important than the job you are hired to do. The public sees you as an arm of the judiciary so they want to know the facts, and how they are impacted. You don’t need to strategize, you need to be there in times of crisis as a sturdy and competent voice, unswayed by politics, unassailable in terms of the truth. Your ethics should be unquestionable and it is then, and only then, that the public will regain their trust and appreciate your efforts.


Photo: Courtesy of West Midlands Police via Flickr Commons

A roll of ductape may be the precursor to a revamped RCMP…

Since I have taken on the task of writing about policing issues, I would be remiss, I suppose, if I made no comment on the current union drive inside the RCMP.

Members recently have taken to making yellow ribbons out of their pant stripes, or covering those same stripes with pink tape as a form of protest over the latest wage increase.  At the same time they are filling in union cards, and have now accumulated about 9,000 names.(There are about 20,000 officers in the RCMP, not including civilian and public servants who make up another 10,000), They are being defiant in talking to the media, and it is all being driven by the officers in uniform for the RCMP.

It is being reported as something new, something which has finally come to a head over the recent disparity in pay between Municipal versus our National emblem police Force. The discontent and the fundamental problems run much deeper.

It is actually a fight that has been going on for decades, a fight which was often stymied by an archaic para-military structure, which refused or willingly ignored normal labour, staffing,  and management issues. And for the last twenty years an organization, which has ignored the “general duty officer”,  the uniform on the street. And it is the uniform officers who will need to lead this call for change.

The uniform officer in the RCMP has been the middle brother in a large family for years, often treated as a 2nd class citizen in the new world order of policing as envisioned by this more allegedly sophisticated policing entity.  The management in Ottawa became political, or more accurately, politically correct, layering demand after demand on the uniform personnel in terms of how they did their job. There are two provinces in this country that do not even have a RCMP uniform presence, so maybe even out of sight out of mind,  for those charged with formulating policy at 73 Leikin Drive., where you would have to drive to Parliament hill to see a Mountie in uniform.

Managers have been long refusing to address issues which were central to basic policing. In particular, patrol issues, which revolve around more mundane and basic needs; equipment, shifting, staffing levels, replacing officers on maternity and paternity leaves, shift differentials, levels of supervision, isolated posts, and increasing stress levels to give just a few examples. There has been no accounting for differences in the different areas of the country. There is no consideration given to an officer working in Moose Jaw or Moncton, and that they may have significantly different needs to the officer in Surrey, British Columbia.

You have to understand that almost every RCMP officer, starts their career wearing a uniform on the “front line” forming part of the “backbone” of the RCMP.  However, from that point forward fast track advancement in the Mounties equated with getting out of the uniform. The incentives are great, to get off the abysmal night shifts, to go where there is plenty of overtime to be had, and where you are seen and treated as one step above the uniform officers. Believe it or not, they often threaten the wayward officer by threatening to send them “back’ to general duty policing.

This was not always the case. This has happened during the last 20 to 30 years, where RCMP Management fell in love with an FBI style model where headlines are gained by long and complicated successful investigations. It was no longer glamorous to be a foot on the street.  It was more exciting and meaningful to be involved in wire-tapping, surveillance, and pursuing organized crime figures. They sort of bought into the TV image of NCIS, CIS and Homeland, and less the blue collar Hill Street Blues. The people that rose up through the ranks were the players in Major Crime roles, or in Federal Policing, or headed one of the proliferation of “integrated” units.

Staffing officers, and human relations roles, were often filled with officers who were tired of the street, on paternity or maternity leaves, or seeking just a 9 to 5 role. . They were no levels of expertise required, they just needed to be willing to go. The getting off of the street was the sole motivation, as the average police officer has no innate desire to leave operational policing.

Of course, while all this transformation is taking place, the uniform role is also changing rapidly. The public is video taping every interaction with the police, they are being accused of being physically abusive, often on little or no evidence, and they had GPS put in their vehicles so that management can monitor their comings and goings. What used to take two hours to handle a domestic dispute is now taking eight with the increase in forms and protocols dictated by Ottawa.

It is not widely known that when an RCMP officer goes off on paternity or maternity for as long as a year, they are not replaced. So if you are working in a small detachment with 3 or 4 on a shift and a couple go away for these reasons, no one fills in. You start the shift understaffed and your operational ability to respond is drastically reduced.

