$220M and counting: The cost of the RCMP’s ‘culture of dysfunction’
|globalnews.ca 22 Jan 2019 at 02:26|
With an aching smile, his widow Sheila Lemaitre recently testified about photos of little Lemaitre “standing at careful attention” next to Mounties in their iconic uniform. In 2013, after a long and difficult career, Lemaitre killed himself.
He was 55, a 27-year veteran of the force.
The inquest into his suicide, held late last year, was tasked with examining the circumstances that led to his death but ultimately didn’t have the mandate to delve into RCMP management — that, the Supreme Court is quite clear, is a federal power. And so, the work environment that Sheila — herself a former Mountie — many of Lemaitre’s colleagues and several experts believe contributed to the deterioration of his mental health went mostly unexplored.
The inquest lasted less than a week. Retired Mountie David Reichert, who knew Lemaitre and is with the force, thought the recommendations coming from the inquest were superficial. He called it “the biggest waste of money you’ve ever seen.”
There’s no quick fix for transforming a paramilitary organization with over 30,000 members, including over 18,000 sworn police officers and 15 divisions with a mandate to cover everything from local policing to money laundering, terrorism, human smuggling and the prime minister’s security.
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The resulting organizational culture that has persisted has been labelled a “culture of dysfunction” by the force’s own Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) in a t. In many respects, the report repeated themes of the inquiries that came before. The problems, it found, are pervasive: Mounties who won’t speak up for fear of repercussions, promotions driven by who you know rather than what you do and a presumption that because an officer occupies a senior rank, they automatically wield that power with skill and professionalism.
The RCMP has acknowledged some of its failings, including in a formal apology in 2016 to women in the force for careers “scarred” by harassment, and then, in 2018, to and girls for their investigative failings. By announcing plans last week to bring in a civilian board to oversee management of the RCMP, the federal government has implicitly acknowledged the failure to address these issues within the organization.
On paper, these new reforms are sweeping and indicate that the government is willing to address Mountie problems, said Robert Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University. The reality, however, remains to be seen.
“I don’t think the mandate, at this point, is to undertake the significant restructuring and reform of the RCMP that is required,” he said. “It’ll be settling problems that have arisen inside the house as opposed to problems that have arisen as a result of the structure of the house.”
In December 1991, Pierre Lemaitre was called to a murder in Bella Coola, a small community on B.C.’s central coast, home of the Nuxalk Nation. A young woman had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Her face was swollen beyond recognition, and nobody had reported anyone missing.
“I felt helpless,” Lemaitre wrote in the years before his death in a letter to Veterans Affairs as part of a pension application.
“We all carry some flashbacks or heavy memories or worries, when we look at our loved ones, that similar things could happen, but it’s part of the job,” Sheila explained at the inquest.
And yet, a found that despite being one of the first federal organizations to introduce a mental health strategy, the RCMP was not meeting the needs of its members. That report served as a reminder of how that failure reverberates: “Ultimately, members’ poor mental health affects the RCMP’s capacity to serve and protect Canadians.”
The RCMP did not directly respond to questions about its mental health strategy but instead shared information outlining the services currently available to its members.
Lemaitre understood that by its nature, the job meant trauma and flashbacks, worry and fear. But, Sheila testified: “He still beamed when he put on that red serge.”
In 1997, Pierre Lemaitre was one of several Mounties tasked with communications during the November APEC meeting. It resulted in an almost $10-million inquiry shadowed by allegations of political interference.
The turning point, on the final day, was the actions of RCMP Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart and his squad. Responsible for clearing some 50 or 60 people from the roadways, Stewart got out of his van with a can of pepper spray the size of a fire extinguisher. He told the protesters to leave. They didn’t.
The reaction was angry and instantaneous. Shirley Heafey, chair of the RCMP’s public complaints commission at the time, told reporter Jesse Ferreras in 2007 that after the force stymied her attempts to investigate. There were claims the prime minister himself ordered the crackdown. The inquiry didn’t satisfy many of those outraged.
