The 23rd Commissioner of the RCMP has now entered into the phase of life in policing where you become redundant– back to being one with the people. Some coppers are pushed or dragged kicking and screaming into the older year phase; others just fade out, content in having reached the end worn but intact.
Of course, most doubted whether Mr. Paulson would fade out and spend his time “On Golden Pond“. Most ex-Commissioners seem to feel the need to return, to pad their already lucrative accounts, but also to catch a bit of the remaining light.
We all share some ego, some love of the limelight, no matter how brightly or dimly it lit your career. Some often get hooked on that ill- defined and elusive drug of empowerment that is part and parcel of this policing vocation. In some cases that power was dwindling by the time one leaves, for others their power was more perception than substance. Individual circumstances always fed this self-conceit.
In a recent podcast we heard in a public way from the recently retired Commissioner.
Mr Paulson is inarguably articulate, fluid in his delivery. He transitions gracefully from self-deprecation to being self-aggrandizing.
He chose to speak to an American based podcast; with an American based audience entitled: “The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg” which is a product of MSNBC.
Mr Rosenberg, the host and interviewer has an extensive and impressive legal background; formerly Chief of Staff to FBI Director Jim Comey and Counsel to FBI Director Bob Mueller among his many credits.
Mr. Paulson talked at great length about his career in the RCMP and as a result displayed some insight into his persona, whether it was intentional or not. Sometimes startling in his honesty, but in other instances he was conveniently vague.
Surprisingly and counter to my expectations, in light of Mr. Rosenberg’s legal background, this was far from a hard hitting interview–this was in fact a syrupy love-in. Mr. Rosenberg clearly was a fan of Mr. Paulson and clearly the two had met before and established some sort of relationship. He began by describing Mr. Paulson as “thoughtful”, “progressive” and an “impressive” leader. There is no point in quibbling with this description, but it was clear that Mr. Rosenberg had an American Nelson Eddy view of the Mounties.
Mr. Rosenberg allowed the free-wheeling Mr. Paulson to describe his career unencumbered, free of any questioning or challenges, failing to even come near the edges of some of the controversies which were in play during his reign. Mr. Paulson had clearly prepared and easily embarked on a lengthy running monologue, with Mr. Rosenberg only interjecting in to elaborate or explain what was being said in terms of the function and process in the RCMP.
There is nothing wrong with this type of interview of course, and Mr. Paulson clearly warmed to the style and narrative he was being handed.
The theme of this podcast as we gradually learn, was leadership; the ability to lead and what it takes to be a great leader. It became clear early, that both Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Paulson seem to count themselves as members of this select few.
It was equally clear that Mr. Paulson and Mr. Rosenberg feel that they are now in the world of academia, philosophers rather than practitioners. Now, both safely ensconced in the ivory tower, now willing to share their intimate insider knowledge with the general masses.
It was during this theme of leadership and what had led him down the trail to eventual head of the RCMP that Mr. Paulson talked about his early life with the RCAF. His life as a “fighter pilot”, a Canadian “top gun”.
In the interest of accuracy, this blogger knew Mr. Paulson, but not extensively, and was certainly not one of his seemingly plentiful fawning inner circle. I knew him by personal and professional reputation, by observation of his manner among the police and in the face of the public.
Suffice to say that not all police officers were fans. In fact there was a distinct dichotomy between the lovers and the haters of his style and personality. The Paulson who elicited tears on the national stage when apologizing for the sexual harassment of female members was not the Paulson some of us knew or had seen in action.
One often repeated story included his days as a “fighter” pilot. Why he left was never fully explained. In this podcast he tells his version of what happened.
As it turns out Mr. Paulson got kicked out of the RCAF. Or as he terms it in the podcast “I had a bad go” in the RCAF.