Although the violent crime rates are declining, the “calls for service” have not abated, with pocket dialled 911 calls, and more mental health issues on the street. You are now expected to administer narcotics to an overdose patient, be a social worker and therapist,  much more than you are expected to solve or intercede any crime.

In the 1980’s the uniform officers of the RCMP had a major meeting in Burnaby calling for a union because of wage issues, and declining interest by management in the day to day needs of the police officers. They shouted down all the management personnel who came to speak and there was a tangible anger in the air. The RCMP developed the DSSR system to appease and quell the anger, which was followed by a pay increase, and in the end it stemmed the flow of discontent. Thirty years later the issues are the same, the focal fortifying issue as always is  wages, but the real problems are much, much more numerous, and eating at the very foundation of the RCMP.

Throughout, the RCMP continues to cling to being the “National” police force and its storied past. They claim to be fighting all crimes on all levels.  On the Federal, Provincial,  and Municipal level.  They are spread thin, maybe too thin to do any of it well.

Now with the Supreme Court ruling two years ago, the stage has finally been set for some sort of mechanism in place where the RCMP can negotiate their own wages and working conditions. It is still a few years off as they await passage of Bill C-7 which allows the RCMP to unionize and negotiate, but prior to that, Bill C-4 which will determine the rules to form a new public service union. This will all take time, as the government inches along at turtle speeds, and Justin Trudeau and his fellow Liberals does not seem to see the RCMP as a priority right now.

In its present form, in my opinion, it is unlikely the RCMP can even survive a possible eventual union. At least not on the uniform side of policing. Maybe, that is why the Federal government is suggesting that there be two parts to the RCMP entity, one being a civilian side to handle the administrative functions and the other only handling operations.

The handling of these matters has to be brought into the 21st century, and away from those officers who have little or no background in these key fundamental building block issues. Everything from harassment claims to expense forms need to be removed from their purview, they are not capable with filling these positions in house.

As an original member of the officers wanting a union in the 1980’s I applaud the latest efforts of the uniform RCMP. Their time may have come. But, do not believe that a wage increase is the panacea, do not just settle for another wage increase. The previous officers fell for that before. And realize that with increased control will come greater accountability.

The overhaul and change must be greater than where one stands in the police “universe”,  and it must address all aspects of policing. This is a momentous task which is going to take a great deal of effort, far beyond applying some duct tape and making some ribbons. Choose your representatives wisely, and make sure the uniform group is over represented. It does not matter what group you choose to lead the certification, what is important is who makes up that group.

After all,  you are the “backbone”, at least thats what they used to tell us.  And don’t be tempted by the words of the newly minted head of the RCMP in BC, Butterworth-Carr who apparently stated “I believe an incomplete uniform undermines the distinctive role we play in keeping our citizens safe and secure”. I don’t know what that implies for the thousands of Mounties who don’t wear a uniform, but such is the wisdom of the top management right now. Commissioner Paulson  not to be outdone, followed up yesterday in a press release saying ” I have to tell you how worried I am about the impact this will have on the citizens we serve”.  The answer is nil of course, other than they may not see the police coming.. as easily as they did before, with that yellow beacon running down their legs. The public is much more attuned to the issues than Mr Paulson would like you to believe.

So good luck to all involved in this arduous, ongoing process, a battle which besides stamina will require a renewed vision, one that is not just about salaries, and hopefully, will not take another 30 years.

Photo Courtesy of Ewe Neon via Creative Commons on Flickr 



Police Salaries….the end of an era

During the last few months, on Facebook, Twitter, and the other sundry social media sites that are shared with friends and police officers, there is constant talk and sometimes outrage at the lack of a pay raise amongst the RCMP officers.

All of it is true, in terms of no pay raise for several years, and the fact that the Federal Liberals are now dragging their heels in terms of coming to an agreement. Statistics say that the Mounties are 72nd out of 80th in the police “universe”, which is the lowest that has been seen in recent memory. The RCMP members are thinking that an anticipated police union may lead them out of this quandary, and restore them once again to a salary befitting the “National” police force.

