Chris Wattie, ReutersThe task force led by chairman David Brown found "fierce pride" and "incredible dedication" among RCMP officers.
OTTAWA - The RCMP should be given more independence from government and be overseen by a new board of civilians to create a modern-day police service, recommends a task force looking into the beleaguered national force.
"As we travelled across Canada and into the far North, we witnessed fierce pride in the force, incredible dedication to the people they serve and a powerful determination to provide the policing services that they know are required to keep our communities and our country safe," said David Brown, chairman of the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change.
"But we also witnessed despair, disillusionment and anger with an organization that is failing them."
Mr. Brown said the force was mired in endless bureaucracy and administration with the federal government, preventing it from carrying out its main purpose.
"The RCMP is not just another federal department --nor should it be."
The task force recommended making the RCMP a "separate entity with separate employer status," meaning it would have full authority to manage its own financial affairs within the spending guidelines provided by Parliament. It also would manage its own human resources.
"Members of the RCMP have the authority to make life-and-death decisions every day -- they fight organized crime and infiltrate terrorist cells -- but they don't have the authority to make simple expenditures or hire a new person without hours of paperwork and process," said Mr. Brown, a lawyer who once headed the Ontario Securities Commission.
The new civilian board of management would oversee the force's financial affairs, resources, services, property, personnel and procurement. It would report to the Minister of Public Safety. The task force recommends putting the board in place by Dec. 31, 2009.
The task force also recommended fusing the RCMP's two complaints watchdogs into one entity, to be called the Independent Commission for Complaints and Oversight of the RCMP (ICCOR). Currently, employee grievances are handled by the Mounties' External Review Committee, while public complaints are processed by the Commission for Public Complaints.
The new panel would have the power to initiate its own reviews, and its findings relating to discipline and grievances would be binding on the RCMP commissioner. Critics have called the force's watchdogs toothless because the commissioner can ignore their recommendations.
Mr. Brown said the task force wanted to see a "rapid but orderly implementation" of the recommendations, and it suggested setting up an "implementation council" to execute the changes and issue a public progress report by June 30, 2008.
The five-person task force has spent the past six months conducting an in-depth review of the RCMP and was given a mandate to provide advice on how to strengthen the accountability and governance of the force.
The task force met in person with more than 2,000 RCMP members and received more than 500 e-mails. Members talked of understaffing, chronic fatigue, equipment shortages and management structures that have not worked for years.
The recommendations cover a wide spectrum of issues including human resource management, recruiting, training and funding.
Mr. Brown was asked by Stockwell Day, the Public Safety Minister, to head the task force after he released a highly critical report in June related to the mismanagement of the RCMP's pension and insurance plans.
That report was initiated after a group of Mounties stunned MPs on the Commons public accounts committee in March with allegations of corruption and cover-up in the misuse of the two plans.
Mr. Brown said the task force's work revealed a picture of "an honourable and revered Canadian institution with rank-and-file members and employees struggling to do their best under the tremendous burden of an inefficient and inappropriately structured organization."
The task force started by crafting solutions to problems that came up during its consultations. "But as the issues piled up, we realized that these were merely symptoms of a much larger issue encompassing the organization, governance and culture of the institution. But treating these symptoms alone would not provide a lasting cure."
If the government adopts the task force's recommendations, it should be able to fix the RCMP's problems "once and for all," Mr. Brown declared.
RCMP commissioner William Elliott agreed there was an "urgent need to change" and he acknowledged "these are difficult and challenging times for the RCMP."
"The report is, I believe, an important turning point," Mr. Elliott said. "I would not, however, say that it's the starting point of real and significant change in the RCMP. There have already been, and there will be further changes, including in the senior leadership of the force," he said.
The commissioner, who was appointed in July and is a civilian, said the force must build on its strengths and address its "significant" weaknesses.
"If we are to properly serve Canadians, then we must make every effort to create the best possible working environment for our own people. I see that as one of my top priorities going forward and I am fully committed to making whatever changes are necessary to achieve that goal," he said.
Mr. Day said some of Mr. Brown's recommendations require complex structural and legislative changes and need to be given "proper consideration before further action is decided upon."
"This government is committed to setting a path ahead that will make the RCMP a stronger, more accountable and modern organization," Mr. Day said in a statement.
