The Mass Casualty Commission released its report this past week, after two and half years of what they probably perceive as intrepid investigation and the intensive grilling of witnesses. It’s reveal almost went un-noticed. Quite frankly, as we speculated early on, the mandate of this Commission, the Commissioners who were selected, and the design of this Commission made one think that their conclusions was pre-destined to be a non-event.
After countless witnesses, experts, senior and junior police officers, and academics testifying, not to mention millions upon millions of dollars spent; this group of Hon. J Michael MacDonald, Dr Kim Stanton and Leanne Fitch produced a seven volume report, which with proper editing and the removal of everything not pertinent to Portapique could and should have been reduced to one single short volume. They warn would-be readers of this tome that “reading about distressing or overwhelming information can be challenging” and that you, the reader, should “be sure to keep mental health and wellness in mind”. Truer words could not have been spoken because anyone who sets out to read these seven volumes, part academic treatise, part regurgitation of what was already known, will by the end of it, be certifiable and will be kicking yourself for having spent so many hours in a fruitless attempt to find something of value.
The National Post said they thought the report suffered from “mission creep”. A blaring understatement. This Commission went way outside its already rather soft and poorly defined mandate, which could be boiled down to “ensuring effective critical incident response”. However, wanting to leave an imprint on the value of the Commission, they were open to riffing on the theoretical and sociological study of “the prevention of violence” and “the broader root cause of violence”.
One must remember that the government never originally intended for there to be an inquiry into the “worse mass shooting” in Canadian history which claimed 22 lives. This is a government that has no compunction in throwing inquiries and commissions at us on a regular basis, but for some reason, this event, the most tragic in Canadian history, did not meet the government criteria for warranting investigation. That in of its self was suspicious. However, they were forced into some form of inquiry by an outraged group of the victims from Portapique who were rightly demanding answers.
Unable to stop an investigation, the government did the next best thing and that was to neuter the results by making it a “commission” not an “inquiry”. The primary difference being that this entity was told “not to determine guilt or assign blame”. On top of which they were directed to use “restorative principles” which would in other words be “non-adversarial, inclusive, and collaborative”. Hence why some of the witnesses were allowed to testify remotely or hold hands in the witness box. Suffice to say the teeth of this commission were purposely removed before they even got started.
So now we are presented with a massive report which is pure bureaucratic and academic pablum. It is filled with the language of the progressives, and it is what you get when you put lawyers, academics, social workers and mental health workers all in a room, and then tell them to decide how policing should be handled. The arm chair quarterbacks were in abundant supply. This is the world where first and foremost everyone is suffering, everyone is a victim, a world where everyone must be guarded from reality. All the modern signs were there. It talked about the three “pillars” of violence, community and the police, and there is an introductory letter written in the MicMac language, which 99.9 % of the country can not read. Someone felt that this was a good opportunity to further their land claim agenda. There was an introductory chart, fit for a kindergarten level reader, which outlines the three stages of the commission being : “what happened’, “how and why”, and their “findings and recommendations”.
One could easily argue that all of this report should be thrown in the trash, but there is probably a need for one volume. One volume to write as they did the outline the lives of the victims of the tragedy, and to also write a fulsome timeline as to the events and how they transpired. That is about the only thing of value that were imparted in these many volumes. The rest of this book(s) meanders into the world of domestic violence, and according to this illustrious group of commissioners they have now established that gender based violence is “an epidemic”. Of course, you could have asked any operational police officer about domestic violence and got that answer in a few minutes.
They established that the killer Wortman exhibited “violent and intimidating behaviour was facilitated by the power and privilege he experienced as a white man”. A rather curious statement. Are they inferring that Wortman’s demons were the result of being white and based on the assumption that all whites have “power” and “privilege”? Are they implying that this mass killing was because of domestic violence?
This kind of logic and deflection is exhibited throughout these volumes, so as one could easily guess the solutions are a little esoteric. Part of the domestic violence solution is a recommendation that there be a “replacement of mandatory arrest and charging policies” and then they add “with frameworks for structured decision making”. Twenty years ago of course they changed policing policy in this country saying that the police “must arrest” in domestic situations. Clearly the academic pendulum is swinging back. If anyone can interpret what they mean by “frameworks for structured decision making” feel free to write in.
They also opine that solutions lay in “further education” which seems to be always the academic go to; nothing is usually resolved or finite in the academic realm, so this too is predictable. Along the way they invented new words such as “hyper-responsibilization”, to help elucidate their theories, which if you’re interested, means that you hold someone to higher standards. This is not to say there is not room in the literary and academic world for a study on domestic violence, but was this the forum and the responsibility of this group?
