Crumbling Integrity

Constant bitching about issues facing police is commonplace, a well practised pastime among the veterans of the blue. People will point out that this blog makes its living in this realm of grumbling discontent. Even for the new 21st century cops, bitching and complaining is a rite of passage and there seems to be no shortage of topics to entertain both groups. Resourcing, shifting, promotions and transfers, all seemingly preoccupying the officers now taking up two tables at Starbucks. The old guys and gals in Tim Hortons, like to talk about pensions, Veterans Affairs, and the cost of living index. The belly aching is never-ending and usually never solved.

Something does seem to be different now though. The transition to the new age does not seem to be going as smoothly or as expected. Morale seems deflated, the concern more serious. Is there a fundamental shift in the role of police or just the same old longing for the “good old days”?

An astute RCMP friend of mine of the younger generation, who is well read on the issues of the day, recently opined that we are in fact watching the “crumbling” of an organization. He may have been over-stating the situation a little, but there does appear to be increasing evidence of a significant deterioration; an acute erosion of the “job”, both in how it is done, and how it is perceived. It seems partly due to the fact that society is bending to new norms, and those new norms are incongruent, often out of sync with the historical understanding of the job. At its root may be that police organizations have now completely and willingly blurred the line between the governmental executive branch and the independence of the judicial and policing arms of government.

There have been a couple of recent stories which seemed to serve as an illustration of this fundamental change.

First, was the Senate committee hearings on the imposition of the Emergency Measures Act and the various witnesses and their attempts at defending those measures.

Secondly was the slip up by none other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner, who inadvertently displayed his political affinity and loyalty to the “progressive” government of Justin Trudeau. This has led to a complaint and investigation by the Canadian Judicial Counsel on the remarks of Mr. Wagner– to determine whether he had had taken the “liberty to express progressive consensus at the expense of judicial neutrality”.

However, let’s first deal with the Senate hearings, which at times bordered on farce as government officials tried to justify and explain the imposition of the Act in the fight against those dastardly convoy protestors. Otherwise known as the insurrection that never was. Highlights included the fact that Marco Mendocino, the Minister of Public Safety, said that the police “requested” the imposition of the Emergencies Act, the clear inference being that the police were out of options and needed the government to come to their rescue. It has now been established that he deliberately misled the public, the police never asked for it.

As the committee progressed it became obvious to all that the success of the Freedom Convoy was largely due to the failures of senior law enforcement, and the Provincial, Municipal, and Federal governments. They, to put it gently, failed to anticipate and enforce the laws that were always available to them. Commissioner Lucki in her cringe worthy testimony could not, and would not admit to any enforcement failures. Nevertheless, she was forced to confirm under oath that they did not ask for the Emergencies Act. Pushed further in her testimony, she found herself in the position of trying to defend her political masters. She was clearly uncomfortable in criticizing the government, and spent most of her time saying that the Act was in the end beneficial, regardless of how it came about. She did prove herself a diffident public servant to Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals.

It was this failure in enforcing the laws of the day, and then failing to admit to those “sequence of failures that Howard Anglin, writing in the National Post concluded– led to the serious consequences of the police and government combining to use “extraordinary police powers and otherwise unlawful tools of government coercion” to upend which was for the most part a legal protest.

It was in essence “a breakdown in the rule of law”, and this gets to the apparent fundamental shift that is occurring in policing.

The police are the most visible in terms of the upholding the rule of law in this country. When they “fail to enforce the law, or choose not to enforce the law, or enforce the law unevenly, the rule of law is compromised, and the perception of the public and the need for the law to be seen as being fair and consistent is irreparably harmed.” The RCMP for many years now has clearly fully embedded itself with the progressive wing of the Liberal party; its policies and operations designed and implemented to appease the current political narrative and to be sensitive to the political base of the Liberal party.

Mr. Anglin cites several examples where the police reacted and acted on the direction of the governing party. How else he asks could one explain the lack of enforcement for the blockades in 2020 of the Coastal gas pipeline, the broad daylight vandalism of statutes whether it be the Queen, Sir John A, or Edgerton Ryerson? How did the downtown Eastside of Vancouver become the current hive of violence and destruction under the watchful eye of the Vancouver City Police, other than through the lack of enforcement of bylaws, drugs, and public mischief. They too have been caught up in substituting a social democratic approach for a clear enforcement need.

In 2013 the blockade of CN Rail by Indigenous led protestors, was ignored by the police. Anglin points to Judge Brown of the Ontario Courts who asked why the Ontario Provincial Police were coming to court for an injunction, when they already had the powers of arrest to stem the blockades. It got even worse in Judge Brown’s court because the police later still failed to enforce the injunction. The police who were still being hoisted on the petard of the woke led Judge Brown had to chastise the police that “discretion in how to enforce the injunction is not extended to not enforce the injunction at all”.

We have since seen the torching of churches, the wanton eco-terrorist destruction of a pipeline site, and the broad daylight destruction of historical statues; all examples of laws not being enforced. Choices to enforce clearly now being dictated by the political arms of municipal, Provincial and Federal governments. The current managers and executives in the policing world have been promoted, and have recognized that the way to climb the ladder is to become one with the liberal philosophy which is clearly the flavour of the day. They recognized that one must obey the woke prescription, suborn any principles of truth, and ignore the reality brought to your attention by the rank and file.

Anglin, who is a research professor at Oxford, defines the rule of law as ” a society that is governed by predictable rules, duly enacted by accountable officials, publicly disseminated, and consistently enforced”. The rule of law, in particular the enforcement of those laws, are critical to a functioning democracy. The police have in effect now been compromised at the expense of political expediency.

The second example are the statements made recently to the Le Devoir newspaper on April 9th, by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Richard Wagner. When speaking about the “Freedom Convoy” and the imposition of the Emergencies Act said that the: “forced blows against the State, Justice, and democratic institutions, like the one by protestors, should be denounced with force by all figures of power in the country”. He describes the convoy as the “the beginning of anarchy where some people have decided to take other citizens hostage”.

Apparently this learned judge was unaware that there is a canon in the practise of judges summed up in the Ethical Principals for Judges which says that: “statements evidencing pre-judgement may destroy impartiality”. In other words, judicial comment on political matters is totally inappropriate.

It could not be more relevant in light of the Committee hearings. There are currently four legal challenges to the Emergency Act imposition, some of which may wind their way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where Mr. Wagner would sit in judgement. His self-admitted bias is obvious. A group of lawyers have filed a complaint with the Canadian Judicial council. Bruce Pardy, a Professor of Law at Queens University says that Wagner has taken “liberty to express progressive consensus at the expense of judicial neutrality”.

Some say we should not be surprised. After all he is an appointee of Mr. Justin Trudeau. He was preceded by the very liberal and also very woke Beverly McLachlin.

Mr. Wagner has a bit of history when it comes to being and wanting to be “progressive”. In an article in 2018 with the Toronto Star he said that “his court was the most progressive in the world” and must lead in promoting “progressive moral values”. Professor Wanjiru Njoya in writing about the Wagner statement has “narrowed reasonable to progressive ideals alone” that only “progressive perspectives are reasonable”.

It would also be arguable that the Supreme Courts decisions leave little doubt in which way the Supreme Court seems to lean to the progressive agenda. In the news recently was the R vs. Bissonette decision where Wagner, writing for the majority said that the conviction of Bissonette, in the killing of six in a mosque in 2017, and sentencing him to consecutive life sentences was an act of “cruel and unusual punishment”. He said that the sentence “presupposes that the offender can not be rehabilitated” and was “degrading in nature and incompatible to human dignity”. It was he wrote contrary to Section 12 of the Charter of Rights.

In R vs Sullivan this same court struck down Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code which said that “automatism” is not a defence to assault or bodily harm cases. In two separate cases two individuals who had voluntarily taken levels of drugs which rendered them in a state of automatism were now wanting to use it as a defence. Sullivan one of the defendants had attacked his mother with a knife, Chan the other defendant had stabbed and killed his father while high on magic mushrooms. The court ruled that this section was unconstitutional as it violates Section 7 and 11 (d) and that they should have been allowed to use this defence.

In a case of the Beaver Creek Cree Nation who is suing for damages to their hunting and fishing rights, the Court echoed the political mantra of the day. In this case the Band, who had already spent over $3 million in their case, felt that they should receive “advance costs” which is where the legal fees are paid in advance by the government, when it is “a matter of public interest”. A rare and unusual request to be sure, and one that is rarely granted. The Supreme Court overruled the Alberta Court of Appeal and said that the government should pay up front, saying the “pressing needs must be understood in the spirit of reconciliation and from the perspective of a First Nation, because it would have its own spending priorities”. The government was ordered to pay $300,000 to the Band to assist them in the suit against this same government.

It is not important whether you agree with the actual decisions or not, what is important is that the political sentiment of this current government in power has now been imposed on the police in their policies and operations, as well as to the highest court in the land.

The independence of both arms of government is questionable if not compromised. Their impartiality in the application of the laws of the land has been severely damaged. If one believes that a democracy has at its core the bindings of law, one could easily argue that our very democracy may be being damaged. One has to believe that all are treated equally under the law.

Contrary to the idea of fairness and an un-biased police force, the RCMP has been busy with the apparent priority of re-writing its “core values”, saying “society has changed, the policing landscape has changed”

“Professionalism” has now been replaced with “excellence” and that they now recognize their historical role “especially when it comes to Indigenous people”. Now the RCMP will “value and promote reconciliation, diversity and inclusion…”

It leaves little doubt as to who is now guiding the RCMP. This ball of tightly wrapped righteousness is rolling down the societal hill, carried by its own momentum, and it is unclear as to who would ever dare to step in its way.

These are disconsolate times, good reason to be bitchy.

Photo courtesy of Government of Prince Edward Island via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

It’s Time to get to the Children

Like most of the general public last May 2021, when there was an announcement by the Tk’emlups te Seccwepmc band that they had “discovered”, through the use of ground radar, 215 “unmarked graves”, I was taken aback, and a little confused. How is this possible, how could they have gone un-detected for so long?

In a few short days, the discovery and the original news reports began morphing and transitioning, building to a crescendo of evermore outlandish and suspicious headlines. The “unmarked graves” quickly turned into “mass graves”. The allegations captured news eyes from around the world and the international headlines began to follow suit. One of the first, the prestigious New York Times, the liberal media conscious of the United States, reported on the “mass graves” that had been found on the Kamloops Residential school grounds.