The following are the main recommendations of the task force on RCMP governance and cultural change:
-The RCMP should become a separate entity with separate employer status and should be granted full authority to manage its financial affairs.
-A board of management of the RCMP should be established that would be responsible for the stewardship of its organization and administration, including the oversight of the management of its financial affairs, resources, services, property, personnel and procurement.
-An independent commission for complaints and oversight of the RCMP should be created.
OTTAWA – The RCMP would get greater independence from the government, but more civilian oversight and a dramatically altered culture under recommendations of a government task force.
"The problems facing the RCMP today are deep and fundamental," said Toronto lawyer David Brown, who headed the task force.
If enacted by the Conservative government, the 61-page report released yesterday would radically change the way the country's national police force is run.
The RCMP, after 134 years of operating in insular, hierarchical, paramilitary fashion, would have to answer to new bosses. Civilian watchdogs and managers would have final say in how the Mounties spend money, deal with staff and, ultimately, police themselves.
"A modern-day RCMP will shed its cloak of secrecy while protecting the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens ... and rebuild trust through greater transparency," the report said. "We now have a plan to fundamentally fix the RCMP and restore trust in this institution – but the path we have laid out is not for the faint of heart."
The prescription is drastic, but civilian Commissioner William Elliott welcomed it as
"an important turning point."
"There is simply no other option; the RCMP must change,"Elliott told reporters.
The report follows a litany of public image disasters suffered by the force, including a scandal over its mishandling of its pension fund, the international furor over the death of a Polish immigrant Oct. 14 at Vancouver airport after he was Tasered by four Mounties and the mishandling of the case of suspected terrorist Maher Arar.
Brown cited rank-and-file "despair, disillusionment and anger with an organization that is failing them."
The five-person task force led by Brown set out recommendations – nearly 50 in all – that would turn the RCMP into a stand-alone police organization, released from cumbersome federal government constraints on spending, hiring and contracting, yet still make it "accountable" to Parliament.
But the power or authority of the RCMP commissioner over a crucial aspect of operations – the policing of unethical or illegal activity by RCMP officers – would be drastically curbed.
Currently, the commissioner has the final say in internal disciplinary matters. That would be handed over to a new independent civilian oversight and review body, with power to start investigations on its own, subpoena witnesses and documents, and whose recommendations would be binding on the commissioner.
On top of that, a "management board" of seven prominent Canadians skilled in corporate leadership and administration – like a corporate board of directors – would take over the direction of financial spending and human resources.
Brown was clear, however, that criminal investigations and operations, with all their inherent risks and danger, would continue under the strict "command-and-control" line of authority. That means a senior RCMP officer is in charge, and subordinates obey orders.
The force is "mired" in bureaucracy, plagued by staffing and funding shortages of 25 to 30 per cent in some regions, and its employees are "struggling to do their best under the tremendous burden of an inefficient and inappropriately structured organization," the report said. It slammed "basic human management systems that haven't worked for years: mandatory unpaid overtime; discipline and grievance systems that don't work; a promotion system with little or no credibility; a sometimes embarrassing record of accounting to the people they serve."
The RCMP is hobbled, the report said, because staffing and spending decisions are largely dictated by Treasury Board guidelines.
"The RCMP is not just another federal department – nor should it be. Members of the RCMP have the authority to make life and death decisions every day – they fight organized crime and infiltrate terrorist cells – but they don't have the authority to make simple expenditures or hire a new person without hours of paperwork and process."
It said the RCMP had to draft and redraft more than 900 written submissions to the federal public works department last year to get permission to spend about $250 million. It has an annual budget of nearly $4 billion.
Former RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster said the addition of more civilians to oversee management of the force would give the government "reassurance" that while the force would have more spending authority, it would be "better run."
Brown says the RCMP should continue to contract its services to the eight provinces and three territories where it does street-level policing, as well as carry out its federal policing duties, such as in areas of national security, organized crime or commercial crime.
The federal government would not offer detailed comment yesterday. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day asked Elliott to "consider those recommendations that are administrative in nature and can be implemented quickly."
But Day said complex structural and legislative changes require more study and consultation with the provinces and territories. He is also considering the report of the public accounts committee released last week.
Elliott stressed change is afoot. As the first civilian leader of the force, he has already moved to shift four deputy commissioners, and more senior management changes will come in the New Year.
Elliott said many administrative improvements will be acted on without waiting for legislation.