RCMP’s Role and Mandate—Inquiry

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Ceremonial Guard on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Hon. Marty Klyne: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the inquiry commenced by Senator Harder on December 2, 2021, regarding the future of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s an important discussion, and, by many accounts, one that is long overdue. I hope it’s a discussion that leads to a clear and realistic picture of our RCMP and a bright future for the organization.

The RCMP is the most unique police force in the world. It’s our national police force; it’s our federal police force; and in some jurisdictions, it’s the provincial or territorial police force, or the municipal police. It is also an international police force through its involvement in INTERPOL.

Depot Division, the RCMP Academy, is considered one of the most elite police training academies in the world. From 1885 to 1920, Depot was the headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police and then the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Not only has every member of our national police been trained at Depot since the inception of the North-West Mounted Police in 1873, Depot has also trained police and investigators of many stripes from around the world.

Mounties in their dress uniform are collectively one of the most recognized symbols in the world, dressed in the red serge, Stetson hats, Strathcona boots with spurs and midnight blue stirrup overalls with a yellow stripe down the legs. Like Canada’s multiculturalism, two official languages, the maple leaf, our Parliament buildings, maple syrup and the Rockies, the RCMP is a symbol of national identity.

We also know that those who serve in our national police force act with courage every time they put on the uniform, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Last month, the death of Constable Shaelyn Yang in Burnaby, B.C., was a tragic reminder.

Suffice it to say the RCMP has an important place in our country’s complex history and in our national culture, as well as in keeping us safe. However, there are concerns with our RCMP. There are questions about its mandate, its focus and its conviction to uphold the RCMP’s core values. All of this lends itself to a question around the RCMP work environment, the influence of systemic racism, numerous cases of failure to adhere to proper protocols and decades of physical and sexual harassment, not to mention the difficulty in recruiting applicants and cadets. These concerns give rise to an overarching question centring on the culture and organizational structure of the RCMP and whether the organization’s mandate and core values will support its desired strategic direction and goals.

The RCMP must also demonstrate that it will proceed with values and actions of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, with an acknowledgement and understanding of the truth of Canada’s history. I fully believe that this undertaking is not a quantum leap. The time has come to take a closer look at the issues that have been plaguing the RCMP for many years while building on its best attributes. That’s what I will be speaking to today.

The problems with the RCMP are well documented. As Senator Harder noted last year in his speech, the RCMP was the subject of a heart-wrenching report in 2020 by the Honourable Michel Bastarache, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The report was titled Broken Lives, Broken Dreams, and it was written following Justice Bastarache’s review of more than 3,000 claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault submitted by female RCMP staff members under the Merlo Davidson Settlement Agreement. The results of his report were clear. It revealed toxic behaviour within the ranks of the police force and a broken culture that has permeated every level of its ranks. The problems were clear, systemic and irrefutable, and they continue to trouble the RCMP to this day.

Compensation was given to 2,304 women following the settlement of the Merlo Davidson class action lawsuit. More than $125 million was paid out to female RCMP staff members who suffered gender-based abuse, harassment and discrimination.

The need for transformation lingers. Just this past June, another report was issued by three former federal judges following the settlement of the Tiller lawsuit, filed on behalf of women who worked in a close capacity with the RCMP and who had suffered abuse. In this case, 417 women were awarded close to $20 million in damages for behaviour they were subjected to by RCMP staff members.

To give you a sense of the severity of the problem, I’d like to share a quote from Justice Bastarache’s report which says:

 . . . the culture of the RCMP is toxic and tolerates misogyny and homophobia at all ranks and in all provinces and territories. This culture does not reflect the stated values of the RCMP, and it is found throughout the organization. RCMP members and officers are forced to accept that they must function in the context of this culture to succeed. RCMP employees appear to blame the “bad apples” without recognizing the systemic and internal origins of this conduct.

Colleagues, the inability to address serious systemic issues must be addressed. This matter needs action, and the Senate is in a good position to assist on the issues that Justice Bastarache identified. It’s not enough for the federal government to acknowledge the report and move on. To be clear, like many others, I want the RCMP to be the pride of Canada and I want other countries to be inspired by our national police force. This will require deep, transformational change — perhaps radical surgery — without losing the patient on the operating table.