At one point in the 1990’s, the Federal Government of the day and the RCMP had a memorandum of understanding that stated that the RCMP would never lead in salary, but would not fall below 3 or 4th in the police universe. That was eventually ignored, and there have been many ups and downs since, in terms of salary levels, including wage freezes during times of austerity.

Currently Bill C-7 which would give the RCMP the ability to unionize is sitting in limbo, waiting for the re-introduction to Parliament. However, the RCMP members are having a hard time getting organized and now have two police political groups fighting for their support. The RCMP for their part in trying to slow this process down, will not allow the use of office computers to help in that organization.  Of course it is difficult to organize a group which has never been organized in a formal fashion, and one that is spread out across Canada. Clearly RCMP management is not going to assist their own members in this organization as the longer they delay it, the longer they avoid some difficult bargaining. The Federal Liberals equally don’t seem to be in any rush.

Meanwhile, the Feds are negotiating with a lot of the Federal public service groups, and they are telling the RCMP they have to wait their turn.

In the next decade it is anticipated that there will be drastic changes coming to the National police force, and other municipal and Provincial forces as well,  as exponential growth in these services come under increased scrutiny.

To understand the issue, one must understand the current levels of salaries and how they got to where they are today.  How does a police officer compare to the other types of employment? Where do they fit in, in comparison to the average family, or individual incomes?

Current Police salaries

Currently an RCMP officer after 3 years makes $82,108

A Vancouver City Police officer after 4 years     $83,000

A Saskatoon police officer after 5 years              $97,260

A Toronto police officer by 2018 will make        $98,450

In comparison

A lawyer who is a 1st year Associate in a firm   $63,250

An Industrial/Mechanical Engineer                     $61,944

A Mining Engineer                                                   $59,612

In 2014 according to Statistics Canada, the average “family” or combined income:

In Saskatchewan       $77,300

In Ontario                   $73,700

In British Columbia   $72,200

In Alberta                  $102,700

The Average in Canada in 2013 was $76,000

The Average individual salary in Canada is $47,914.00

The figures may seem distorted to be sure; is it possible that a police officer, with no or little education other than high school, and with a 6 month or less training period, is making, within 3 years, a salary greater than all family incomes in Canada (with the exception of Alberta). And not just a little bit more, the  “individual” RCMP officer is making a salary 12% higher than a “family” living in British Columbia.

Economists and the federal government consider middle class at its highest to be $120,000. (If you read my previous blog you would have seen that the average officer working at IHIT in the RCMP is making $154,000 per year with overtime).

In 2011, Statistics Canada said that the top 10% of Canadian society made above $80,400. In other words, currently a 1st Class constable who has 3 years experience in the RCMP, is making in the top 10% of Canadian society in terms of salary.

Of course, it will be argued by many of the profession, that their job is unique, that the dangers, responsibilities and complexities of their jobs make them worthy of these salaries. This could be a lengthy study all by itself, on what are the determinants in developing a relevant and appropriate salary; how do you measure officer safety, responsibility, etc., in order to make that calculation.

As an example, if one looks at the “danger” factor,  the most dangerous professions in Canada are not policing jobs; in fact the five most dangerous industries according to the Workmen’s Compensation Boards of Canada are, fishing and trapping, mining, logging, forestry, construction, and transportation and storage.

If safety and danger were the biggest factors, why is it that prison guards who are in positions where there safety is being threatened on a constant basis while their average salary is only $45,000 per year. Clearly there are other factors that need to be considered.

For years, the RCMP salaries have been based on a ratcheting scale, on what other police entities earn in Canada, often referred to as the “police universe”.  These other police services are unionized without a legal ability to strike, so inevitably resort to some arbitration process. Over time these arbitration processes seem to grow these salaries. Arbitrators generally favour a union over management, and in trying to establish a “fair result” usually increase the salaries at some level.  The other Agencies then determine their contract stance based on the latest won arbitration, and the ratcheting process or cycle begins.

The RCMP simply tags along for the ride. If Calgary is higher, or Edmonton, or Toronto, then the RCMP salaries go higher. All members of the public service in Canada have for years, used this ratcheting arbitration process to their benefit.

However, Governments and municipalities are now beginning to feel the pinch, and it is becoming a bigger topic amongst officials in City Halls throughout Canada.