The use of the terminology “mass” graves is a tricky one. In most peoples minds and in the current lexicon, it infers criminal activity, the nefarious and clandestine disposal of bodies. It conjures up, in this case, the horrific image of children meeting a brutal and homicidal end. As the months have now turned into a year most of that which was an implied– all those reports that had stirred the loud voices –turns out to be inaccurate and much less than the reports had suggested.

Terry Glavin writing for the National Post, in a recent and well researched article dated May 26th of this year, wrote about the extent and breadth of the misperception. He puts the responsibility for the exaggeration and the inflammatory headlines squarely at the feet of the National press. It was the press he argues that turned the headlines even contrary to the original press releases that had been issued by the various bands at the time. As an example, the Kamloops Band initially spoke of bodies “buried on site”, and it was the press, both television and print, who began to twist the wording to one that was more suitable for them and the headline writing editors. As Glavin points out time has now shown that there was “no mass murder”, “no evidence of mass murder” and “no evidence of concealment”. In fact for those children that died there, they were not returned to their original home for the rather mundane reason of it being a “cost-saving measure”; not to hide what had gone on.

The repercussions and the political and social media churn after the reported “discovery” moved into high gear, and the Liberals who clearly govern by headline could not wait to be seen as pre-eminent keepers of our social and political conscious. They wanted to play to their constituency. Canada Day was cancelled and the flags were put to half-mast for over five months. Apologies were demanded and received, tears flew out of the eyes of every politician standing in front of a bank of microphones. None dared to question even the slimmest of facts. Investigative journalism was non-existent.

The secondary results of the outrage, the burning of churches, the toppling of statues, and the bellicose demands for “reconciliation” reached a fevered pitch. Every news report had to include the tears of the Indigenous elders, stories of torture and abuse, and had to decry “colonization”. It was the accepted script. As the words and terminology ramped up, the term “genocide” began to gain acceptance in liberal circles. It turned out to be a step too far, and it was then that some push back began. Including the residential schools with the likes of Auschwitz was beyond the pale, even for the fringe. Somewhat un-deterred “genocide” changed into the more acceptable “cultural genocide”.

What was really discovered of course, was “undocumented deaths”.

This is not to deny that the endemic deaths of children, especially in the late 19th century were at unfathomable levels, some estimates reaching 20% of the children who had attended the schools. They were in fact dying of malnutrition, tuberculosis, and influenza. The conditions were deplorable at the schools run by the Churches but the deaths were “not a surprise”. In fact 100 years ago, the Department of Indian affairs head resigned because of the number of deaths from tuberculosis, in his mind had reached unsupportable levels.

The conditions at the schools has in point of fact been exhaustively explored for decades: inquiries, public hearings, criminal cases, settlements and Federal investigations. The largest and now most pointed to was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; which ran for over seven years, from 2008-2015.

In that report, using the numbers that they produced, the following was revealed for the years 1890-1969:

3,021 are listed as being “undocumented deaths” and there is no record of 1391 of those children. 832 died in schools, 418 died at home, 427 in hospital, 90 in non-school situations, and 43 died in a sanatorium.

But, looking at the facts would have tapped down the rhetoric. Rarely does anything get in the way of this Liberal Federal government or in the Provincial political corridors when there is an opportunity to make political statements of empathy. They are all apologists to the core. It plays well. The unglued Indigenous Minister at the time, Carolyn Bennett expressed hope that the finding of the graves would be a “catalyst” like “George Floyd”. Again the inherent implication was that these children were killed.

Since that time, billions of dollars are being spent in one form or another for the “survivors” who suffered at the hands of those who ruled that “white supremacist, colonial settler state”. Two billion dollars in reparations to survivors, a $10,000 “common experience payment” to the 90,000 or so current survivors, an additional $3000 per year for every year they went, and over $200 million for funding “healing and education programs”. That was in 2006.

In 2019 there was a class action suit launched for those that attended day school, returning home everyday after school. That allowed for those survivors to be paid between $10,000 and $200,000 depending on the level of “abuse” claimed. Recently in a third suit settlement, “survivors” and “descendants of survivors” who died before May 30, 2005 can now also apply for compensation.

I will admit as being one who has always been confused how monies and the payment of monies to grandchildren for instance, somehow “reconciles” historical wrong doing but suffice to say that the price for any wrong doing seems to have at the very least been paid and paid in full.

Now, according to Chief Rosanne Casimir of Kamloops, commenting on the one year anniversary says that they have now entered into a new “phase”. The lead investigative group for this matter is now the Band itself, the Mounties there to give “support” only. Even with that said, a debate continues as to whether the bodies should be exhumed at all.

“The remains are there, what more proof do they want” exemplifies that thinking.

All this is of course a tacit admission that this is not as originally inferred a “crime scene”. Chief Casimir now describes it as an “exhumation to memorialization”. The focus is now to find “evidence of remains and link them to their home communities”. Ever so quietly they now seem resigned to the fact that the findings to date do not meet the criteria of anything bordering on a mass grave. The RCMP have already said that they have opened a file, but they are not actively investigating, clearly believing from the outset that this was not a crime scene. Garry Gotfriedson, a “survivor”, and head of the Committee, is even quoted as saying “all of us that attended the schools already knew that they (the bodies) were there”.

So the headlines that bounced around the world have now come full circle. The remains of these children have gone from being a symbol of a Church led criminal conspiracy to becoming a political lever, pawns in the game of “reconciliation”, pawns elicited to generate legal apologies. The deaths of children by some form of criminal behaviour is almost unthinkable but it is those thoughts and inferences which are now being used in various political arenas. Translating this narrative to various forms of reconciliation is the base of every political and economic Indigenous demand. It is unseemly. It should be criticized, not condoned.

Despite the recent announcements there is no current timeline on the exhumation of the bodies which is unlikely to yield little if any evidence of criminality or wrong-doing. Everyone knows that. They also know that the story will be reconstituted when that exhumation process begins (if ever) and that the results could actually water down the current political Liberal accepted narrative.

A thirteen person “committee” has been assigned by the Kamloops band to oversee the exhumation; the first stage being the “oral telling by elders who survived the school”. They will then use that information to begin collecting DNA from those survivors to try and identify the children remains.

“There is no manual for us to follow, so we are taking things slowly” said the Chair of the Committee Gottfriedson.

It is only after that stage will they begin to exhume and “only at that point will forensic archeologists and archivists begin their work.”

He estimated that the first stages “will take years” and the ever present caveat that the Federal government must fund the entire multi-year operation.

Is the process being prolonged and forecast into many of years to come intentional? Or is it due to a need to control the narrative? They are impolite questions to be sure. But the Indigenous need to be held to some form of accountability, both to the makeup and conduct of the investigation and its eventual outcome. Reporting on those findings and being questioned as to the process is also part of that expectation.

The grieving has to be subsumed and the political staging replaced by the real need to get to the children. At the very least you could give them back their dignity and their identity in their deaths.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons by GotoVan – Some rights reserved

“Given what we had…”

This simple, semi-apologetic phrase, has become the background theme weaving through all the testimony at the Portapique “Mass Casualty Commission” in Nova Scotia.

I have written previously about the Commission and the obvious misgivings which had surfaced after the government tried to review the twenty-two deaths in private. The government was deaf to the mass of public sentiment, did not predict the hue and cry and accusations of cover-up, but reluctantly in the end, gave in to its now current public format. But again, this was only after being pilloried in the press by the victim families.

It is indeed a compelling story, but one laden with unfathomable and uncomfortable sadness, and the government was clearly reluctant to tell it. That reluctance is still there, reflected in the current set-up of the Commission who is casting a gauzy lens over the testimony. This is a watered down version of what normally constitutes an “inquiry” in the way it is structured, the way it accepts evidence, and the mind-set of the Commission members themselves.

It was predicted then and it seems to be coming to fruition now, that what happened in Portapique was both an abhorrent event, and an aberration; a set of circumstances that is not likely to repeat itself on any regular basis, and a series of events that most police officers through the course of their careers will likely never encounter and likely never anticipate.

The circumstances were unique but the police response as it is unfolding before the Commission points to the “system” and “structure” issues which have been plaguing the RCMP for many, many years. Could it have been be done differently, surely, nothing is ever perfect. Some would and could argue that there were no apparent problems in the police response, that they did the best with “what they had”. Before one delves into the possible problems in the police response, there are some other just as pertinent observations after watching several hours of testimony.

First and foremost, there is the Commission structure itself, which in this “inquiry” is clearly more an exercise in victim identification and the proffering of support more than a need to discern facts. The very name “Mass Casualty” seems to suggest something less than the horrific killing spree it actually turned out to be. The hushed hearing room tones, the condolences, prayers, tears, group hugs, all permeate the atmosphere of the Commission and all of those that come before it. The police, as is apparently the accepted belief in these times are now being included as victims. Unable to recover from having seen, heard or participated in that night of a thousand hours. Broken and deformed by violence, bodies laying on driveways, houses and cars in flames around them providing the only light. A never ending and surreal series of scenes fitting of a Pekinpah movie. However, when everyone is a victim, where does one turn, where is there any room for self-examination?

Is this Commission trying to expose or is it trying to ameliorate the circumstances. Are we trying to learn from the incident or simply trying to provide support and counsel. And that is where this Commission begins to shred, caught between the dichotomy of grief for all versus victim rage. The Commission espouses a “trauma informed approach”, clearly currently less interested in pointing a finger than giving a hug. This may work for those observing and for those support groups that surface endlessly when tragedy strikes. The problem is that it is not what the families of those slain want.

This approach has resulted in the Commission allowing group or panel testimony, remote video testimony, and declarations of fact that have been pre-determined by Commission investigators prior to the hearings. The Commission has ruled that police officers or witnesses with “bona fide wellness concerns” need to be accommodated –and should therefore not have to withstand the usual rigors of cross-examination by the lawyers of the victim families.

As a result, the families of the victims have now decided to boycott the hearings. From any viewpoint this could not be considered a good look or outcome for the Commission.

It has been announced that the Commission has decided that the evidence of Andy OBrien and Brian Rehill will be pre-recorded over Zoom; and only Commission counsel will be able to ask them questions. There is no reason given, as this of course is private medical or psychological information. S/Sgt Brian Rehill was the Risk Manager working in the Operations Centre when this file was generated. Sgt Andrew O’Brian was the Operations NCO for Bible Hill Detachment, the detachment which encompasses Portapique. Both these persons clearly played key roles and should under normal inquiry or civil circumstances be cross-examined. That said both could very well be suffering from psychological trauma. And therein lies the investigative dilemma.