In 1977, Mr. Paulson was an “instructor pilot” who even in his early assessments was accused of having a “downward flowing loyalty”; which apparently in bureaucratic speak, translates to mean that he was concerned with being one of the boys and girls, not too concerned with the organization, or the rules of that organization. He was interested in being “popular”, being their “friend” and “partying” in his own words.
His first major run in with the Air Force authorities occurred when Mr. Paulson had a student pilot, who in turn had a brother who was working at the Pitt Meadows airport control tower; a small airport east of Coquitlam, British Columbia. Mr. Paulson who was instructing on flying in high density airports at the time was in the Vancouver area and decided to stray over to Pitt Meadows– it is pertinent to note that at the time his military jet had no radio communication with civilian air traffic control.
Nevertheless, he decided to go out and do some high speed fly-bys by the small control tower in an obvious attempt to impress the brother of the student. He dived and climbed, spinning through the cloud ceiling in this impromptu air show– oblivious to the fact that he was flying directly into the civilian air path with whom he had no radio contact.
Unfortunately for him, he was observed by a civilian flight instructor who quickly took down the call sign of Mr. Paulson’s aircraft. Fortunately for the general public, there was no fatal air incident that resulted from this early Tom Cruise impression.
The Air Force was not as impressed as the air traffic controller.
He was officially “grounded” and was found guilty of a Code of Justice offence (the Air Force equivalent of a criminal act) and sent to a desk job in North Bay Ontario.
Mr. Paulson has the gift of gab and eventually talked his way once again into the airways, into a limited role of being able to fly Tudor training jets.
He hadn’t learned his lesson though, so this respite didn’t last.
There was a second incident when a warning light came on in the aircraft during one of these training sessions. Aviation protocol dictated that he land for safety purposes, but emergency landing protocol also dictated that he needed to burn off the extra fuel load prior to attempting that landing. Mr. Paulson, being smarter than everyone else including his over-ranking navigator, brought the plane in “heavy”, as they say and ended up almost using up the entire runway and over-heating the plane.
After this second incident, the RCAF sat with Mr. Paulson and told him maybe the Air Force was not to be his true vocation mainly due one assumes due to his lack of judgement and disregard for authority.
In other words he was terminated.
So, while back at school and bar tending at a shady bar for extra monies, Mr. Paulson decided to become a Mountie after meeting a “narc” doing his rounds, becoming enthralled apparently with the policing role.
While going through the application process he decided that being kicked out of the RCAF would not be the best look on his application form. When questioned further by the staffing officer as to why someone as clearly gifted as he would have left the glamour world of flying fighters, he decided to fudge the truth and just said he was “incompatible” with the Armed Forces.
Again, he got caught in the lies and was confronted.
He was told in no uncertain terms that there was no room in the RCMP for “liars”. Remember, in those earlier times applicants were often turned down for seemingly minor matters, such as less than 20/20 eyesight. So the fact that he got caught lying would and should normally have concluded his chances. But, for whatever reason, the interviewer decided to take a chance on him and he was given a “big break” and allowed in to the RCMP.
Mr. Paulson then goes into a fairly lengthy narrative of his mercurial rise to the top of the organization. He related a couple of stories– convincing a heroin addicted female into telling him about her crime spree in Chilliwack. Finishing “first in the country” on the Corporal’s exam while in Comox. He also bonded with the indigenous in Prince Rupert while investigating victims of the residential schools; which he highlighted with a story of crying while embracing an indigenous male. He was trying to make up for the “black marks on the Force” and their role when “the indigenous were ripped from their families”.
“I’m good at talking to people” he underlined.
He tells the story of driving around with his young daughter in tow during his time off, looking to pick up local criminals with warrants for their arrest, and bringing them in to face justice. This reckless behaviour, even in recounting, seemed to be only a display of his determination and drive.
He also confirms that during his rise, his mentor was Gary Bass, then the 2nd highest ranking officer in British Columbia and he became an Inspector in 2001. He was asked to become the Major Case Manager by Bass himself and tasked to go after the Hells Angels in British Columbia. He described the Hells Angels as being untouched “until his arrival”.