Last week in Winnipeg, city counsel said that they need to consider reducing the number of police officers and that the union needed to be more reasonable in their demands. When contract talks fell apart the union once again applied to go to arbitration. They are seeking 3.5% to 4.0% wage hikes.

In 2005 the police budget in Winnipeg was $127 million and in 2015 is $216 million, an average annual increase of 7.5%. The police numbers from 2005 to 2015 had increased by 17%, and the police ratio to civilians increased to 1/509. Also, in this 10 year period the crime rate dropped by a staggering 40.65%.

In Toronto last week it was revealed in article in the Globe and Mail that 52% of Toronto Police Service made over $100,000.  600 more individuals joined the list in 2014 over 2013. Again there are complaints that the “leap-frogging of salaries” is a big part of the problem, along with generous overtime, and secure pensions. Again they point to the falling crime rate and state that these are  “contradictions that no city can tolerate”.

Of course, good salaries and benefits attract new employees. Canadian Business magazine ranked the job of police officer as the 16th best job in Canada sandwiched between an Aerospace engineer and an economic development director. They cite the level of salary vs level of education, and the security of the job itself. They point to pay increases of 17% from 2009 to 2015.

Workopolis listed as the top “surprising” jobs which can make over $100,000.00; teachers, police, firefighters and paramedics. So it is not just police but all first responders that have been beneficiaries of this ratcheting growth in salary dollars.

Suffice to say, for the last twenty years or so, policing as a “profession” went from a working class level job to one of high middle or upper income.

There is the argument that can be made, as in Canada, this has been a golden age for all. In Canada in all fields, saw a 135% increase in annual salaries from 1970 to 1980.

Yes, the RCMP has fallen behind in terms of the police “universe”, but in the real world universe they have been doing remarkably well for the last several decades. Politicians are starting to take notice.

We have now reached a stage where administrators of City budgets, and Provincial Ministers are beginning to look at this unimpeded growth and they are considering ways to start pushing it back. The salaries are out of line with the general public in many ways. Between 2000 and 2010 spending in the Canadian government increased by 25% but spending on police increased by 52% according to Statistics Canada. Police salary increases for the most part exceeded inflation during this time period which itself was at 29%.

The RCMP and the other agencies are going to need to develop their arguments as to how and why they deserve such lucrative compensation. This is not to say that they don’t deserve a pay raise, but they need to be prepared to articulate their job functions, especially in light of declining crime rates. Simply being a “first responder” is not enough.

Policing in general has always suffered from a lack of financial accountability, a lack of justification for what they often say is their value to society, and they need to get more sophisticated in that argument. The RCMP is already seeing government pulling or tearing at the edges over such things as severance pay.

My guess is that a union for the RCMP, if it ever comes about, will be a devastating blow to the government, in that it will inflate the policing budget, and the individual officers will be facing an up hill battle in terms of salaries and benefits negotiations, as the government struggles to control costs. Keep in mind that police salaries make up about 90% of a police budget. To control costs, salaries will have to come under audit.

Reducing the numbers of officers in the RCMP to counteract this problem, may be premature or alarmist, but it is a real possibility, and the police officers of today need to be prepared to take an active role in their future, and be prepared to conform to a changing economy as the golden era comes to a close. The once blue collar job of policing has become white collar, and caused increased expectations amongst the police themselves.

Demands for more money will attract public resentment, despite the police having a generally favourable perception in Canada, and there will be demands for greater responsibility to both justify and control those costs. Automatic increases will cease to become the norm, and even certain secondary functions police agencies have taken on during times of prosperity will be on very tenuous ground.  It is going to be a difficult time. As Warren Buffett once said “only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The value of a police officer and how much society is willing to pay will certainly be the fundamental question.

Photo Courtesy of Government of Alberta via Creative Commons at /

(Signing of the 20 year RCMP contract in K Division – Alberta)

EPILOGUE: This week it was announced that the RCMP are finally getting their pay raise which is retroactive. 1.25% dating back to 2015, another 1.25% dating back to January 2016 and a 2.3% market adjustment as of April 2016. So a 4.8% increase overall. Although at first blush, in these economic times,  this would seem to be in line with other pay increases. However, when you look at it in terms of inflation, the inflation rate in 2015 was 1.13% and in 2016 1.43%,for a total in the last two years of 2.56%. So the raise going back to 2015 and 2016 does little more than reflect inflation rates. The 2.3% market adjustment number is the real gain. This is not seen as being enough to move the RCMP up into the higher echelons of the municipal agencies which many were seeking, and there is a growing protest currently underway. It will be interesting if it draws any outside public or government support in light of the arguments made in this column. I wish them luck, but cracks are beginning to show in the RCMP and there is little doubt more will beginning in the next few years.