S/Sgt Bruce Briers did testify and was the officer who took over from Rehill in the Operations Center at 0700 am the following morning. Briers testimony was concise, compelling, rational, and at times emotional. His early service was spent in Labrador and Newfoundland, once a polygraph operator and at the time of the Portapique incident had spent four years in the Risk Managers role. His responses to questions were professional and honest. Briers, became emotional when talk became what could have been done to prevent the whole disastrous set of circumstances– when he reflected back on what the community could have done prior to the incident.

In the hours of testimony that has been watched to date, suffice to say that all the officers testifying came across well and well-intentioned. They were honest in saying that night they were doing the best they could with “given what they had”. There was exasperation and futility expressed in some of their answers, and sometimes outright anger, that the system and the structure of the RCMP in their operations is flawed and that night mass confusion and exasperation had resulted in a delayed and confused response.

Again, not the fault of the officers involved, as Briers testified, they were being fed a fire hose of information that was being funnelled through a garden hose. The picture as told by Briers, by Cpl Mills the ERT commander, by Jeff West and Kevin Surette the Critical Incident Commanders, and by others was one where there was problems trying to establish a clear line of command, no unified reporting structure, and insufficient resources –all of which worked to the advantage of a mad man, a denturist, who in high school wanted to be a cop (according to a source), but now just wanted to kill.

These types of problems and issues of disconnect have all been heard before, through other inquiries, other Coroner’s inquests, and assorted criminal trials in one form or another over several years. All of course with the benefit of honed 20/20 hindsight. Too many in “command” working from an assortment of unconnected software programs that when the crisis hit and stopped being a “table top” exercise it distilled down to paper charts and felt markers and a flukey run-in with the killer at a gas station.

For years the RCMP has covered under-funding, inexperience, and under-resourcing with a series of one-off solutions. They add layers and layers of supervision as a form of compensation for inexperience and sporadic training. If the experience or skill set is not there, give a course or a webinar to cover it off. Centralize, de-centralize and the integration of resources have all been initially prompted by a need to cover off a fundamental shortfall, whether it be in resourcing or experience.

Software and technology as part of the communication and reporting systems has proven no different. The inability to orchestrate uniformity has led to multiple systems; CAD, PROS, CIIDS, MWS, and Pictometry. Municipal forces don’t necessarily share with the Federal force, and some RCMP Provinces are different from other RCMP Provinces. As an example, Halifax city police use Versadex instead of PROS or PRIME to report. Therefore for Portapique, the RCMP had no direct access to the Halifax file information. Layers of software programs, multiple data bases, multiple avenues to access, none of them synthesized into one coherent product.

Then add a radio communication system that is not capable of being 100% effective, dead spots, no cellular coverage. The original attending members excited, shouting without pre-announcing themselves, protocols always forgotten in the mad need to be heard.

Jeff West and Kevin Surette were the “Critical Incident Commanders” assigned to the file. A “scribe” for the Commander was assigned as protocol dictated. They were both from out of the area, in fact Surette was a 2 or 3 hour drive from Portapique. Suffice to say they had no personal or direct knowledge of the geographic area of Portapique.

The Critical Incident Commanders have their own command triangle and falling under them is the ERT team, and the Crisis Negotiation Team. After ERT comes the uniform officers, the General Investigation Section and the Major Crime Units. It was at 10:42 pm that S/Sgt Halliday the Acting Operations Officer calls for ERT and the Critical Incident Team. As the calls went out, others now got involved on the periphery, and included, the District Commander, the District Policing Officer, and the District Advisory NCO (the “Danco”) S/Sgt Addie MacCallum. A call to Air Services in Moncton tells them that the helicopter is “unavailable”. Of course.

For a number of years now, all of policing management has fallen in love with the term and idea of a “Command Centre”. The bigger the event the more Command Centers. (As an example, during the Olympics there were no less than three Command Centers)

Often they are large trucks, RV’s and the like, all suitably emblazoned with the logos and community minded sponsors. Or they pick a community hall, a firehall to accommodate the sure to be descending legion of experts and expertise. In this case they chose the Great Village Firehall (they had initially picked the Bass River Firehall but then realized it was in the “hot zone” and had to change locations).

The Critical Incident team arrives at the Firehall at 0100 hrs, more than two hours after the initial call. They initiate their “critical incident package”. In the beginning they are working off portable radios, awaiting a base station to arrive, and in fact often have to stand beside a window so that they have radio coverage. Their planning and tracking tool consists of a series of white boards and felt markers or as Commission counsel likes to refer to as “The Boards”. They have no laptop with them.

The ERT team first goes to the Command Post. The Critical Incident commanders worry about needing to make a firm radio announcement that they are now “in command”. There seems to be much confusion on the air waves at this point, one frustrated officer pointedly asks “who is in command here?”.

The Critical Incident Command strategy comes from their training in “SMEAC”. Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Command. This is police operational manual and acronym strategy at its finest, and this stuff makes most operational police officers ears hurt and eyes water. It makes sense in a classroom and rarely translates to efficiency.

Of course, none of this is the fault of the officers involved, West and Surette were doing what they were taught, it is what they are told is the latest thinking in a time of crisis, it is part and parcel of the “National Course Standards” after all.

It is clear that the whole mobile command centre structure needs to be re-thought. Is it time for a fully suited-up command centre that is available on a permanent basis, one equipped with all the technology and a set of unified technology programs?

Secondly, one needs to get rid of all of the supervisors. The operational triangle, with uniform at the base is now upside down. It is top heavy, bureaucratic, inflated, all at the expense of the base which is the front line. The uniforms, the actual first responders need to be made into the priority, the heavy end of the hammer, where the most experienced and skilled are promoted, reside and prosper. The supervisors or those that need to be in control in these type of situations needs to be pushed down to the lowest level, no different than the theory of quick response developed under Columbine.

Gabriel Wortman came to an end, because he ran out of gas in the stolen vehicle he was driving; and because of some keen observations and commendable actions of a dog man and an ERT member, Ben MacLeod and Craig Hubley who were travelling together, and had also stopped for gas. Hours and hours of terror came to an end about twenty seconds later.

Wortman was not stopped by the structure or the organization that had been put in place to apprehend him. He was stopped by luck and coincidence. Cpl Mills of the ERT team in testimony called it a “broken organization”. He was referring to the treatment of his team members after the incident, but he just as easily could have been referring to resourcing, communication systems or the organizational structure impediments.

Once again, look to the top if one wants to assign blame, not to the men and women working the shifts.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Chester902 – Some Rights Reserved.

Policing in Canada’s LaLa Land

Hitting the headlines in the past couple of weeks was the fact that the NDP led government of British Columbia released a report by the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act , dated April 2022, entitled “Transforming Policing and Community Safety in British Columbia”.

Fairly or unfairly, most times these types of reports receive little or no attention. This report by ten MPP’s seemed to garner headlines for two primary reasons; one being that both of the current political parties produced a bi-partisan report in a rare act of consensus; the implication being that this report could therefore actually result in action. Secondly, it was news because one of its eleven recommendations was that the currently contracted RCMP should be replaced as the Provincial level police force.

It is still a government report of course, so it will likely atrophy on those always burgeoning government shelves. Especially a report with especially grand recommendations. Even In the body of this ninety-six page report they state that enactment of their recommendations will take: “many years and successive parliaments to enact”. So if you are a bettor, bet the under, as the odds of retaining the political attention of successive governments are not good.

In terms of full disclosure, few of you who on occasion read this blog would be shattered to learn that there is a belief, that this once proud organization is structurally flawed and needs to be re-built. Nothing less than a tear down– if there is to be any hope of reformative change. If that is not possible, unlikely, or more accurately never undertaken, then there is little cogent argument against having the RCMP replaced in the Province of BC or any other contracted Province.

This current proposed structural re-alignment is not the first time that this has either been proposed. So no one should be shocked by a recommendation of this kind.

What is shocking is an actual reading of this report reveals some clear and deeply flawed assertions, some mis-held perspectives and is more a reflection of “woke” in-breeding than thoughtful contemplation.

What is truly appalling is the recommendations in this report which are not being talked about. Recommendations which are aimed at totally altering the policing structure in this province to the benefit of a single favoured political group. Even though they state that the goal was to work towards “modernization and sustainability”, the flaw and subjective bias in this report is revealed quickly at the very beginning of this report.

In their words there is a need to determine the “scope of systemic racism with policing agencies” and that their study must be “consistent with the United Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. Their underlining principle therefore is formed around the “increasing widespread awareness of systemic racism in policing…(therefore) transformal change is required”. This is of course a perspective that those in policing circles, if brave enough, would categorically dispute. Unfortunately, police leadership in this country are proving themselves to be sheep not shepherds.

To be fair one can not accuse this committee of not spending a great deal of time listening (and tax dollars) in the pursuit of their truth. They list over four hundred and ten agencies and individuals who came before them over the course of eighteen months. Predictably, there were the usual organizations, those that seem to appear before every committee: Civil Liberties, social workers, Downtown Eastside Women’s centre with a group called “Red Women Rising”, numerous Indian bands throughout the Province, Pivot Legal Society, and even the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre .

The police were also more than adequately represented: the RCMP, the Chiefs of Police, various Municipal police agencies, Vancouver City Police, the Pacific Training Centre, Depot Division of the RCMP, Nelson Police Department, and the list goes on. One has to wonder what these policing groups thought of the final report and whether it reflected their views in any semblance.

This smorgasbord of agencies and individuals led the committee to come up with eleven recommendations based on hearing “clear evidence of systemic racism in policing as well as the colonial structure of police services”. Ironically, they also heard that many of the Indigenous communities were both “over-policed and under served” –all in the same breath.

The “clear evidence” of systemic racism is a little more difficult to find in the report. There were muddled explanations of that evidence, such as the one by the Human Rights Commissioner who found there were “patterns of behaviour..that create and maintain the power of certain racial groups over others”. How one patterns the entire report on a presumption, without definitive evidence of the underlying premise, is manifestly frustrating.

The police agencies appearing before the Committee, with little doubt talked about things such as service delivery, oversight, accountability, and funding. There was talk of the mental health and addiction issues, and the recommendations coming from that part of the world are also highly predictable. More resources, more funding.