A demonstrator is assisted after getting pepper spray in her eyes when police used the spray to break up a demonstration outside the University of British Columbia, the site of the APEC Summit in Vancouver, Canada, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 1997.
That the APEC inquiry and inquiries since don’t seem to focus on the systemic problems is unsurprising, said Jaggi Singh, one of the protesters arrested during APEC. In his opinion, “the parameters of those commissions are well within not questioning the fundamental right of the RCMP to do what they do.”
“The purpose of it is to absolve large parts of policing and maybe critique a few bad apples,” Singh added.
While the APEC commission criticized the “manner” in which protesters were pepper-sprayed, saying it “likely did not conform with recommended procedure,” it ultimately ruled the action appropriate.
“I do not find any inappropriate conduct in the manner in which the spray was dispersed,” read the commission’s final report.
Catherine Galliford met Pierre Lemaitre for the first time on the APEC summit media team. He was kind, genuine and trustworthy, Galliford said.
Galliford, who is now 52, worked out of the force’s Richmond detachment, handling high-profile cases like the Air India investigation . In 1985, 329 people were killed when a bomb exploded aboard their flight, despite advance warning that a terrorist attack was likely. Only one person was ever convicted.
Vancouver Police Sgt. Sheila Sullivan (left) and RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford (right) hold up a new poster released by the Missing Women Task Force in Vancouver, Wednesday Oct. 6, 2004.
(CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)
More than a colleague and friend, Lemaitre became a person that helped Galliford cope with her sexual harassment allegations. “What I needed Pierre for was someone to bear witness to what was happening to me,” she said.
Galliford, who joined the RCMP in 1991, went public with her allegations in 2011 and settled a lawsuit with the force in 2016, said she accompanied a supervisor on trips across Canada to visit with the families of the Air India victims in the late 1990s. There was no news to tell them, she said, but she alleges her supervisor used these trips as a chance to try to have sex with her.
A different supervisor had shown her his genitals and asked if she thought a mole on his penis was “cute,” she said. Galliford says these were just two in a string of incidents she dealt with in her two decades on the force. When Galliford went public, the force responded by saying sexual harassment was not to be tolerated and pledged to stamp it out. In its statement of defence in response to her suit, the federal government, on behalf of the RCMP, denied all the allegations . However, they settled the matter in 2016. The sheer number of women coming forward with similar stories culminated in a class action the force settled for $100 million in 2016. Investigators are slowly weighing their claims.
While Galliford found an ally in Lemaitre, others outside the organization also turned to him when they needed help. During the , a journalist approached Lemaitre and one of his female colleagues with allegations of sexual harassment. He later wrote about this in his application to Veterans Affairs.
The reporter told Lemaitre that his direct supervisor had made “several inappropriate sexual comments” during an interview. While she tried to move the conversation forward, the Mountie kept at her, according to Lemaitre’s account of the reporter’s allegations.
“He replied that he was surprised that she had the lead on the story while she was standing vertically because she got most of her leads while lying horizontally, suggesting she obtained information from sources while engaged in sexual activity,” Lemaitre summarized. “She was furious and left.”
Lemaitre reported the alleged incident, even though it involved his boss.
“Our group was small, and I felt disloyal having to do this,” he wrote.
He was called into his boss’ office and berated, according to his letter and the testimony of his wife and former colleagues. Lemaitre wrote that he was advised that he “did not have the support of senior management anymore.” Vaughan said the force can’t confirm this, as it handled the matter internally and is thus “bound by the Privacy Act.”
Lemaitre was transferred to a less plum night shift in Chilliwack after reporting his superior, his wife said.
The allegations don’t surprise Leo Knight, who was a Mountie for four years in the 1970s, later a Vancouver police officer and a popular blogger on policing issues. The Mountie motto is “Maintiens le droit,” often translated as “uphold the right.” The problem, Knight said, is there’s also an unwritten one: “Never do anything to tarnish the buffalo.”