As senators, we are in a strong position to help bring about that change. We should use that position to consider a review of the role and mandate of the RCMP, as suggested by Senator Harder’s inquiry. Furthermore, to take that to another level, we can influence the creation of a positive, clear and realistic picture of the RCMP’s future and contribute to resetting the RCMP’s strategic direction, its mission, its vision and its culture and organizational structure and review and reaffirm its renewed core values of June 2022.

Despite the serious work that needs to be done, I want to highlight some of the positive contributions that the RCMP has made to Canada. Their presence in the Prairies is important, and my province of Saskatchewan has a long and celebrated history with the organization. I’ve seen it first-hand as the chief executive officer of the RCMP Heritage Centre, which is under consideration for national museum status, a proposal I strongly support.

The RCMP Heritage Centre is a magnificent building that is an incredible museum, exhibiting the long and storied history of the RCMP. The site tells the story of the organization’s contribution to Canadian history and the development of Canada. It’s a time capsule, and when you see people visiting the museum, it becomes clear just how much pride and regard Canadians have for the organization and how international visitors are inspired by the storied Mounties.

One of the great privileges of my life has been attending graduation ceremonies for RCMP candidates who have completed the training and are ready to become RCMP officers. Seeing the emotional reactions of parents, friends and family members as they watch graduates in the dress uniform that symbolizes the RCMP and all it stands for being sworn in to uphold their duties is something I’ll never forget. Even more moving and unforgettable at a graduation ceremony is an active or retired member of the force presenting a badge to their adult-age son or daughter. Those ceremonies always remind me of the importance of this historic institution. It’s a ceremony that I’m sure emphasizes the honour and responsibility being bestowed upon the graduate.

The RCMP Heritage Centre has also embarked on the path of reconciliation, collaborating with Indigenous leaders, elders and educators to build its truth and reconciliation strategy. The organization is committed to helping answer the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action as well as the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — with specific calls identified for the Centre’s focus from both guiding reports.

The RCMP Heritage Centre is also working with Depot Division to develop specialized Indigenous-led cultural teaching and education for cadets about the communities where they will be posted. This is promising.

Unfortunately, not all members of the RCMP have lived up to the RCMP’s core values, honour and code of conduct. This leads me back to my main point: The time is now for transformational change. My belief, like Senator Harder’s, is that we should take what we have learned from previous studies and testimony and help set our national police force on a new path: a path that acknowledges, honours and respects its legacy — the good, the bad and the difficult; a path that restores the RCMP pride and reputation for being a national police force that operates with the utmost level of honour and respect for everyone — a police force that acts with integrity, shows respect, demonstrates compassion, takes responsibility and serves with excellence; a path in which Canadians’ pride is unwavering and other countries are inspired.

I’m encouraged by the federal government taking some important steps. They’ve introduced Bill C-20, which, if passed, would establish a public complaints and review commission to replace the insufficient Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. This bill follows the 2021 report by the House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security entitled Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada. An enhanced independent review and complaints body is one important step toward restoring public confidence in the RCMP. It’s a good place to start, but more work needs to be done.

I know that the RCMP can become the paragon of excellence in policing. Of that, I have no doubt. There really is a solid foundation to build upon, and much off-balance-sheet equity in the symbol. However, as time marches by without transformational change, that off-balance-sheet equity diminishes.

I urge colleagues to support Senator Harder’s suggestion to create a special Senate committee to study the future of the RCMP. This committee would be an important tool in helping to address past injustices and assist the RCMP in making a much-needed transformational change and better define its role in a 21st century Canada. We could draw from this chamber’s experience and expertise in many relevant subjects, including law enforcement. As well, many of the legislators in this chamber have direct experience in making transformational change and collaborating with other leaders. I know that this is a challenging subject and would not be an easy task, but “hard” or “easy” has nothing to do with it.

I’d like to close with a recent and unforgettable moment for the RCMP on the world stage. As we all know, on September 8, Queen Elizabeth II passed away. Her death was mourned around the world. In the days that followed, tributes, memories and stories were shared, all celebrating the life of a remarkable woman and renowned monarch. Millions — perhaps billions — of people witnessed the state funeral.

For many Canadians watching from home, one moment stood out: As the funeral procession began, it was led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — Canada’s national police — in their dress uniform, mounted on their magnificent black steeds. In that moment, I believe Canada swelled with pride. That moment of pride represents everything the RCMP is, but it is not all that it can be. I hope we have the courage to help guide it back to a new path.

Thank you, hiy kitatamihin.

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