His personal determination in his telling of the story led to turning an agent from the Prince George biker chapter, by paying him $50,000. This was “leading edge stuff I was doing”. They were “ultimately successful” and had “several successful prosecutions” although he admitted that they “burned out the agent”.
In this re-telling of course, he is leaving out some of the background story. The project “E-Pandora”, spent $10 million investigative dollars, a total of 18 persons were charged. In the end the Hells Angels were still not declared a “criminal group” by the courts.
Mr. Paulson was promoted again by Mr. Bass, and eventually ended up going to Ottawa in 2006 where he continued to move up and ended up working under Bill Elliott, the first civilian Commissioner of the RCMP.
At that time in history there was an awful lot of talk and innuendo of a backlash against Elliott; stories came out of him having temper tantrums, of fighting with the upper established Mounties. Mr. Paulson would have been in the thick of it and casually makes reference to the Deputy Commissioner under Elliott not liking him.
In the end Mr. Paulson clearly prevailed. He came out of the melee as the new Commissioner and Elliott was sent to Interpol, the police executive equivalent of a lucrative elephant graveyard. Mr. Paulson’s role in all this, knowing his personality, would have been an interesting insight, but was not one which he decided to relate in this podcast.
So in December 2011 Prime Minister Harper appoints Mr. Paulson, despite in Mr. Paulson’s words, there was a lot of “political pressure for someone else”.
The interview only strayed into some of the touchier points during Paulson’s tenure when the topic of “sexual harassment” and the various lawsuits came up.
He admitted that the lawsuits were mounting and he described it as not being “failures of individuals” but “failure of a system”. Of course, there may be many that may take issue with this characterization.
Asked how he dealt with this, Mr. Paulson said that “I brought process to it”.
After ninety minutes and by the end of the podcast one could not help but think that this will not be the last we hear from civilian Paulson.
Apparently he is now lecturing on “leadership” and portraying himself as somewhat of an academic; similar to his old mentor Mr. Bass who now teaches at Simon Fraser University.
It is not easy to sum up Mr. Paulson and his eventual contribution to the history of the RCMP.
While in office, he tried to give the impression of being of the new dynamic, but it was simply not believable. Ultimately, the man appointed by Harper would not be able to adjust to the new progressives, the cowboy had to hand it over to the archetype of modern policing Ms. Lucki.
Nowhere in this regurgitation of the past did he talk about having to testify in Moncton over the delay in carbine rifles and the charges relating to violating the Canadian Labour Code. It was in Moncton that he testified in dramatic fashion that “I am accountable to the safety of my officers”; but then was ridiculed for denying any responsibility in the deaths of the three officers.
At no time did he mention his lack of support for civilian oversight which is now being thrust upon the RCMP.
At no time did he mention the critical report on the RCMP mental health strategy where the RCMP was decried as being “poorly funded, partially implemented, and no one measuring results”.
At no time was it mentioned that the frustration level of the uniform officers led to an uprising where some officers pulled off the yellow stripes from their uniforms.
At no time was it mentioned the stagnating level of pay, the frustration with working conditions, the inability to fill the contracted positions, and the changes to health and dental benefits.
At no time did he answer to the constant criticism of the RCMP being too secretive.
In some ways Mr. Paulson could have been rejected outright as a member of the RCMP, but in the end he rose to the very top. A somewhat remarkable story to be sure– but historians may not end up being as kind to Mr. Paulson as was Mr. Rosenberg.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas , who in writing about death and oblivion said that one should “not go quiet into the night”. Civilian Paulson probably agrees. He even joked during the podcast that he had driven down to the local RCMP office to sign up for the Reserve program of the RCMP.
Of course, he laughed, how could one expect him to be just a Reserve officer?
A leader he may be, you can be the judge, but humility clearly is not one of his strong points.
Photo Courtesy of Luigi Mengato via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved