You must all be breathing a magnificent collective sigh of relief and be filled with profound gratitude over Ottawa RCMP’s latest policy change.
The RCMP Mounties in Ottawa have announced— wait for it— that they will be conducting “character” checks on “staff”! My heart is racing as must be yours at the prospect of finding some individuals with suitable characteristics to fill the senior ranks of the RCMP.
Although not wholly familiar or conversant with the Human Resource world of the RCMP, or at least what poses as a Human Resources department; this writer was under the distinct impression that Mounties before you were hired would take a little time to research your character. Remember those spots on the application form where you had to put “character references”. Silly us thinking they were actually going to check on people before they hired them. Apparently not, well at least not in sensitive senior positions in HQ.
Our long held beliefs on the efficacy of our staffing and recruiting units are now being dispelled by a small unit in the corridors of Ottawa called the National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre or NICC —who toiled in ignominy until their boss became the now infamous Cameron Ortis. Character values and how he treated fellow workers has now become a headline and a topic of conversation largely because Mr. Ortis is now going to trial.
To refresh your memory. Ortis began work at the Centre in 2016 and then, unceremoniously was arrested in 2019, a short three years later. Ortis has now been charged with several counts of revealing secrets to an “unnamed recipient” and planning to give “additional classified information to an unspecified foreign entity or terrorist group”. Most of the charges are breaches of the Security of Information Act, a single criminal breach of trust, and thrown in for good measure, a “computer-related offence”.
The trial and the subsequent revelations that are sure to come are worrying enough, but in addition this upcoming trial has forced senior management to pay attention to allegations made by employees during Mr. Ortis time at the helm of this unit that “coordinates” intelligence. A review of the complaints was in fact ordered at the time that the complaints surfaced, a usually tried and true stall and deferral plan used by politicos of all stripes. However, now there are even some people drawing a straight line from the complaints not being investigated at the time to the possibility that if they had, black hat Ortis, would have been discovered earlier. That seems like a bit of a stretch but it is a theory that will not hurt the litigants and their legal representatives in this case.
The fact that Mr. Ortis may have been spying and ruined the already tattered reputation of Canada with the Five Eyes is not the only pressing issue now facing the Mountie leaders, who are always firmly encased in that cocoon of inclusivity and sensitivity. The subsequent lawsuit that the employees have now launched has shifted the focus of Commissioner Lucki and her countless advisors. In their civil action they are alleging that Mr Ortis “belittled, humiliated and demeaned” them in their “workplace environment”.
The three employees, Francisco Chaves, Michael Vladars, and Dayna Young are now seeking $1.9 million in damages as a result of their “abuse” at the hands of Mr. Ortis and they have filed their claim at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
They also allege that Mr. Ortis was “stealing and selling their work” with the overall goal of “sabotaging the unit”. They insist that Mr. Ortis “systematically targeted them”. All of this in an apparent effort to replace them with persons Mr. Ortis would find more simpatico.
A cynic might point out that the more distance the employees put between themselves and Mr. Ortis is at the very least self-serving. They were persons who were in the same unit as Mr. Ortis, and the intelligence damage, whether real or implied, could drift over their way on the winds of suspicion which will be blowing hard from the Five Eyes group.
Nevertheless, the employees have now been backed up in their lawsuit by that previously mentioned internal review that was ordered at the time.
The review backfired a bit at least from the Liberal political standpoint. It was conducted by former RCMP executive, now retired and double dipping with alacrity— former Assistant Commissioner Alphonse McNeil. ( Mr. McNeil had previously been hired to investigate the RCMP handling of the 2014 Moncton police shootings where three officers were killed.)
Alphonse’s apparently formidable assignment in this case was to to review the “culture within the intelligence co-ordination unit”. Sixty interviews later and after having reviewed “policies and procedures” he came to a startling conclusion that there was a failure in “leadership at all levels of senior management”. That the Mountie executive “sought to avoid the situation rather than act”. Who could have guessed that senior executives would rather dodge the bullet than bite the bullet?
McNeil’s apparently profound conclusion said that there was a “failure in leadership and a workplace culture that left employees feeling “broken”. All of this surfaced after the media, through an access to information request receieved a copy of the redacted report.
He writes, “the failure of leadership in this case was noted at many levels and it reveals a need for the RCMP to consider how leaders are selected”. (Would it be crass for me to point out that he could have read this blog or talked to any of the rank and file during the last couple of years he would have saved the taxpayers a bit of money with this recommendation?)
The treatment received by these employees, half of whom have departed for other secret government corridors, created a “feeling of insecurity” and allowed a “lack of confidence” to seep into their workplace. Apparently there is nothing worse than an analyst with no confidence.
So the lawsuit will continue and it would seem likely that Commissioner Lucki will be recommending that Mr. Trudeau pull out his wallet and commit to another sleight of hand to make the issue disappear.
It should also be added that the case against Mr. Ortis is going to cause some serious problems for the prosecution which will no doubt result in further headlines and political punditry. This case is far from proven or won. The need to protect Five Eyes information for example, could prove an insurmountable hurdle in terms of proving this case beyond a reasonable doubt.
So now four months after Mr. McNeil issued his internal report, the Ottawa Mounties are leaping into action. They have been suitably chagrined by their former coffee break buddy and the leaking of the lawsuit into the public eye has forced them into doing or at least appearing to be doing something. They have now decided that they need to begin looking for a “balance of character” in their hiring practises. They have instituted a “management action plan”. These “changes” include what it calls a “character leadership approach to the human resources processes”.
“This approach ensures that employees, regardless of rank or level, have the competencies, commitment, and balance of character to make good decisions across a broad range of challenges and contexts”. In case you were not paying attention, they point out that they had already started this practise over the winter months.
The media spinner, in this case, Sgt Duval said, “these new tools allow for the assessment and ongoing development of an individuals character, with a focus on judgement, inclusiveness and self -awareness”.
This is a lot to absorb, but they have also now established a “centre for harassment resolution” in June 2021 as “a sign of progress” and affirmation of their whole hearted commitment. As they say, “Concerted efforts are being made to create a culture focused on prevention through a healthy and supportive workplace”.
Meanwhile, the possible real damage done by Cameron Ortis is hidden from public view. His bosses at the time; Assistant Commissioner Todd Shean has now left to join the JD Irving oil group in private industry; Mike Cabana, the former Deputy Commissioner to whom Shean reported has now retired; Commissioner Bob Paulson to whom Cabana reported who was a strong advocate of Ortis has also gone to retirement. The chance for accountability is indeed slim.
It would be hard to argue that searching for persons of distinguished character is not a good thing. There are a couple of obvious traits seemingly in short supply, such as honesty and integrity which come quickly to mind. This drivel that is being put out as some enlightened policy is not only governmental double-speak it is specifically designed to obfuscate. It is at its core dishonest.
Those familiar with the Ottawa and Federal system will quickly point out that with the RCMP being willingly politically partisan, that this organization has crossed the line where honesty in policy becomes often blurred in favour of political expedience.
That is indeed unfortunate. Bill Shakespeare is the one that said that “honesty is the best policy. If I lose honour, I lose myself”. There are a few lost souls in Ottawa right now.
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Kieran Lamb – Some Rights Reserved