Commissioner Paulson …It is time to go…


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)


Time to reduce the number of firefighters?

Each day in downtown Vancouver and other municipalities in B.C, fire crews scream up and down the streets; gargantuan vehicles blasting air horns and sirens, reverberating off every nearby building.  However, in all likelihood they are not heading to a fire. Actually there is a 70 per cent chance they are going to a medical call. How did we get to this state of confusion, where the fire department is taking ambulance calls?

The cost of these daily and nightly  sojourns,  with million dollar fire trucks,  four or five fire personnel usually in tow, seems at the very least to be a misappropriation of resources. Most times they are going to a traffic accident, or to a downed individual suffering from too much alcohol, or too many drugs. They are of course usually joined by other fire vehicles, and maybe a supervisors vehicle for good measure. Upon arrival, they proceed to block multiple lanes of traffic, parking their vehicles and placing their traffic cones at 45 degrees, in different directions. Invariably, an ambulance will then attend as well.

The victims of an overdose or other medical issue is often dwarfed by the numbers of personnel and the towering vehicles parked in every direction. The fire personnel once relieved by the ambulance, often stand around, conversing with their fellow workers, seemingly unaware and unconcerned of the ensuing traffic jams, and usually in no apparent hurry to move on. The scene seems incongruous.

This  is not a firefighters traditional mandate and now the use of firefighters to answer medical calls is beginning to garner attention in many financially strapped municipalities in the U.S.  Even, in Canada, places like Toronto are re-assessing this perversion of the way these resources are used and shared with the traditional emergency health services community. They are quickly realizing that this abuse of scarce monetary resources needs to be addressed, that this is not a cost-effective way to use the fire departments.

In  Vancouver, there are currently 20 Fire Halls, with a total of about 800 employees. By their own statistics 70% of their calls are now medical calls to individuals or to car accidents.  How is that if fire calls have been declining to such a large degree, why are we not slowing down the growth of the fire department? It could be argued that we now need only 30% of what was needed many years ago.

Declining fire calls has led to the fire department, needing to justify itself in terms of resources, branching out into other territory. The route of least resistance was to grow toward was the medical call, or the call for rescue services.

So they have gradually embarked into other areas with developments like the “jaws of life” which gives them reasons to attend motor vehicle accidents, or carrying defibrillators, and training their staff to a higher level of medical expertise, which allows them to take medical calls. Coincidentally while fire calls were declining the Fire Department changed its name to the more expansive “Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

The fire department during this current Fentanyl crisis is using this as an opportunity to talk about their over growing workload, no time to train, complaining of “burnout”, even asking for further resources. One article extolled the need for an officer dedicated to dealing with PTSD for these over-worked fire personnel.

There is little dispute that medical calls are keeping some stations busy. At Firehall #2 in Vancouver,  in the heart of the downtown Eastside, monthly calls have doubled in the last four years, and now amount to sometimes 20 calls per day on a 10 hour shift, or 30 calls per 14 hour night shift.

Certain halls are busy with these medical calls, but there are also many sleepy fire halls in the region. Fire halls in West Vancouver for instance would be hard pressed to complain about being over worked. I spoke with one West Van fireman who in 27 years had never been to a “structural fire”, although had been to many accidents and medical calls.

And these fire personnel are not cheap.

In an article in the Georgia Strait who obtained FOI information from the City of Vancouver with reference to fire department salaries they learned:

In 2013 Vancouver’s Fire Chief was the highest paid employee in the city with a salary of $347,762. (but was expected to decrease in 2014). There were approximately 125 fire personnel working under him that were making over $100,000.00 in 2013.

It should be noted that the overtime issue in B.C. runs across all emergency personnel lines, and is a singular problem in police services, paramedics and fire services. Paramedics, firefighters and police in B.C. are thanks to overtime, scooping up salaries well in excess of $100,000.00.

