'The RCMP has a severe leadership crisis'

Letters to the editor, Aug. 20, 2020: Readers weigh in on Canada's troubled national police force, the pandemic's productivity crisis and foxes under a Toronto boardwalk

Force failure

On the cover of our August print issue, Stephen Maher wrote that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force was fraying under the strain of its rural policing model, tragic mistakes, an ugly past and a controversial present.

Great work on the RCMP file and the Nova Scotia shooting. When the B.C. money-laundering inquiry sank due to astounding incompetence, I began to suspect that there was some systemic dysfunction in our national constabulary. Your reporters’ recent work is extremely valuable, especially when we Canadians are too easily distracted from complex narratives like the one your editorial staff bravely undertook. The RCMP needs to be front and centre in our attention and begin to account for itself.
—James Prior, Toronto

This article caused me concern. The RCMP may have some problems, but the paramilitary culture is not the source; I have witnessed more mistreatment of people in civilian organizations than in a military or police environment. Also, I am constantly astounded that criminologists are sought out as experts on policing. They are out of the loop and provide no insight worthy of the authority that they are granted. If you want to know about policing, ask a police officer; don’t forget that they are Canadians first and share our common experience. Contrary to some recent opinions, we have the best police in the world and have nowhere near the problems the U.S. does. The reforms that Americans are demanding have been in place here for a generation. A few half-truths and speculation about some recent encounters still under investigation in no way reflect on the thousands of successful de-escalations that occur every day in Canada. We are a lucky country and have a secure and legitimate policing system. As a serving police staff sergeant, I am disappointed in the lack of depth in some of the recent reporting in Canada and dismayed that somehow I am disqualified from having an opinion about my own profession.
—Dave Oleniuk, Caledonia, Ont.

I read your article about the RCMP with great interest. In addition to 68 years in the news media, I have spent close to 20 years as a police auxiliary member with the RCMP’s J Division and 22 years as an officer with the CAF Reserve, retiring with the rank of major. All of your points are well-made. A cavalry unit circa 1870 would be out of place in our armed forces of today. The RCMP is, in large part, perpetuating the 1870 cavalry model. “Royal” is pointless, and it is no longer “Mounted.” The force should get out of contract policing and rename itself the Canadian Police or a variation thereof. As is the case with the American FBI, the RCMP’s jurisdiction would apply when provincial boundaries were crossed and someone was involved in the commission of a crime. As auxiliary members, our biggest value was the fact that we knew the area being policed and the area’s potential troublemakers, especially for the large number of new or transferred members coming to J Division. The days of the RCMP auxiliary member have come to an end, in my estimation. The risks of unarmed policing are too great in 2020. The force could put a dent in their staffing problem by instituting a form of the Canadian Army Reserve system. Thoroughly trained and motivated personnel with full police powers while on duty, but with civilian jobs, could be available part-time as needed or for stated periods of time. In the J Division experience, sometimes the person’s civilian job has been of help in an investigation. It’s an idea worth considering.
—Ross Ingram, Fredericton

While Stephen Maher presents many cogent points about the travails of Canada’s storied national police service, all too often the sources are other journalists and the predictable cast of characters with axes to grind. The RCMP is indeed in big trouble as an institution and requires deep and thoughtful consideration. In 2009 I served as national research director with the RCMP’s two-year change-management exercise. The research we conducted nationally with thousands of sworn officers and civilians within the organization is found in a number of now-public reports, and they reveal issues that continue today because of a deeply rooted culture that sustains outdated structure and operational systems, including HR, promotions, communications, accountability, responsibility and collaboration. These systems are at odds with the force’s stated values of honesty, integrity, professionalism, compassion, accountability and respect, and they created toxic, dysfunctional workplaces that have directly impacted the actions of all within the organization. The RCMP has a severe leadership crisis that has resulted in what I call system-sclerosis, a hardening of the arteries of organizational life. In too many cases, the leadership has an anti-academic bias. Another major structural impediment is its split-personality provincial and federal policing responsibilities. As Maher points out, this is a great theoretical model which is grossly ineffective in actual practice. The RCMP is strongly respected by Canadians because the “boots-on-the-ground” operational police officers who do the daily grind while understaffed, under-resourced and too often poorly led just keep moving forward regardless of the impacts on their emotional and physical health. Such a condition is, of course, unsustainable.
—Eli Sopow, former RCMP divisional director of research & analysis, Vancouver

The political is personal

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Maclean’s asked Black Canadian writers Desmond ColeAndray DomiseEsi EdugyanLawrence Hill,Sandy HudsonEternity MartisRinaldo Walcott and Ian Williams to pen open letters to America addressing the recent upheaval and the task of confronting racism that—deny it as some Canadians might—persists in their own country.

Words matter. By that I mean that reading words and making meaning of words leads to thinking, which in turn can lead to changes in thinking. Behaviour changes when thinking changes. Thinking changes when you read words and internalize them, think about their meaning by yourself, in your own head, before any group discussion happens. Black people must continue to point out to white people the double standard of their lives and deaths. White people must allow manifestations of anti-Black racism to enter their psyches in order to become less narrow-minded and more empathetic in order to understand all the people who live in society. This should not be a top-down approach left to politicians to decree behaviour, but a ground-level awakening to the injustices wrought upon Black men, women and children.
—Rita Small, Unionville, Ont.