“If I do the right thing and it brings disrepute to the organization itself, then suddenly I have to look and do something else, which may not be right but it’s the right thing not to tarnish the buffalo,” Knight said.
In 2007, Carleton University management professor Linda Duxbury sent questionnaires to thousands of Mounties and interviewed hundreds more in order to understand the RCMP workplace. She honed in on the promotion system as a problem. Members saw promotions as something you received if you had friends in high places rather than skill on the job. It was a process, Duxbury noted, that worsened their harassment experiences.
The RCMP commissioned her independent report on workplace issues, and 12 years on, she’s yet to see any action on recommendations like overhauling its promotion system and changing how the force handles discipline issues. The RCMP did not respond to questions concerning changes to its promotion system. However, in response to the 2017 CRCC report, which raised issues like promotion and discipline again, then-RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson released a statement, saying: “It should be noted that many of the reports’ judgments rely on the historical context of RCMP transformation efforts that are not, in my view, reflective of current RCMP environment, policies or processes.”
The Mounties’ top-down system is such that recruits with only a high school education can be shipped to Regina for training and then out to one coast then another, per the CRCC report, working their way up with minimal leadership training. Cultural change, Duxbury said, would require a change in how the force rewards members, how it promotes them and how it disciplines them. If that change — recommended in — had happened, she said, you would see members being “let go for doing completely inappropriate behaviour.”
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Chung, now 50, said one of his coworkers told him jokingly that he’d hopped into a hot tub with one of the female witnesses.
The man was a friend and Chung chose not to report him. He felt it was enough to remove that friend from the case.
But three months later, the witness’ godmother came in for an interview. After the official interview, she told him the night before she and her goddaughter had been having drinks with two of his colleagues handling the case.
Chung, who thought the incident was a one-off involving one colleague’s poor judgment, realized the issue was more problematic than he’d originally thought: bad optics creating the possible legal perception of potential witness tampering.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening in this major kidnapping case,” Chung said
In response to detailed questions concerning Chung’s allegations, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval said: “We cannot comment on any police operations or police techniques.”
Making the report wrecked the trust on his team, Chung said, even though “we are trained that we are supposed to raise concerns when we see something that’s not right.”
Lawrence Chung left the RCMP in 2017 over harassment allegations and concerns about mismanagement.
Chung, who wanted to get to 25 years of service, only made it to 21. One incident, he learned, has a way of following you around. He started having problems with a new team in 2015. They were always showing up late, he said, or calling in sick or not developing informants, a crucial part of intelligence-led policing.
Four years after he was booted to Chilliwack, sometime around 2007, Pierre Lemaitre was promoted back into media relations at the RCMP’s B.C. headquarters in Surrey. On Oct. 14, 2007, 40-year old Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was Tasered at the Vancouver airport after spending hours wandering the airport in confusion. He died within minutes.
Lemaitre was called into work that morning. On camera, it was Lemaitre’s job to tell the public what had happened. He reported that there were three Mounties at the scene, too many people around to use pepper spray and that Dziekanski had been Tasered twice — information given to him by the officer in charge of the investigation.
Then, a video showing the incident revealed this wasn’t an accurate account. There were four Mounties involved, very few bystanders and five Taser shocks.
Lemaitre was devastated, Sheila testified.
“Accusations flew that I had lied and given out false information,” Lemaitre wrote in his Veterans Affairs letter. “Unfortunately, the risk for any spokesperson is that you are only as good as the information you are given.”
It took an incredible toll, Sheila said. Lemaitre was shuffled out to the Langley traffic division in early 2008.
At work, she said people whispered about him in the cafeteria. In public, people recognized him. They’d be in the grocery store together, and the clerk would look at his credit card, then at him and ask: “Are you the Lemaitre?”
There was a sense of vindication after he testified at the Braidwood inquiry in 2009, and it became clear he had wanted to tell the truth but was forbidden to, Sheila testified, although that information didn’t seem to filter down to the public.
RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre testifies at the Braidwood inquiry in 2009.
The inquiry investigated the use of Tasers as well as the circumstances of Dziekanski’s death , including the way passengers arriving from abroad are dealt with at the airport. In addition to the $5.3-million inquiry, the B.C. government spent an additional $953,761 on a special prosecutor to handle the cases of the four Mounties on the scene of Dziekanski’s death. Every time there was an update about their prosecution, it was Lemaitre’s face that would flash on TV. (Three of the four Mounties have filed lawsuits against the force.)
In his Veterans Affairs application, Lemaitre wrote about how hard it was becoming to get through each day: “Every time my phone rings at work or at home, my heart races and I get anxiety attacks. I get furious and angry in two seconds.”
On July 29, 2013, Lemaitre hanged himself.
Sheila filed a lawsuit alleging the RCMP used him as a scapegoat in the Dziekanski affair, disregarding the consequences for his mental health . In her statement of claim, she alleged a senior Mountie visited her a few days after Lemaitre died and told her that “what was done to Pierre was done for the good of the force.”
The RCMP settled Sheila’s lawsuit in 2018 with a non-disclosure agreement. While Dziekanski’s Tasering enraged Canadians, it was one incident in a long, especially poor year for the Mounties. The fallout from the O’Connor Commission into the rendition of Maher Arar — a Canadian citizen shipped by the U.S. to Syria whose nearly year-long torture was “very likely” the result of unfair, misleading and inaccurate information supplied by the RCMP — continued to reverberate.
Testimony in 2007 at the Air India inquiry, which was probing the failures of the two-decades-old investigation into the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, revealed Mountie mismanagement, work conflict and an investigation hampered by RCMP and CSIS turf wars.
Also in 2007, David Brown, the independent investigator charged with investigating the RCMP’s handling of its pension fund scandal — marred by nepotism, contract problems and a misuse of funds made worse by senior management attempts to stymie investigations — questioned the structure of the force.
“A sophisticated business organization of this size cannot provide appropriate transparency and accountability within a command and control structure,” Brown wrote. He recommended civilian oversight, a recommendation left dormant until now.
Steve Hewitt, a senior history lecturer at the University of Birmingham and author of three books about the RCMP’s history, is mixed on reviving the idea.
There was a big hurrah last year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Brenda Lucki would be the force’s first permanent female commissioner. But, Hewitt said: “The structures, the ethos, the history, the myth, all of that remains intact.”
Knight, the former Mountie, likes to describe the RCMP as “14 years of tradition unhampered by progress.” Tease that apart, he said, and you’re looking at a force that’s changing membership and equipment but not keeping up with the world.
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When it comes to the Mounties’ organizational culture, Duxbury, the Carleton University management professor, said the RCMP hasn’t even begun addressing cultural problems that manifest in fear and harassment among the rank and file and a poor promotion system that looks favourably on self-promotion and less so on HR skills.
A common perception among Mounties, per the RCMP CRCC’s review of workplace harassment in 2017, is “the promotion process exacerbates the problem of workplace harassment by rewarding self-promotion rather than leadership aptitude, performance, skills and knowledge.”
Civilian oversight won’t come close to touching the problem, Duxbury said, because of what the force has built and entrenched over more than 140 years.
“It’s a very unique culture,” Duxbury said. “It’s a very strong culture.”
When he announced civilian oversight, Goodale said, “Changes in governance and culture are not a singular event… but rather a process over time that demands diligent, persistent effort.”
Every commission, every inquiry, every investigation, every report and every lawsuit is a nail in the Mountie coffin, said Gordon, the criminologist from Simon Fraser University.
And yet, to borrow his metaphor, hammering in another nail doesn’t seem to change much.
“Another nail, not the nail,” Gordon clarified. “It’s a big coffin because it’s a huge organization that has the capacity to adjust to the blows from a hammer.”