Of course the focus of the few media that did cover the story, was whether or not the police make mistakes? Of course they did. There is not a police agency in the world when faced with this kind of measured and planned mayhem by a deranged and mentally fragile individual would not find themselves after the fact wishing they could do certain things over. That being said, the RCMP owns several structural flaws that have been articulated many times over by many individuals in many formats over the years, including in this blog, and that too was evident throughout this report.
This happened in rural Nova Scotia, a rural landscape and background which can be found throughout this entire country. The Mounties have fundamentally lost the ability to police and supply enough manpower in the contract Provinces– they are simply under-staffed. How many police are needed for an area which is for the most part quiet, un-noticed is a secondary question. Secondly, the demographics of the uniform contingent of the RCMP and in these rather remote areas is very young, often in-experienced, and are definitively lacking any kind of sufficient supervision. Third, they are impaired by an over-hanging bloated bureaucracy of higher ranks who are often sitting far removed from the operational end of the stick. These higher-ups are often lacking an expertise in the fields for which they are held up as the person in charge. All this combines to also create an operational disconnect with Municipal agencies, which comes from short term RCMP appointments, and a certain arrogance the Mounties always seem to bring to the table, not matter how misplaced.
The attending Mounties in Portapique were shown to be courageous and did their part in an untenable situation where they did not know the lay of the land because they hardly ever went there. It should come as no surprise by now that the vast majority of the rural areas of this country that are contracted to the Mounties, are for the most part un-policed. Most small town residents could go days or even months without seeing a police vehicle in their neighbourhood. This lack of capability is being shown to the general public continuously. That is simply a fact, no matter how upper RCMP management wishes to play it off.
What we do have in the RCMP is a belief in bigger and greater command structures. This is an operational disease that infects current police thinking. A command centre 50 miles away from the action is expected to assume control, to be the conduit of all decision making, and thus reduce the room for error with all their checks and counter checks. Of course, it inevitably falls short, inevitably it lives up to the axiom of too many cooks in the kitchen. This Commission, which clearly buys into the need for Command Centres, does point out that there was “flawed decision making process, the failure to consider alternative scenarios based on the information …”. They self-importantly noted that the command centre “lacked a dedicated information analyst”.
It is somewhat unfair for anyone to comment on the handling of the operational and telecommunications nerve centre when faced with this kind of purposely disguised killing foe. But, one can easily speculate that inside the operational communications centre at the time and for 48 hrs it was institutional mayhem; phones ringing off the wall, multiple 911 calls, agencies and other supervisors calling in for “updates”, the monitoring of the blaring police radio, media queries, and press releases– a veritable fire hose of information funnelling in and out with abandon, no one really able or capable of seeing the overall picture with accuracy or having the ability to authenticate. When you have police officers thinking they spotted the suspect, opening fire on a firehall and aiming their shots at another officer, needless to say there is a real communications problem which could have ended very badly. By the time they sorted out the replica police vehicle, the suspect was out of the area and killing other people miles away– one of the wrong assumptions being was that he must have killed himself and still be in the immediate area.
So throughout the night the operational priority was establishing a command centre, all while four Mounties were huddled around burning houses and corpses in driveways, waiting for the latest direction and waiting for the long time coming backup. With all the gathering supervisors and managers offering opinions, no one thought to warn the public.
So what were the big recommendations coming from this highly paid group of Commissioners? That we “should put crime prevention on an equal footing with enforcement” and that the “RCMP must undergo a fundamental change”. They may have copied this latter statement from the numerous reports on the RCMP over the years which have all said the same thing. They also recommend that there needs to be changes in “everyday policing practises” and an “overhaul of police education in Canada”. On this latest point they recommend that every police officer should have a three year college policing degree. No one pointed out that if everyone involved in Portapique had a Phd. in Criminology nothing would have changed–not the circumstances and not the result.
The Commissioners want us to “turn the tide together”— instead they drown us in volumes of inane verbiage. Let’s make sure that those volumes find the uppermost dusty shelf at — 756 Prince St. in the Truro library– never to be noted or seen again. Oh by the way, they also feel that there is a need for more bureaucracy to be created.
The public and the victims deserved better. The on the ground police officers deserved a better addressing on the issues of staffing, communication and the variety of the other structural problems which continue to plague the RCMP. So far we, meaning governments and the RCMP have learned nothing in Mayerthorpe, in Moncton and now in Portapique.
The senior mounties during these times, who have endured several months of criticism, some warranted, and some undue, have all moved on as pointed out by CTV news. It’s what senior Mounties in the RCMP do when the frying pan gets a little warm. They move on, no one then left to be accountable or responsible for change. The enlarged graveyards of Portapique will continue to be visited by the families–they will not be able to leave or forget quite as easily.
This Commission and its “findings” is the saddest of commentaries on Canada’s ability to seek the truth and our governments unwillingness to face the truth.
Photo courtesy of Scott Baltjes via Creative Commons -some Rights Reserved – a memorial window to the lives lost in Portapique.