So what are the Eleven recommendations? They are listed here as they appear in order in the report. I paraphrase them here, in the interest of brevity.

Leading the recommendations, first and foremost, is not the creation of a Provincial Police force but:

  1. That the Indigenous have direct input into the structure and governance of police services. The Indigenous need to be involved in the drafting of a revised Police Act.

The Indigenous clearly have now garnered a special advisory relationship in all matters of government whether it be pipelines, the environment, climate change, or lumber and mining, and this now continues into policing. Special laws and special courts already exist, and now their wish is for their own police departments. Their claimed expertise seems limitless. On page 64 of the report, they go even further in that there was a need to “establish robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight bodies…in all jurisdictions”

2. The formation of a BC wide Provincial Police Force.

This is explained as now being needed primarily because of the “fragmentation” of services. The report authors also point to the needs of of consistent education and training and the sometimes jurisdictional boundaries which interfere with communication and that consistency.

3. That the Indigenous have direct input into their police “service structure and governance”.

What the authors imagine is that the Indigenous be allowed to have their own self-administered policing services as well as the full governance over those services.

This recommendation also includes a revision of the type of training and education that will be required for all police services. In effect extending programs such as “Circle of Understanding”. In anticipation of this being a successful venture they hypothesize that the Indigenous police services may be able to expand and offer up their services to other non-Indigenous neighbourhoods and jurisdictions who are in close proximity. Logistically just to be clear, in this Province there are 13 municipal departments, and 65 RCMP municipal agencies. There are 198 “distinct First Nations”. Does that mean a potential 198 new police departments? (One wonders how one points to an apparent problem of the fragmentation of police services in the province and then recommends further fragmentation.)

The Indigenous want to be involved in oversight to “observe and oversee in (all) cases involving Indigenous peoples”.

4. That there be some revision of the Mental Health Act which includes integrating Mental Health worker attendance into the 911 dispatch system. They also recommend that there be “increasing investment in social services”.

5. That there be “equitable access to high quality police…” …which is “informed by the community”. It is not real clear as to what this even means.

6. An equitable shared “funding Model”.

7. Police Education to be increased.

8. The need to collect and report “disaggregated race-based” demographics. This is interesting because for a number of years, questions directed as to race involvement in crime were in and of themselves discriminatory. The intention here is that if they gather this disaggregated evidence they will be able to prove that there is racial inequality in the enforcement of laws in this Province.

9. Civilian oversight. Not easily done but difficult to argue against and most police officials would counter by saying that there is already policing/civilian oversight.

10. Review of the Mental Health Act.

11. The establishment of an all-party standing committee on policing and community safety.

Of course this report is much more effusive under each of these categories, but you get the intended direction.

The National Police Federation are already out on the hustings, running countering media spin, no doubt apoplectic at the thought of their union representation taking a 4,000 member hit if in fact a Provincial Force was formed. They are reverting to their tried and true arguments, calling the recommendation a “little odd” and a “little premature”. After all they say they have done “waves and waves of independent research in policing in British Columbia, and consistently British Columbians have told us they were very satisfied with policing they receive from the RCMP”. Of course it is not independent research, but that may be nitpicking, but they too are missing the point. This is not about individual police officers being liked or doing a good job. This is about the structure of an Ottawa headed police force being inert and ineffectual in terms of its ability to police portions of this country.

The possibility of a Provincial replacement force, first surfaced in 1994 under Judge Wally Oppal. It has now surfaced a couple of decades later, and will likely re-re- surface again a couple of decades from now. There is little need to concern ourselves with this recommendation.

As to the other recommendations. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government would review the report and its recommendations and consult with “community groups” and “First Nation leaders”. Apparently you as the actual police, have no input here as to the recommendations.

This report is another ridiculous and over bearing attempt by the government to genuflect to the dialogue of the enlightened, to bow to a special interest group, regardless of the actual needs of policing. It would establish a fragmented policing structure, where different laws and different levels of enforcement would create two separate classes of individuals, laws and their enforcement based on race, not on equality before the law.

This report should be buried on the very last shelf in the dingy basement of the Legislature.

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Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons by Stuart Butterfield – Some Rights Reserved

Oh…Lighten up!

This is an admittedly delicate subject. In fact, there are few topics in this broad wide world which engender more rancorous discourse and will inevitably lead to someone being termed “harsh” or “unfair.” This is a subject not broached in respectful company, especially in this era of hand wringing sensitivity.

I am speaking about the problem of obesity. In particular, the problem of obesity among police officers.

The fat burning question is: are there some police officers who are too “fat” for the job? It’s a question that is clearly part of a bigger question –whether police need to be in premium shape in order to fulfill their duties. If one assumes that there is a physical element to the job, and there is no convincing evidence that upper management in the RCMP concede this; this seems like an easy question to answer.

What prompted this broad question is a policy which has been instituted, in of all places, the State of Texas, the Lone Star State of big vistas and big state boundaries. The people who run the Texas Rangers, a very well-regarded police agency we should add, has now come out and dared to go where others fear to tread. They in essence have implemented a “chubby list” –for want of a better term. They are apparently now prepared to shame some of their officers into maintaining certain health and fitness standards and have drawn a line in the sand. If not met, the officers could ultimately face suspension.

Before people start writing to this blog in protest, the least we should do is explore this policy that has been implemented.

The Department of Public Safety for the state of Texas oversees the Texas State Troopers. The “Troopers” are about 4,000 officers strong and are spread throughout the state. The Department is implementing these guidelines because they feel, and have concluded that part of a police officers job is to have a “command presence”. In other words you must look the part, as it commands respect and cooperation and therefore enables one to do their job better.

As much as we hate to admit it, one would think that most police officers would agree that this is in fact the case. Someone who is overweight, or sloppy in their appearance will seemingly not get the street respect often needed to control or coerce, rightly or wrongly; it just seems to be a fact. There have been psychological studies which in fact back up this theory and of course it is also true outside of policing in the “real” world.

So what the Department of Public Safety has dared to do was state that male officers must have a waist line of 40″ or under, and a female officer must have a stated waistline of 35″. I should say in terms of full disclosure, after 34 years in policing, the last ten years of my service meeting this standard would have been a real struggle. With middle age the downward spiral inevitably begins, or that’s what most would blame- it couldn’t possibly be the two in the morning hamburgers or muffins.

Now, we should also point out that the Department has allowed for exceptions to the rule, so it is on a bit of a sliding scale which takes into consideration; height, weight and levels of body fat. When they reviewed all their officers, 213 failed the test, a mere 5.3%. Of those 213 only two had failed the original fitness test and therein lies the rub and the argument.

Nevertheless, the officers that couldn’t meet the girth guidelines have until December 1, 2023 to slim down. Until then, they will be barred from promotion, lose any overtime opportunities, and could be re-assigned. If they is no final compliance layoffs could follow. They will all have counsellors available who will put them on less sugar diets and will encourage and teach them how to avoid fast foods. All of it geared of course, to a goal of solid physical conditioning and a healthier lifestyle. All of those involved must document their progress and be prepared to share their health records.

Of course there are protests. In 2019 the Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association launched a lawsuit describing the terms of the policy “arbitrary” and “unfair to women”. The lawsuit was dismissed, but only because at that date and time nobody had actually lost their job over not meeting these conditions. (One would have thought that the lawyers for the Association could have pointed this out in the beginning). Arbitrary of course means random and unpredictable, which doesn’t seem to apply, the rules are pretty black and white and addressed to all, and all levels of management. I am assuming the “unfairness to women” is being argued due to the vagaries of child birth etc., which seems somewhat legitimate, but maybe not totally.

Clearly, there are holes in the policy as currently being reported, but unfortunately we do not have the full policy in front of us. As an example, a 5’2″ female with a 34″ waistline would likely be termed obese in normal measurement standards, but in this instance they would they meet the guidelines? How would that work? Again, we aren’t privy to all the vagaries of their current measurement system.

An interesting question is could we imagine a similar policy in Canada?

When this blogger was beginning his career with the Mounties in the late 1970’s and stationed in J Division (New Brunswick) there was a “fatty list”. And admittedly, some wore the designation with a tinge of pride. Those on the list were determined to be overweight and given a time line to get rid of their expanding bellies. Of course, like a lot of Mountie human resource mandates, there was no enforcement or follow thru, and the policy just died on the vine, never to be heard of again. Even back then, in those now archaic times, management did not have the fortitude to take on this subject.

Nowadays all police agencies demand that one pass a fitness test to gain entry. That is routine and standard. The “PARE” is the Mountie grind it out rite of passage, and all the other police departments seem to have similar tests to get in.

Once in the rank though one is free to take part in any smorgasbord or buffet that comes before you. Oh sure there are physicals every few years, but no one seems to be called up for being overweight. (Covid should have proven to us that obesity is a significant medical condition so one wonders how doctors overlook this, or more precisely ignore it in terms of one’s ability to do the job.)

The only real negative for being out of shape, other on a personal level, is that over time you may be forced to re-order uniforms at your expense to cover your waistline. Casual observation leads one to believe that having to buy new uniform every few years or so doesn’t seem to have been much of a deterrent.

The poor Mounties in terms of their looks are already behind the eight ball. The Mountie uniform has to be considered one of the ugliest in the policing universe, khaki on blue with a yellow stripe would only be something that could be approved by people who did not need to wear it. If you have a larger than normal circumference, then you throw on that bullet proof vest over top, with notebooks, pens, and assorted papers and you have quite a sight that is sure never to grace the pages of Vogue. We won’t even mention the hat. Changes to the uniform have been studied for decades, but everyone knows how that goes.

The municipal agencies seem to fare much better, with the usual dark blue or black shirt and matching pants, and for the most part have a much better uniform presence. And even though technically they have no weight and height standards, they benefit from many applicants for fewer jobs, and discreetly pick and choose those that may fit the uniform “presence” much better.

When I think of the now put upon Texas cops, quite honestly the figure of 5.3% seems low. I have seen many Dallas and Houston cops over the years, and let’s be frank, very few men would have a 38″ waist line. As they used to say about Texas, there are some “big ol boys” down there.

Kidding aside, one would be hard pressed to argue that any policy which encourages better health and fitness should ever be seen as a negative. The problem is drawing the line. Is the Texas line too harsh for application in Canada? Maybe. But right now, the Mounties and other agencies, once one is brought into the blue fold, don’t even have a line in the sand. One would think that there could be a compromise position.

