News Canada

Analysis: RCMP still searching for leaders of 'impeccable ethics'

David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson waits to testify before the Commons public safety committee in Ottawa January 31, 2012. (Reuters/CHRIS WATTIE)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson waits to testify before the Commons public safety committee in Ottawa January 31, 2012. (Reuters/CHRIS WATTIE)

OTTAWA - A retired Canadian navy chaplain wrote me Tuesday after I made the argument in this space that the lesson we ought to take from the presence of an on-duty colour guard at RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson's wedding is that RCMP big shots still have not come to grips with the dysfunction of their workplace culture.

While I also heard from many current and retired RCMP members that Paulson's colour guard does indeed highlight some of the cultural problems in our national police force, the navy chaplain thought I was taking a cheap shot at the commissioner and those involved with the colour guard.

I replied to him that one of the common denominators I've found among most who put on a uniform is that they own up to their own mistakes but, so far, one crucial player in this episode has not done that.

That would be Corps Sgt Major Mike Cote, the individual Paulson asked "to seek volunteers" for the colour guard at Paulson's wedding. Cote, by Paulson's own admission, clearly ignored Paulson's command - we assume it was a command as it made by the boss to a subordinate - because eight of those who showed up for the colour guard were not volunteers. That is to say, they were ordered there and were on duty while taxpayers paid the bill.

The RCMP won't let us talk to Cote and they have no comment on this crucial issue: How is it that a senior RCMP commander can ignore a clear desire by his chief? Dysfunctional culture.

As for Paulson himself, as I told the navy chaplain, was he not at all curious how eight individuals he'd never met "volunteered" for service at such an intimate and personal event as a wedding? Paulson only apologized and volunteered to help pay the costs of assigning that octet after their status was leaked to a reporter. Dysfunctional culture.

Speaking of leaks: That same anonymous leaker would try to undermine his superior by telling tales to a reporter is a another symptom of rotting RCMP culture. And yet, this happens all the time.

Meanwhile, the change of command of the Canadian Forces announced this week allows us to contrast and compare leadership at both organizations.

There's no doubt the CF has its own internal political battles and generals Rick Hillier and Walt Natynczyk (the last two chiefs of defence staff) had occasional political brushfires to put out but neither man was ever successfully challenged on their personal ethics.

The navy chaplain, who served with both individuals, told me that Hillier and Natynczyk were "officers of impeccable and irreproachable ethics."

Could we use that phrase to describe the last decade of RCMP commissioners? The jury is likely still out on Paulson.

What about the last commissioner, Bill Elliott? He, of course, was not an officer but a civilian and his ethical judgement was attacked when he was pictured in Afghanistan wearing a uniform and a gun, neither of which he had earned.

Before him, it was Giuliano Zaccardelli. Ethics? He finished his RCMP amid a blaze of scandal including accusations he perjured himself in front of a Commons committee investigating his and the force's role in the Maher Arar case.

One would think, after more than a decade of this, the current generation of top RCMP leaders would make it their top priority to have themselves described as "officers of impeccable and irreproachable ethics." Can't do that yet for too many of them.

Twitter: @davidakin