I walk the line

In May, with COVID-19 grinding the economy to a halt, Rachel Jansen wrote that it seemed strange to me that we were still so invested in the idea of productivity, especially since the world we’re living in now affords some of us time to slow down.

Rachel Jansen writes about pandemic idleness. My life is that much slower these past few months, but it has more balance—at least, when I hop the rails. I go for daily walks in my neighbourhood along abandoned railway tracks. From child to sexagenarian, I’ve often walked the iron rails of various railway tracks. I’ve never managed to get very far. Lately, I’ve been more focused on walking the rails near my home. I now realize that for decades, I hadn’t been doing things right. I now know it’s better not to walk too slowly and to keep the dominant foot straight while slightly angling the non-dominant foot over the rail, instead of trying to walk with both feet straight. After 10 days of short but regular rail walks, I’m surprised at my improvement. I can now walk a lot further (on a couple of occasions, up to 150 m). During this bizarre and tragic pandemic, it’s a hoot to find a new childlike and lazy pastime.
—Mel Simoneau, Gatineau, Que.

Grim reaper

In May, Canada’s minister of health, Patty Hajdu, sat down for a conversation with senior writer Paul Wells to discuss the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. An edited transcript appeared in our July print issue.

Yikes. I looked with puzzlement at the photo of ambulance attendants moving a patient from a long-term care facility in Montreal (“The interview,” July 2020). The black van at the left is an Urgel Bourgie funeral van. Not something to lift the spirits of a sick person wondering which vehicle is for them.
—Helen Wojcik, St. Lambert, Que.

Developing compassion

In May, as part of our Before You Go series, Susie Sokol wrote to her daughter, who was born with developmental delays, about how proud she is of the independent person she has become as she prepares to move out to a supported living arrangement.

I would like to commend you for your wonderful article written by a loving mother about her daughter with developmental delays. It touched my heart and I hope it will be read by many. This article deserves to be read aloud to parents and anyone else to help them appreciate and understand the value and positive impact of individuals with developmental disabilities on the lives of those around them and the community at large. I am always impressed by short pieces in Maclean’s that contain life truths. Thank you again.
—Rick Larder, Saint John, N.B.

Invisible Tory

In July, Associate Editor Marie-Danielle Smith profiled Conservative leadership candidates Erin O’Toole and Leslyn Lewis, while Alberta Correspondent Jason Markusoff profiled Peter MacKay.

As a new member of the Conservative party, I was intrigued to see how Maclean’s might compare the four candidates, but it didn’t. Canada’s national magazine introduces us to three candidates and makes no mention of the fourth. Is the fourth candidate unworthy of mention? I’m curious to find out what Maclean’s doesn’t like about Derek Sloan. He has certainly got my attention.
—Michael Rogers, Nanaimo, B.C.

Young, wild and free

In July, Associate Editor Prajakta Dhopade wrote that stories of wildlife spreading out into human spaces were common during the unprecedented global coronavirus lockdown. But here’s what happens when the humans come back.

I couldn’t help but be touched by the volunteers who did their utmost to protect those red foxes (“Don’t tread on the foxes,” Ontario, August 2020). The coronavirus has indeed given back to the animals what they are entitled to—their land! When the tables get turned and we once again encroach on their space, we are the ones who create the problems. The red foxes mean no harm; they are not trespassing, and we are the ones who badger, prod and create unnecessary obstacles. All they want is to raise their cubs in peace, like every other animal. I had the good fortune to watch as a pair of red-tailed hawks constructed a nest on top of a light standard at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, then laid their eggs and raised and trained their young to survive, all from a distance of about 40 m. They were leery at first and let me know it with flybys and screeches, but when they realized my camera and I meant no harm (as I was perched on an adjacent roof), they left me alone until the eggs hatched. They became very vigilant in watching over their young: they would be off hunting, nowhere in sight, but within five minutes of my arrival, I could almost sense that they knew I was there. Sure enough, one or both would suddenly be on a nearby perch, usually behind me, watching me intently. The chicks grew accustomed to my presence, eyeing me at every chance, and I couldn’t believe it when one brave one actually flew over to the roof to investigate. Within 12 to 15 weeks they were fully grown and, before I knew it, gone. All that was left was the empty nest, but I had the greatest experience, and a pretty good seat to watch it all unfold. Truly magnificent animals.
—Terry Orsatti, Toronto

CERB your enthusiasm

In July, Assistant Editor Nadine Yousif wrote that the economic salve of the CERB has changed attitudes about income assistance just as COVID-19 has exposed fragility in many facets of the Canadian economy—but a universal basic income is not without its critics.

If CERB has made the case for a universal basic income, I hate to see what the government is going to do about seniors (“A floor for soft landings,” Employment, August 2020)! It gave us a mere $300, which doesn’t even cover all the expenses caused by COVID-19. Ottawa will probably exclude seniors from a UBI program because, let’s face it, we are a burden to society and don’t really need much—one bath every two weeks, one glass of water per day, maybe, a change of diaper once a week, a change of bedsheets once a month, and one meal when there is time for it. Voila.
—Claudette Bouffard, Vancouver