If only the police could be like the fire men and women (those other “first responders”) who can work out while they work and get a good nights rest while on duty. They also eat very well judging by the amount of times I’ve seen the fire trucks parked in front of the grocery store. Let’s face it, it works, they usually look very fit. Jealously will get you nowhere.

In the overall list of problems facing the RCMP in 2022 it will be conceded that this may not be the biggest problem. The Mounties are struggling, the Province of British Columbia has also now announced the possible study and formation of a Provincial Police Force –albeit a long way down the road.

If there is any lesson in this, it should be accepted that policing is a physically tough job. It wears and tears at your body over the years, no matter how much you try to keep in shape. Police should welcome stringent guidelines, not for “presence” but for one’s own personal safety and well being. If implemented in Canada, however, there is little doubt that every police union would fight it– but that may not be a good thing. Food for thought.

Anyways, I am off to the gym. Until next time.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons by Eric McGregor – Some Rights Reserved

The Art of Looking the other Way

Fraud has many formulations and iterations; corruption, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, and outright theft. In this country it has become dispiritingly common place. The blatancy apparent in whichever direction we look. Is this dwindling of basic economic honesty beginning to fester, to grow, and create a doubt. Is there a sense that our democracy and our economy may be crumbling from the bottom up, slowly but methodically. Not by a directed sense of purpose, but rather by our obsessively looking the other way.

Outwardly, those in government corridors, put on a stern and concerned face when confronted with financial matters that go wrong. They give us solace and point to our economic stability, point to our formidable banking institutions, and of course our stable democratic government. But are we rotting through incompetence, disinterest and a lack of investigative desire? Are we being effected not suddenly by a heart attack of malfeasance, but instead a slow eating cancer of general ineptitude.

Fraud, even in its most basic clear cut form is continually around us. Just consider that in a recent survey by Price Waterhouse Coopers it was estimated that half of the companies in Canada report being victims of fraud. When the Covid “waves” hit, how do we ignore and countenance that during the much celebrated Liberal CERB benefit program over $500 million was paid out to persons who were multi-collecting; from CERB, the Canada Revenue Agency, or the Employment and Social Development Canada office.

In terms of just the CERB payments, a recent House Finance committee heard further discouraging testimony that the Auditor General can not even look into the fraudulent obtained payments– for another year– even though they have known about it since 2020. The CRA confirmed that they are not expecting to make a dent in the wrongful payments until 2023, probably about the same time that Federal government workers will actually have to go back to the office. Apparently, we are waiting on the Canada Revenue Agency to get their act together.

Is it a minor problem? You decide. CERB was budgeted to cost $24 billion –it came in at $81.6 billion. In July 2020 Employment and Social Development Canada knew already that $442 million was sent out to 221,320 people in the form of those double payments.

One must always “follow the money.” Where the money goes is where you will find people looking to take benefit from it and see it as an opportunity. The structure of these particular Covid programs created enticing pots of gold. Very little deception was needed.

Since Canada seems “reluctant” to undertake any kind of investigation or go after those that ripped the system, one wondered whether this was a North America wide malaise. Did this exceptional level of forgiveness for the under-handed equally permeate all of the liberal governmental establishments in the U.S. and Canada. As it turns out the American response to the potential for fraud that they too are now uncovering was in fact distinctly different.

In fact, the contrast in our two countries, even though they were running similarly intended programs is startling. If we reflect on the differences in approach and put Canada up to the mirror, our fermenting complacency boldly looks back at us.

Of course, the money amounts in the U.S. are staggering due to the size of their population versus Canada. The PPP as it was called in the U.S. was almost a carbon copy to that of CERB in Canada. (PPP was the Paycheck Protection Plan) The Canadians and the Americans also had more than one plan in effect. For instance, the U.S. also had the Covid disaster relief fund, and the unemployment relief fund.

Before one looks at the numbers, remember that the overall justification in Canada was at the onset of Covid, also echoed by the U.S. government. In Canada sacrificing “security for speed”, getting out the cheques to the populace was more important than the “security” of the system and the quick dispensation of the monies. The U.S. authorities also admit that most of the money was and is, “unrecoverable”.

Unlike Canadians, the Americans are a little more harsh in their language. They have no hesitancy in saying the program was: ” an invitation to fraudsters”, and the “largest fraud in U.S history”. That according to the official who was overseeing the payouts.

The Americans estimate that 10% of the monies paid out under their PPP was fraudulent. (We have seen estimates in this country under CERB of up to 30%). The Americans paid out $800 billion, therefore they estimate that $80 billion was paid out to fraudsters.

In addition, they estimate that $90 billion at a minimum and up to a maximum of $400 billion was taken from the secondary unemployment relief fund. Another $80 billion from a third program, the Covid disaster relief fund. Interestingly, they estimate that at least 1/2 of the stolen funds from the unemployment relief fund were stolen by “international fraudsters”.

Unlike Canadians, the Americans seem upset. They have set up the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee which is headed by General Mike Horowitz. This group has been given a mandate of 10 years to pursue the fraudsters.

Their results so far are in their words “minimal”, with only 178 people “convicted” so far. One wonders if in this country in the last thirty years if we have charged that many with significant fraud. What the investigators have uncovered is that the size and scope of the fraud may be overwhelming, continually expressing surprise on”how blatant it was”.

Using AI programming they are now scanning over 150 million records to identify patterns of fraud, such as the gas station in Houston whose phone number was used for over 150 applications for PPP. The perpetrators are appearing and being charged in increasing numbers; David Hines in Miami took them for $3.9 million; another person $7.2 million, some spending their financial gains on Lamborghini vehicles and mansions. A California couple stole $18 million and eventually pled guilty– the husband getting 17 years in prison, while his wife got 6 years. Yes, in the U.S. they also go to jail.

They have found that the service provider BlueVine, who was contracted to help the government dole out the funds and gave out $4.5 billion bragged about processing applications in less than 5 minutes. They estimate that a stolen identity or a fraudulent single identity could translate into a possible $30,000 in possible claims and benefits. The perpetrators would steal legitimate company names from the internet, inflate the number of employees or create the employees and then apply for the business loans.

One of the more blatant fraudsters was Danielle Miller out of Boston. Taking names from the state website and applying for Covid relief loans allowed her in 40 minutes make $100,000.

There is another myth that is also now also being dispelled. In speaking with experts in the fraud industry and in talking with private businesses they are quickly finding that “trade offs between speed and security” is simply not true. As one person pointed out, if this were true, why wouldn’t large private industries with a consumer facing business and who featured rapid response; why are they not going bankrupt? They describe it as categorically “false” narrative that speed necessitates neglect and oversight.

Of course, maybe none of this could happen in Canada, maybe we are much too honest here.

Auditor General Karen Hogan released a report which included the fact that the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) “focused on delivering the benefit quickly…both organizations understood the rules…” and they “relied on applicants good faith”.

Let’s remember that the Canadian CERB program allowed anyone over the age of 15, who made a minimum of $5,000 in 2019, could apply for $2,000 for a period of 28 weeks; following an extension of the program in August 2020. If that was not enough, once the CERB ended for these folks, the government then directed them to a revamped Employment Insurance Program.

The Auditor General admitted that a “pre-payment screening structure could have been put in place” and that telling the government agencies to “ignore warnings or red flags” of fraud may not have been a good thing. The CRA did open a “snitch line”. The thinking must have been, if they couldn’t find the fraud, maybe the public could lead them to it.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by the end of January 2021 had 8500 cases of CERB related identity theft.

In a 2020 FINTRAC Report made public in November 2021, that the CERB program was “knowingly and actively defrauded ” by scammers, organized crime, and that payments were made to people engaged in illegal or suspicious financial activity”.

Have we learned anything? In 1991 in Vancouver, Murray Pezim was investigated for fraud, the classic pump and dump strategy in mining stocks. In 2022 the U.S. Securities firm (not the Canadian authorities) charged David Siddoo for employing the same system. In 2021 the Cullen Commission exposed billions of dollars in money laundering. Really, nothing has changed.

In this country we are structurally not set up to look for fraud, or any variation of fraud. And if we aren’t looking we are sure to never find anything. The RCMP were recently investigating Trudeau and the Aga Khan who were allegedly influence peddling through elaborate vacations– and lo and behold they found that there are no rules that really apply.

The RCMP which should be the first stop in large scale fraud investigations in this country, as an organization has proven itself time and time again as incapable in the field of economic crime. Investigations in this country are talked about in years, not days, weeks or months. The solution is either that this type of crime is pulled from their organizational mandate, or they need to be dismantled and re-built and resourced to 2021 standards.

Maybe, the general public is willing to let their rage to continue to bubble away just below the surface. The Liberals and the NDP are counting on it. Is it that we are so complacent, so ensconced in our own sphere of security and relative prosperity that we just shrug it off, politically helpless, morally and ethically spent.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Ryan Steele – Some Rights Reserved

Good-bye to Commissioner Lucki?

It has been widely rumoured, keep in mind, one knows what an Ottawa rumour is worth, that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is headed to retirement in June 2022. Let’s say from the outset, I do not know Ms. Lucki personally, have never even seen her in a public forum, so on a personal level one can only wish her a the best in her retirement after a lengthy period of service.

As an interested observer from afar however, or as simply a member of the general public, the time seems appropriate to evaluate her time on the Mountie throne.

In terms of our ability to measure her time and effectiveness, she did not leave us much to go on.

Ms. Lucki was “the leader the Mounties needed” according to Justin Trudeau in 2018; who he judged to be the “absolutely best person for the job, who just happens to be a woman”. The fact that he needed to add “happens to be a woman” is clearly a glimpse in to what Mr. Trudeau saw a pre-requisite for this job.

She was heralded as the 1st “permanent” woman to head the RCMP, her predecessor Bev Busson only being around for a short time in her “temporary” position. (Long enough clearly though to score sufficient points for an eventual Senate seat.)

In 2018 the decade of women advancement in policing was in full bloom much like in all the other government departments across the country. Women were reaching new heights in terms of leadership roles across the organization and at an unprecedented speed. They were in effect being “over-represented” in order for an organization to progress and just as importantly to at the very least be deemed progressive.

In her acceptance of the post as the 24th Commissioner, Lucki outlined her primary plans for “bolstering diversity”and “reconciliation with indigenous persons”. She pointed to her previous successes with the First Nations of northern Manitoba. The speech could have and may have been written by Gerald Butts. No real mention of the brewing problems of contract policing or the upcoming possible unionization of the membership. She, unlike most of her predecessors was a one dimensional candidate, with a singular approach to what ailed the Mounties. Diversity and inclusion would be from the beginning to the end her single mantra.

Her background reflected an insular policing career–in the Peace keeping program in Ottawa, as the head of Depot training centre in Regina, as part of the United Nations protection force in Yugoslavia. None of these positions pointed to a larger understanding of Federal or Provincial policing, the true fundamental core of the RCMP.

The problem of course, like many Federal employees is that Lucki was a liberal in speech only, in knowing the right things to say and where to say them as opposed to knowing the machinations that would be needed to carry out any re-conditioning. She was playing the game of “representation” and “diversity”, without really knowing how she was going to accomplish this, or fully appreciating that the Force that extended past Ottawa didn’t share the same level of concern. Secondly, decades of processes and ingrained cultural history were simply not going to be won over from the confines of a committee room in Ottawa.

In essence she was pulled up by the language of the Woke, then got entangled in the spider-web language of the Woke. Her credence and her dilemma began to unravel once she came under the Liberal magnifying glass of the truly Woke of Ottawa. She aptly demonstrated her conundrum a mere two years later when she flip-flopped on the term “systemic racism”.

She also quickly learned that the Indigenous leadership in this country will turn on you very quickly– should you dare to question their “truth”. Her award for building relationships in Manitoba was as flimsy as the paper on which it was written when confronted by the dialogue of the Indigenous victim. She was caught between knowing that in fact, in the policing world, there is little evidence if any of “systemic racism” by its true definition and on the other side was what she needed to say to appease. She floundered. She knew that if she stated her truth she would have been in full conflict with the people who put her there.

So twenty-four hours later desperate to be on the side of the righteous left, she became a convert, and admitted to “systemic racism”. Unfortunately, she was then asked for examples to prove her conversion and once again, she became the proverbial fish out of water. The example she felt that bolstered her new claim of “systemic racism” was the “height” requirements for Mounties. When someone pointed out that this was more likely “discrimination” rather than “racism” she bumbled once again. The next day, Bill Blair had to come to her rescue and do damage control.

So a mere two years after her start, Perry Bellegarde the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs called for her “resignation”. Apparently her “strong focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation” had failed– the Indigenous now not wanting to “reconcile” with the Commissioner.

She kept trying though. When asked during an interview as a leader of the RCMP what was the toughest decision she faced, she confusingly answered that it was listening to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry testimony. Her need to appease clearly had overwhelmed her ability to even understand the concept of what constitutes a “decision”.

It may have became clear early on to the Liberals, that it may be best if she remained silent and in the background.

Suffice to say that for the last couple of years, we have never had a quieter Commissioner. We went from the somewhat bombastic Paulson to the uncomfortable introvert.

Even when the Force was chastised or lambasted for its lack of leadership, she remained quiet, seemingly unable or incapable to defend. Recently the Information Commissioner of Canada said that “the RCMP is failing in terms of its obligation to ensure Canadians have access to information about its operation and decision making…” that this “lack of action on the part of the RCMP leadership” had been going on for too long.

When a human rights watchdog agency had its requests ignored about the “spying on Indigenous and climate activists” it led to “inexcusable delays” and they accused Lucki of simply ignoring the matter. So the Commissioner who had promised to a program of “listening and learning” wasn’t listening and had not learned that one needs to get ahead of issues. The ongoing examination of the incident in Portapique, is looking like another embarrassment of riches in terms of failures to get things done, at least on a broader level.

Under Lucki, the organization has continued to be inert, unable to act or react, weighed down by a suffocating bureaucracy.

This would have been a difficult time for any Commissioner, it would have taken an extremely strong leader to counter the accepted narrative. Commissioner Lucki clearly did not have that capability. One would have had to at times embarrass the Liberals, stand up to ridiculous assertions, outline the resourcing and staffing difficulties, and point to the failings as well as the successes. She did not or could not do that.

We should also remember that Ms. Lucki was picked by a large panel of seven individuals headed by former Premier of New Brunswick Frank McKenna. How is it that this crew could have felt in those tentative times, that Ms. Lucki was the best choice from across Canada?

One wonders that if there was a Walk of Fame for former Commissioners built outside Leikin Drive –who would get a star or a set of spurs in concrete. Maybe Paulson, if infamy is important, for his crocodile tears on settling the sexual harassment suit and paying out millions of dollars. It was at the very least a memorable media moment.

Elliott who ran into the wall of Mountie intransigence and was apparently given to throwing papers around. Not likely. But then again his intemperance may have been earned.

Zaccardelli who was forced to resign by Harper over the Maher Arar incident for not quite telling the full truth about the RCMP involvement. Again, not likely.

Busson will probably get one after all, she was the first ‘woman” to accept the post, at least temporarily.

One wonders for the next round of Commissioner applications if we are we still in the age of firsts– first woman, first black, first Indigenous, first LGBTQ member? One can only hope that in the next selection for Commissioner we have run out of “first” as being a qualification.

So who will that next Commissioner be? There is another rumour that it may be the current Acting Executive Director of Strategic Policy and Planning Directorate, Alison Whelan. Apparently she is good friends of Lucki, but I am not so sure that Lucki’s pick will carry much weight.

Ms. Whelan is a policy wonk and a long term civilian civil servant in the RCMP. She joined the Federal government as a policy analyst in 2003, then into the RCMP in 2013 to “manage policy development” and to provide “analysis on national security, serious and organized crime.” In 2018 she moved over to National Security and Protective policy. She has a Masters in Political Science from Memorial University in Newfoundland and is co-chair of a task force to create National Hate Crimes Policy Standards as well as an executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Policy, is clearly her noteworthy strength, policy is central to her being, but is the policy bureaucracy of Ottawa the place where we should be looking for change, understanding, and leadership? Would a “civilian” leader be the right choice at this time?

(On the off chance you want to learn more of Ms Whelan– she will participate in a “fireside chat” on May 4th, 2022 at the Law of Policing Conference.)

There have been a long list of Commissioners over they years, none of who’s names usually spring quickly to mind.

Remember Malcolm Lindsay in 1969, after all we named a boat after him.

There was William Higgitt in 1973– we also named a boat after him. He was followed by Nadon in 1977, and yes we named a boat after him as well. Simmonds and Inkster soon followed and we named boats after them. You would have thought we were building a navy.

Nevertheless, as we say bon voyage to Ms. Lucki maybe a new boat is in order or, at least maybe a small raft as she sails into retirement. Maybe, if we built a big raft, we could put the real root of the problem, Mr Trudeau, on the raft with her.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons via Benito Condemi de Flice – Some Rights Reserved

Regina vs. MaCallum

Even with the slapping of Chris Rock by the ridiculous Will Smith, the clap heard around the world, I find it difficult to shift my comedy seeking focus away from the Cirque de Surrey. I last wrote about the antics going on in this city in November of 2021, but I have been drawn back.

Now under the Big Tent is Mayor Doug MaCallum, ably representing the white geriatric set of South Surrey balancing as usual on the high wire of political intrigue. Below trying to dislodge the safety net are some other old white men and women from South Surrey–the Keep the Police in Surrey group. Admission to this circus is being put up by the taxpayers of this often troubled Metropolis.

Mr. MaCallum and this other group have been cajoling and sniping for sometime now over a separate police force for the citizens of Surrey.

The last altercation between the wearing thin placard carriers and the soon to be heading out of office Mayor took place, appropriately enough, in that rough and tumble South Point Save On Foods parking lot. Also known as “the hood” for retirees. These Jets and Sharks forming up for battle on 16th Avenue thankfully didn’t involve guns, knives, or broken bottles; the weapon of choice this time were Michelin radials.

It all started when Mr. MaCallum was shuffling into the grocery store and was then confronted by a car driven by a woman who is one of the spearheads of the Surrey Police Vote/Keep the Police in Surrey group. They were already at the grocery story collecting signatures for their petition, and no doubt saw the leader of the Safe Surrey Coalition fortuitously heading their way. She stopped the car and began a verbal argument with the crusty mayor who was none too pleased to see the group at his grocery story where he likes to buy his hamburger trying to get signatures to stop his crusade for a separate police force.

At some point the car turned and drove away, leaving MaCallum hollering that he had just been run over, or more specifically, claiming that she had hurriedly turned away and in so doing glanced her car’s bumper off his leg and then ran over his foot. In a t.v. interview he claims he went to the hospital and was checked out. On this video news coverage he also demonstrated for the camera, the now obvious limp in his walk. When the police officers attended they asked Mr. MaCallum if he wished to press charges and exhibiting his usual stubborn disposition said that he would, after all, he was a “victim” of a heinous crime.

Of course, this is where the file, or the investigation of this complaint, should have come to a grinding halt. The attending officers should have seen that the physical damage to the Mayor, if any, was minor if at all. They should have spoken with both parties, explained to the mayor that furthering this investigation was a waste of time, a waste of police resources, and a culmination of two childish acting individuals trying to further their cause. Nothing was to be gained by going further.

That of course didn’t happen, apparently common sense was not too common that day, either because of the insistence of the Mayor, or the intrepid police officers were bored and in order to get rid of it, escalated this “political file” to the plainclothes unit. In a city where there is rampant drug and gang problems, why not spend time and resources and go after the perpetrators of this parking lot mayhem.

So the usual process of investigation begins. The General Duty (uniform) members who attended wasted no time in ridding themselves of this “major” crime and duly took their Prime reports and put them in the pneumatic vacuum tubes directly into the office of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards the head of Surrey Detachment. Further brain storming meetings undoubtedly ensued as little is done in the RCMP now with out a committee meeting.

Edwards of course has had his differences with Mr. McCallum and has spoken out previously against McCallum’s party, the Safe Coalition group. For those that have been ignoring the Surrey news, the new Surrey Police Services group is over two hundred officers now and the process of replacing the haggard Mounties is well underway. The Mounties are keeping a brave face and pretending that everything is normal.

So along comes Mr McCallum’s complaint. Clearly McCallum was exaggerating his victimhood, clearly this was a very childish matter on the part of both parties. Mr. Edwards must have recognized that this could be an opportunity to embarrass his civic enemy. But he was astute enough to also realize that because of his past history, there was a clear “conflict of interest” in having the soon to be exiting Mounties investigating the fellow who is opening the door for them.

