'Impervious to change': doubt, disappointment after initial RCMP response to inquiry recommendations
Thursday, the interim commissioner of the RCMP, Michael Duheme, admitted he had not read the Mass Casualty Commission’s final recommendations for the force.
Now, that admission is triggering doubts, among family members of those killed in the April 2020 tragedy, that the RCMP is capable of undergoing the significant culture change recommended in the inquiry’s final report.
Ryan Farrington, whose mother Dawn Madsen and stepfather Frank Gulenchyn were murdered in their Portapique home, is disappointed, but not shocked.
“I wasn't surprised,” he says. “I don't think anything's ever going to change with the way the RCMP are. I [doubt] their structure is going to change. I don’t think their attitude towards the way they work is going to change.”
Without funding from the commission to make up for lost time at work, Farrington says he was unable to travel from his home in Ontario to Nova Scotia for the report’s release.
But even without time off, he adds, he still took time to read what he could of the 3,000-page document.
He says the RCMP needs to show families the recommendations are being taken seriously.
“They need to buckle down and do this, I mean, it's 2023,” says Farrington. “The RCMP are way back in time, still. And they need to catch up with modern policing.”
“Taking a cursory search, would have been better than saying, ‘I haven't looked at it,’” says retired RCMP officer Sherry Benson-Podolchuk.
Benson-Podolchuk has spoken out about the toxic workplace culture she experienced with the RCMP -- an issue also mentioned in the inquiry’s report.
She believes any meaningful transformation of the force must start at the training level, and adds leadership plays a role in changing the attitudes of individuals in the organization.
“If you don't admit you make mistakes, if you don't hold people accountable and make amends to try and prove things for the next time, then you lose all credibility and trust with the very people we are trying to serve and protect,” says Benson-Podolchuk.
St. Thomas University criminologist Michael Boudreau hopes change can happen for the families and those affected by the mass shooting, but he’s pessimistic.
“The current structure of the RCMP and its upper echelons is impervious to change,” he says. “It’s a big ask, and at this stage, unfortunately, I think it’s nearly impossible.”
Boudreau says it will take strong political will from both the federal and provincial governments to trigger any meaningful reforms.
He says that’s why Ottawa’s choice for the next RCMP commissioner is also crucial moving forward.
“If the wrong person is chosen, a person who is steeped in the RCMP culture, then change will not happen, and it has to be systemic change,” says Boudreau. “So that's why it's so very important that the federal government get this appointment right.”
In an interview with CTV Atlantic Thursday, Nova Scotia RCMP Commissioner Dennis Daley pointed out changes the force has made since the tragedy.
But Farrington says there’s much more work to be done.
“They’ve implemented the AlertReady system, but it took 22 people killed to make that happen,” he says. “The last thing I want to see is this happen again.”
“Hopefully I’m wrong, and they implement the recommendations that this commission has come out with,” he adds. “We’ll have to wait and see if they do.”
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