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Mayerthorpe report won’t restore faith in RCMP

Lorne Gunter (Opinion, National Post) – I’ve never fully understood why the massacre of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alta. six years ago this month has been seen as a blemish on Canada’s national police force. It wasn’t as if the Mounties were the ones doing the killing.

But it’s obvious that for many Canadians, the tragedy in the Quonset hut of a maniacal killer on March 3, 2005 triggered the beginning of their loss of faith in the RCMP.

For me, it was the death of Robert Dziekanski at the hands of Taser-wielding officers at Vancouver International airport in October 2007 that sewed the seeds of my doubt. Or, more correctly, it was the cover-up that followed Mr. Dziekanski’s death that caused me to question the depth of the blight that has seeped into the RCMP from top to bottom.

There have been lots else, too, that has besmirched the force: the bungling of the Air India investigation, the failure to make a fully convincing case against serial murderer Robert Pickton, the “terrible injustices” the force were compelled to apologize for in the Maher Arar torture case, the misleading of a Parliamentary committee by former Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli (for which he resigned), allegations of pension-fund mismanagement, official support for the gun registry and the us-vs-them attitude it has given police toward law-abiding gun owners, the investigation of the RCMP’s security plans for last June’s G20 summit in Toronto, the staggering expense of the force’s new headquarters in Ottawa, its minority-first hiring policies, and the allegedly poisonous infighting between the Mounties’ first-ever civilian Commissioner, William Elliott, and senior career officers.

So how does Mayerthorpe figure into this bitter stew of confidence busters? Why has it put so many Canadians off the Mounties when it doesn’t involve brutality by the Mounties themselves – when, in fact, their members were the victims?

I can only speculate that the deadly confrontation between Constables Peter Schiemann, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol and Anthony Gordon and life-long criminal James Roszko has added to the general sense that the once-vaunted police force has become incompetent and is pre-occupied with politically correct experiments – such as touchy-feely outreach to Muslim communities – that detract from its primary policing duties.

If that is the case, then the report into the incident by Alberta Assistant Chief Judge Daniel Pahl, released Monday, will do nothing to dispel that impression and restore confidence in the force.

Judge Pahl labelled the killings “a uniquely tragic event, which could not reasonably have been foreseen or prevented.” He found “no failings in the training, experience or abilities of the officers who lost their lives.” They “were aware of Roszko’s history.” (Roszko had previous run-ins with police and other local authorities for decades.) “But he had for some years been under the radar.”

And he fled his property before police arrived. “Those who flee do not come back,” the judge wrote. That is “within the RCMP (and apparently within all police services) a commonly held presumption.” Indeed, during inquiry hearings in February, RCMP Senior Deputy Commissioner Rod Knecht testified that to his knowledge such a return-to-kill had “never happened before,” not “in Canada, the United States, or internationally.”

But many will be less generous. While the judge may be correct that the severity of this incident could not have been foreseen, it could have been prevented from turning so deadly if officers and commanders had approached it with a more professional and less cavalier attitude.

Why, for instance, was it assumed that Roszko’s marijuana grow-op would be deserted just because he had fled the property? He may have returned or he may have had confederates. Why were officers not issued bullet-proof vests? Why was Constable Schiemann sent to Roszko’s property unarmed? And why did officers enter the Quonset seemingly casually so they were easy targets for the concealed and well-armed Roszko?

The force has made changes since the ambush: It has ordered (but not received) new flak jackets for members and it has added paramedics to its emergency response units, in case any officers are shot.

But unless and until the force uses Mayerthorpe as an excuse to reinvigorate its sloppy attitudes and expunge its circle-the-wagons mentality, it will never begin to re-earn the public’s trust.

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Categories: Broken Force.

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