So to whom did Edwards give the investigation?

“To ensure there was no potential for real or perceived conflict of interest or improper influence” Mr. Edwards announced he was turning it over to another RCMP group, the RCMP Major Crime Section, Special Projects Unit, based out of E Division HQ.

How Mr. Edwards could not see this as still a conflict of interest is indeed baffling. Did he think that the fact that they were working out of E Division HQ, in a different building, that no one would notice that they are also RCMP? However, this fact did not seem to draw much media attention, so the investigation went forward.

Lo and behold, a mere three weeks later, the RCMP Major Crimes unit served a Production Order (a type of warrant) on the offices of CTV News. The warrant sought the unedited footage of the interview with McCallum and the reporter Catherine Urqhuart. The investigation according to the warrant was under Section 140(1)(a) entitled Public Mischief. The Mounties had clearly and quickly switched from this being an occasion of “assault” where McCallum was victim, to one where the victim was now the suspect.

The CTV news group, in dramatic fashion announced the raid on their offices, and immediately intoned that the maximum sentence for such an offence was five years. The veiled and intentional implication was that McCallum was indeed headed to the slammer.

This seemingly horrendous crime of assault, lack of assault, or public mischief, now deserved only the best legal minds one can buy. A “Special Prosecutor” was demanded by these apparently complicated legal circumstances.

So Richard Fowler was appointed. Mr. Fowler QC has had a fairly long and established career and according to his firms biography specializes in “large, complex cases”. He had previously worked with his former mentor David Gibbons on the defence of one of those accused in the Air India case. He even defended Glen Clark, the former Premier of the Province on charges of breach of trust and fraud. Therefore, he was with little doubt suitable for this more than serious undertaking. At significant cost of course.

Mr. McCallum, not to be outdone, hired legal gun slinger Richard Peck QC . Mr. Peck has been in the news recently as the defender of Meng Wanzhou . The extremely able, high profile, and also costly Mr. Peck is usually facing the challenges of defending murderers, sex offenders, and other sundry violators. His defence in this high profile case may come down to being able to read tire impressions.

Mr.McCallum was charged with public mischief on December 10th, 2021, an offence whereby “everyone commits public mischief who, with intent to mislead, causes a police officer to enter or continue an investigation…”. His defence counsel said that Mr. McCallum would not enter a plea at this time as they were awaiting “outstanding information”. Four months had gone by since the execution of the production order. Quick with the warrant, not so quick with the full disclosure package.

So on March 8th 2022, the case was put over to the Friday March 11, 2022 just to set a date for a “pre-trial conference”. The pre-trial conference has now been set for April 11th, 2022.

The lawyers have indicated that if the matter goes by trial, they will require five court days for the trial. The date of that trial will be determined, if needed, after April 11th. So four months have gone by since the charges and the court case has yet to begin. In comparison, if one is interested in measuring legal speed, in the high profile highly-charged and very complicated George Floyd incident in the U.S., Derek Chauvin was charged with murder. Four months later the legal proceedings began.

So what is going to come of all this time, money and resources. Mr. Fowler has already stated in the case of Mr. McCallum that they will be proceeding “summarily”. This means that they are treating this as a “less than serious offence” and are therefore opening the resolution to a lesser punishment. Fines less than $5,000 with a maximum jail time of “two years less a day”.

So as we await Mr McCallum’s fate and find out whether it in fact goes to a five day trial, one can only hope that in the pre-trial conference saner heads will prevail. The way things go in Surrey, this may in fact turn into a long running three ring circus.

All over a file call that two officers just out of recruit field training should have ended in ten minutes– including the paperwork.

Photo courtesy of Waferboard at Flickr Commons — Some Rights Reserved

A Very Private Canada

Mr. Trudeau and company set out on his second personal convoy to Europe in the last couple of days, to present himself as a leader in the western world’s semi-defence of the Ukraine. It is likely, however cynical it may seem, that his political image makers felt that this would be another, second golden opportunity to re-shape his tarnished narrative at home. War seemingly, has always had the ability to bolster ones captaincy.

The only blemish or hiccup which surfaced in his multiple highly structured appearances is that he had to entertain some questions from some of the European based journalists– who still seem to exhibit some vestiges of old school journalism–who apparently were not quite as appreciative of the coziness of the Canadian media to their leader.

After meeting with the Queen, the British Prime Minister, and the NATO secretary general there was a press conference. As many of the Canadian journalists dutifully stood in silent attendance, they watched as our Canadian Prime Minister was peppered with questions. The Prime Minister not recognizing a slight change in tenor in Europe, had done what he always does, whether it be in the House of Commons, or in front of a bank of friendly microphones. He simply launched into “talking points”; those short speeches of practised and safe verbiage. The usual “standing strong”, “Canadians are with you”, blah blah blah.

Some of the European journalists turned to their colleagues from across the pond, clearly perplexed, and said to them, “you know, your Prime Minister doesn’t answer questions?”. They were baffled. How is it that he doesn’t answer? After all they reasoned, this was a serious time with a serious series of questions awaiting clarification.

The Canadian journalists of course are aware of their Prime Minister and his constant avoidance of questions. They have been grinning and bearing it for a number of years. By tolerating it they of course unwittingly condone it. It has now become part of the Canadian parliamentary accepted political playbook. Chrystia Freeland, Melanie Joly and the other Cabinet Ministers are all now mimicking their master.

Why don’t the media push back, why don’t they ask the clearly glaring follow up question?

The answer is that journalism is struggling in our country. Newspapers and standard cable television are being swallowed up and spit out by the internet. Readership and viewership is dwindling to the point of being almost irrelevant. Those few that are left behind, need to have access to the PM, they need to get a free ride to the event. To act otherwise would kick them out of the small circle and they would lose their ticket on the plane.

Furthermore, their editors and producers, in order to compete with the social media who blurt incessantly, are trying to fit everything into a 150 word Twitter blip or a thirty second sound bite. They therefore need the headline and thus they need access to the providers of any headline no matter how tamed. When one is operating under these constraints there is little opportunity or desire for a probing question.

As a country we the people, seem willing to accept this lack of insight. No time in our busy schedules, no real interest in anything past a bare headline. Therefore we are not overly concerned about tenacity in our journalists. We believe or are willing to believe, at least on some surface level, what we are being told by those somber sounding talking heads every night at 6 o’clock.

Running in parallel to this evasiveness and more potentially dangerous may also be our seeming acceptance of our government to be allowed to conduct business as they see fit; in privacy, out of the public inquiring eye. We apparently trust our government operatives to operate ethically. This assumption of honesty may be disproportional to the evidence. Or are we just dis-interested, complacent in our Canadian security?

The government’s desire for privacy is enveloped by and enforced by the legislation and entirely consistent with the desire for secrecy. First and foremost there is the Federal Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. If one dares to venture into the world of intelligence, then there is the Official Secrets Act. The Provinces have their own separate privacy acts. In the Province of British Columbia, there is the Personal Protection Act layered on top of all the other Acts. All of them are designed and have the express purpose to limit access to “private information”. In broad simple terms they are sold to us as a necessity to the overriding good. The devil, as always, is in the details.

In reading the complete version of these Acts, you can begin to see the over-reaching nature of these Statutes. You are not allowed to see the position or function of a government employee, the title or business address, classification or salary of that employee. In fact you are not allowed to see the name of an individual on a document. You are not allowed to know anyone performing services or under contract to government including the terms of a contract, and the names of individuals on that contract. You are not allowed any information relating to any discretionary benefit of a a financial nature, including the “granting of a licence or permit conferred on an individual, including the name or the exact nature of the benefits”. In fact the very “existence of the information does not need to be disclosed”.

If curiosity arises and you put in a Freedom of Information Act request, you will likely be waiting 18 months to two years for the information; which will also likely be redacted to the point of often being useless, not to mention untimely. It recently took this blogger 18 months to receive the answer to a request of how many officers were working on a particular Watch at a particular RCMP detachment. The answer was itself missing half the information, saying they didn’t know, or that they did not gather such information. (apparently they don’t know how many people were working on a particular shift) When I was able to double check the actual numbers that were provided, the numbers were in the end not accurate either.

The Federal Privacy Act applies to all government institutions, an extensive list of Crown Corporations and government sponsored entities. The list numbers in the hundreds. This includes such groups as the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Specifications Board (whatever that is) and the Nunavut Water Board.

Three point six million Canadians worked for the Federal Government in 2010, another 844,762 worked for the Provincial and Territorial Governments. This is roughly 20-25% of the population depending on the measure. If you include those that work in the private sector but are under contract to various levels of government those Government Business Enterprises (GBE) add another 350,000 employees.

If we look at the Courts and the administration of Justice in this country, records are regularily hidden from public view, despite the principal need for justice to be seen as being done.

Defence counsel and civil counsel will almost invariably ask for publication bans in the name of privacy, and those bans are routinely given by Judges with little forethought or examination of the public’s right to know. Media companies often have to go to court to fight these publication bans, but of course an individual usually will not have those kinds of legal and financial resources.

Our labour arbitrations are the masters of keeping quiet. Settlements never exposed, no matter how egregious. If you leave a company employ, you sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Civil case settlements will almost always include these non-disclosure clauses to protect “privacy” It is effectively also protecting the secrecy of the wrong-doing. One does not have to look further than the sexual harassment suits which were signed off by the RCMP. Lawyers and Judges in quiet wood panelled rooms get to see the details, but not you, the taxpaying public.

The irony is that this is all happening as the government continues to gather individual and private information on you. Your health records under the cover of Covid being put on a government application. We are assured that these apps could never be hacked. The tethering of our phones to our lives and our very existence means that we are more than willing to let data aggregators know where we live, what book or food we like, and which toothpaste we like to buy.

The ability to control information is a powerful tool. The war in Ukraine is playing out constantly on the waves of the internet, both sides producing mis-information in the battle for our approval and acceptance and to extol their positions. Safe to say there really are no principled sides. Right or left, Liberals or Conservatives, North America or Russia.– one only needs to look to the examples that Wikileaks and Snowden exposed. No one should trust their government implicitly.