There is increasing attention being paid to the fact that modern equipment and new building materials is reducing the number of fires, and the costs of these fire departments are reaching astronomical levels.

Arbitrations are also keeping fire salaries high for one of the most under-worked professions. Often those salaries are in excess of the increases seen in other public sector jobs.

In smaller cities the Fire Department budget often amounts to a quarter of the overall budget.

Fire fighting has become a very desirable job, and firefighters rarely leave. Hundreds of applications are received every year for the few openings that come up.

Working conditions are good. Many firefighters having a second job because of the amount of downtime, and often have the luxury of sleeping during their night shifts. Twenty-four hour shifting is being used in some areas, or is often being pushed for by fire personnel. From a common sense perspective it seems illogical to be able to work a “24” hour shift, but of course it is possible in firefighting because of the extraordinary amount of downtime. They are often filling their downtime by preparing meals, working out, and polishing and servicing equipment. It is not uncommon to find them cruising in their big rigs and shopping for groceries or on a “patrol”through Kits beach.

In Toronto, in 2012, the city changed the protocols to send ambulances rather than firefighters to over 50 different types of medical emergencies. The next year the City staff recommended closing four halls and cutting 84 fire fighter jobs. While at the same time they hired an additional 56 paramedics who make a lesser salary, with an average of $65,000 in Canada.

A paramedic salary is lower than the average firefighter, as firefighters are designated as essential services in this Province, upping the ante in terms of salary bargaining.

Paramedics across Canada make between 65-$90,000. Ambulance vehicles run around $300,000 whereas fire trucks start about the same price and the larger trucks easily go over $1million.

Why this is not being done in British Columbia can partly be explained by the fact that there are two very different bureaucracies at work here. The city pays the Fire Personnel, while the Province pays the Paramedics. The two governments need to come together to work out a coherent untangling of mandates, and a cost sharing or savings sharing formula that is applied equitably. You would be increasing the direct costs to the Province but saving costs for the taxpayers of Vancouver. Some put back may be required from the City to the Province.

In November 2016 the BC Government put in another $5 million to the paramedics due to the Fentanyl crisis. However, if they truly want to make a difference and potentially save monies, we need to reduce the number of firefighters and close some of the halls, while at the same time increasing increase the number of paramedics and ambulances. Maybe not a 70% cut, as that would throw the fire department into paroxysms of fear, but but at least an effort must be made to get the need for fire services down to a number more reflective of the actual need for their services.

It is not news to fire department administrators, that the reduction of fires is a threat to their livelihood and job descriptions. Their ability to earn a substantial living is being threatened.

Is it time to go back to the original intention and mandate of the fire services? Reduce the number of firefighters, and reduce the ancillary major equipment such as $1million dollar fire trucks responding to calls. This is not a radical proposal, but one which will go against public perceptions. The media duly report every puppy rescued from a burning house (some fire trucks are carrying animal respirators – talk about branching out), cover every fire department fund raiser, and endlessly portray the firefighters as risking their lives, and of course promote their calendars.

So be prepared for the backlash. In Toronto the firefighters purchased ads on the local media all claiming of course that the government was putting “lives at risk”. Utter nonsense, as the firefighters themselves say they are merely filling the gap left by traditional ambulance services.

To recommend reducing the number of firefighters will be considered sacrilege, an attack on the emergency services world. I am just saying that we should hit the nail of the problem with a hammer, not with an expensive jack hammer. Everyone loves the image, but it is based on misperception and it is costly.

It is hallowed ground on which the firefighters walk, and you will need to be ready to hose down the flame throwing rhetoric that will come from the affected who will argue that you are “risking” the lives of your fellow citizens. I too am in favour of fire personnel, but we just don’t need that many of them.$5-million-to-boost-paramedic-response-to-b-c-s-overdose-crisis

** On March 9, 2017 the BC Government announced a $91.4 million funding boost for emergency services, which will go to 6 new ambulances, and 60 new paramedics. I suspect this may have something to do with the election, and not my blog post. Of course there is no cutback on the fire department, that would not do in an election period. **

Image courtesy of Liz West via Creative Commons licence Some Rights Reserved