The problem is overwhelmingly complex, layered, and few show any interest in peering in. There are some banging on the gates of secrecy that surround Canada’s institutions, but right now it is for the most part falling on deaf ears. Government employees and our representatives are not going to give up their hiding spots easily. Transparency in what transpires in government corridors throughout this country is non-existent. It is election rhetoric at best, nothing more. Our current Federal leader even when asked a relevant question feels no need to expose information of any kind.

On a more recent intimate level, there is the story of Liette Savoie and her quest to uncover the details of an investigation of the death of her 17 year old daughter in Bas-Caraquet New Brunswick in 2007. The other driver was convicted of impaired driving causing death. She is on the quest for further information as there are many rumours of the crash being the result of a high speed chase and that there was another car involved. The initial answer by the RCMP was that the Access to Information Act did not allow for disclosure due to a 20 year before release rule. They were pressed by the Federal Commissioner and they again argued that the personal information of the deceased (yes, her dead daughter) was protected for 20 years and that the public interest in disclosure “did not outweigh the invasion of privacy that would result from disclosure”.

This kind of story can be multiplied hundreds of times over.

It is heart breaking and maybe even more disturbing when the police as instructed and directed by an allegedly democratic government, simply go into hiding.

The Liberals just negotiated a deal with the NDP, to insure a majority style government. Even the Liberal MP’s did not know it was coming.

The agreement, of course, was negotiated in secret. That is the way we do things in Canada.

Photo courtesy of Flickr by European Parliament via Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved

The “Casualty Commission”

The Mass Casualty Commission has finally begun public hearings in Nova Scotia. Two long years since the tragedy of Portapique, a night of infamy when twenty-two people were killed over an agonizingly long thirteen hour period; the perpetrator driving the back gravel roads– his victims pre-determined, his justification firmly contained in his own mind. His thoughts and twisted goals now locked forever by his glory seeking death in an innocuous Irving gas station parking lot.

Two years in our lives would seem more than enough time one to conduct and complete any serious criminal investigation. After all, the one and only suspect was dead, albeit with numerous crime scenes but all conclusively tied to him forensically. However this is government, so we are just now at the stage of public witnesses and the tendering of what this 38 person Commission has found to date. Barbara McLean who is the Director of Investigations, even went so far as to say that the investigation is “ongoing” despite having collected thousands of documents and taken numerous statements numerous times from all involved.

These particular public hearings are to go for a further several months with the final report not due to be completed until November 2022. Some observers allege that the length and breadth of this investigation is in itself, by design, structured to mute the outrage. Time, or the buying of time, being the best governmental tool to dilute an upset public.

It began on February 22nd and the public record of it goes up to March 9th as this is being written.

Former Supreme Court Justice Michael MacDonald began the hearings with the usual thanks to the Indigenous for allowing it to take place on their “un-ceded territory”, which if nothing else signals to all that we are indeed involved in a governmental hearing. This is followed by a daily tribute to the victims with a listing of all of their names. Day after day this tribute will be repeated and over time runs the danger of becoming more political governmental theatre than substance.

The majority of the first day was an orientation, which then evolved into a panel discussion on the psychological impacts of the events on Nova Scotians and on the rest of Canada. This panel, which consisted of a therapist, a psychology professor, and the President and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. There were a few others, but suffice to say they were there to continue and extend that mantra of all of us having been victimized by the events in Portapique. The Commission felt that part of their mandate is a need to help us “normalize and validate emotions people have felt or have been feeling”.

This somewhat incongruous start continues into the next day which begins with another panel discussion this time designed to “introduce the communities”. This second panel consisted of Chief Sidney Peters who spoke about the Indigenous causes(Chief Peters specializes in Agricultural and Housing Programs); an Anglican Rector Nicole Uzans; Alana Hurtle, the head of the Rotary Cares Committee; and Mary Teed, a social worker.

The rather bizarre use and questionable need for these panels was summed up by a Global News reporter who asked during a question and answer session what these opening remarks and panels had to do with the questions uppermost in the minds of the families. He asked pointedly: “Do you feel that you have lost the families?” While another reporter asked the more obvious: “Whats the point of the panels?” A Halifax Chronicle reporter, clearly miffed at two already long days listening to pointless and mostly irrelevant commentary, asked whether if it was “necessary” to hear what it was like to be living in “rural” Nova Scotia.

It was suffice to say a rocky start.

One would be remiss at this time to not outline the nature and make up of the Commission. If one ever wanted to see a liberalized government structure in full bloom, this is your opportunity. One must also keep in mind that the Commission was formed after some reluctance by the Attorney-General for Nova Scotia and only after pressure arose from the victims families.

The Commission themes play consistently like bad Muzak. There is obsessive talk of victims, the constant strum of words like “working together”, “safer”, “stronger”, “shared understanding”, and a “shared purpose”. In his opening statement head Commissioner Michael MacDonald says with grandeur that one of the goals of the Commission is to make “sure that it never happens again”.

The other two primary Commissioners are Leanne Fitch, the retired seven year Police Chief of the Fredricton police department; who in her opening statement talks of her work in community policing, dealing with what she deemed the “most vulnerable”. The third Commissioner, Dr. Kim Stanton, a lawyer and academic speaks to making the world “safer”, and the commission leading to a “shared understanding” and a “shared purpose”.

Then there is the rest that make up the Commission. There are the Commission Directors: eight of them. Then there is the Commission Team which consists of a further 27 individuals; nine of whom are lawyers. One thing that sticks out, in fact it is rather striking, is the number of women on the Commission staff. Twenty-seven of the thirty-eight are women, thereby making up 72% of the Commission (22% of the RCMP in Nova Scotia are women). I honestly don’t know what that means or whether it will have any bearing on the outcome– one can only hope. The assigned seven “investigators” are all men.

Did I mention there were a few lawyers? The ones mentioned above just work for the Commission; then there are the lawyers for the victim families, the Federal Justice Department, and lawyers for the National Police Federation to name just a few. Those logging 8 hour billable days may be the only group which will survive this lengthy process.

So with all these lawyers one can make a few predictions. It’s going to go longer than necessary. Secondly, the gut wrenching truth, the bare truth, will be softened and weakened by a layer of protection over the various interests that may feel, or imagine, they have some exposure.

Running in the background and outside of the Commission are a couple of civil cases the lawyers for whom are present, and would more than relish some damning information to come out of these hearings. One is being brought by the victims families, and the other by Lisa Banfield who is suing over the suspect Gabriel Wortman’s $1.2 million estate.

Maybe, this is being too harsh or cynical, after all this is not a criminal proceeding. This is, in the words of the Commission mandate “…is not designed nor intending to determine guilt or assign blame”. They are there to work “in a restorative way”. They are there to “restore a sense of safety”, to insure that there is “public safety in our communities”.

To outline the investigational narrative this Commission is using what is termed “Foundational documents”. Although Roger Burrill, the Commission counsel, states that they are “foundational” and not “determinative”. The use of these “Foundational documents” is not common.

In a criminal proceeding one would tell the narrative with the presentation of evidence and witnesses usually in some form of investigational order. In this instance, they are only using witnesses in their words to “fill in the gaps” left by the Foundational documents. They are also vetting out crime photographs and you will not hear all of the 911 calls in their entirety. This they explain is so that they don’t victimize the victims once again; even though this policy clearly flies in the face of a fulsome disclosure. Our sensitivity as a Nation according to this Commission precludes us from knowing all the details, as gruesome as they may be and as uncomfortable as that may make us.

So far, three foundational documents have been shown– twenty-seven more are coming.

There are twenty-seven proposed witnesses up to this point in time and those witnesses will eventually include Commissioner Lucki, A/Commissioner (retired) Lee Bergerman and C/Supt Chris Leather. That will happen when they get around to the foundational document entitled “Command Decisions”. That testimony should prove slightly more interesting than a panel on whats it like to live in rural Nova Scotia but that may show my personal bias.

The first two foundational documents now on record pertain to the events in Portapique on April 18th and April 19th 2020. These are the base events from which all else will follow. The first officers responding, the calling of ERT, the trapped kids in the residence on Orchard Beach Drive. Even abbreviated, the circumstances facing the officers who arrived thirty minutes after the initial call and their subsequent ninety minutes spent together in the dark, not knowing where the suspect was, or even the extent of his damage will awaken the senses of every police officer listening.

Csts. Patton, Beselt and Merchant, were the only police in this man-made Hades. The house fires lit their way as they stumbled across bodies lying bloodied and unmoving in a yard or gravel driveway. Their senses over-loaded and in the end even though reacting as an “active shooter” procedure, can do nothing but “hunker down”. They deserve all our credit.

The original caller, Jamie Blair, calls 911 at 10:01 pm on that fateful night, witnessed her husband Greg being gunned down on the porch. She will die a short time later as Wortman comes after her and kills her in cold blood. The phone call ending.

The heroes will likely be the four children who huddled together in the basement of 135 Orchard Beach Drive, two of which, ages 9 and 11, had witnessed their parents being murdered. The two escaped to the McCauley residence.

Earlier Lisa McCauley an Elementary school teacher, had guarded the bedroom door, her children trembling behind her. She was shot through that door. When Wortman enters the bedroom, unaware of the children behind her, he shoots her once again.

The horror of those thirteen hours and the single mindedness of someone capable of such extraordinary violence is numbing to even listen to.

It is indeed unfortunate that this Commission is off to a less than auspicious start. Their desire to project empathy and understanding seems to overwhelm them, and thus may overwhelm the ability to get to any meaningful dialogue or expose what may have gone wrong. Legalistic and bureaucratic niceties seem destined to dull the edge of this inquiry. Future months of interminable testimony could prove more banal than enlightening.

There will be the predictable complaints of manpower, broken communication, and the odd moment of embarrassment. It seems likely that the lack of police investigation in the early days of Wortman, those days preceding his violent crusade, his domestic abuse, and his gathering of offensive weapons and building replica police cars will likely prove more damning than a lack of a Provincial wide Alert. The evidence of Lisa Banfield will undoubtedly give us a glimpse into a crazed man. Maybe it was all predictable, but these psychological breakdowns usually defy our current ability to understand.

This Commission is not designed to assign blame so blame they will not find.

In the end, Government Recommendations will flow with abandon from an over wordy eventual report, and they will all likely be dealt the fate of most government recommendations.

Making the families endure another eight months of this may in fact be the real re-victimizing– the families despair likely to be replaced with ever mounting frustration.

The rest of us may all be just another “casualty”… but stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by mrbanjo1138–Some Rights Reserved