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RCMP needs to be overhauled, start admitting mistakes: N.S. shooting inquiry report

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The commission examining Canada’s worst mass shooting says the RCMP needs to be reviewed, restructured, and start admitting to its mistakes.

The Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) has released its final report into the mass shooting, which claimed the lives of 22 people, including a pregnant mother, in Portapique, N.S., and across central Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2020.

The 3,000-page document includes a long list of failures by the RCMP before, during, and after the mass shooting.

The commission notes there were gaps and errors in the RCMP’s response to the shooting and that it failed to communicate with the public during and after the tragedy.

Notably, the MCC determined that RCMP officers who responded to the incident had limited knowledge of Portapique and the surrounding area, and RCMP-issued cellphones had no data.

The commission also found that the RCMP was not prepared to execute a large-scale evacuation of civilians during an active threat, and it took hours to alert the public that the shooter was driving a replica RCMP cruiser.

After the tragedy, the MCC says crime scenes and evidence weren’t always treated with care and were sometimes overlooked.

The commission is especially critical of the RCMP’s lack of transparency with families of the victims and the general public.

“In the wake of the mass casualty, the RCMP prioritized institutional and investigative imperatives over the needs of survivors and family members and over public demands for information,” said the commissioners.

“This prioritization led to serious shortcomings in the RCMP’s information-sharing practices.”

‘SIGNIFICANT CHANGES NEEDED’

After investigating the RCMP’s response to the mass shooting, The MCC says “significant changes are needed” when it comes to everyday policing, transparency and accountability.

“The existing culture of policing must change,” notes the MCC. “Everyday policing practices, policies, supervision, information-sharing, learning, transparency, and accountability require attention across the board, beginning with an overhaul of police education in Canada.”

The commissioners state that problems within the RCMP have already been identified by past commissions, reports and inquiries, and that the problems have created a “toxic workplace culture.” It also notes there have been efforts to reform the organization, but those have mostly failed, and the same problems persist.

“If the RCMP’s management does not share a commitment to making these changes – or worse, if some members of management actively work to undermine efforts to reform the RCMP – these efforts will likely fail,” said the commissioners in their report.

The MCC also notes that the inquiry into the mass shooting took place as a broader conversation about the RCMP’s role in providing policing services in some communities was playing out across Canada.

Some jurisdictions, including the Municipality of Cumberland County, are reconsidering whether they will continue to use the RCMP or seek policing alternatives.

“We believe that how the Government of Canada and the RCMP respond to the recommendations we make in this report could have a significant bearing on the future of the RCMP’s contract policing services,” said the commissioners.

ADMITTING MISTAKES

Among the list of recommendations made by the MCC, is that the RCMP must start acknowledging and taking responsibility for its mistakes.

The commissioners say the RCMP has a history, as evidenced in past inquiries and reports, of failing to respond quickly and rectify its mistakes and shortcomings.

In this case, the MCC says the RCMP has not properly apologized for its shortcomings related to the mass shooting, and senior management typically responded to difficult questions and criticism with denial or deflection.

“This impulse created mistrust among family members of those whose lives were taken, within the most affected communities, and in the broader community.”

The RCMP must adopt a policy of admitting its mistakes, accepting responsibility for them, and ensuring mechanisms are in place for addressing errors, states the MCC.

“The demonstrated capacity to accept responsibility for one’s errors should be a criterion for any promotion within the RCMP.”

COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW

The MCC says past inquiries and reviews have called for a comprehensive review of the RCMP, but those recommendations were never implemented.

The commissioners are joining past calls for an in-depth, external and independent review of the RCMP, which they say should also examine its approach to contract policing and community relations.

RESTRUCTURING THE RCMP

The MCC says more clarity is needed when it comes to defining the roles and responsibilities of headquarters and relationship with divisions.

During and after the mass shooting, the report notes that there was much uncertainty over who exactly was responsible for public communications and internal briefings, among other things.

The MCC says Public Safety Canada and the federal minister of public safety need to establish clear priorities for the RCMP and identify what responsibilities should be reassigned to other agencies, which could include new policing agencies.

The commissioners note there have been efforts to reform the RCMP’s contract policing model so the organization is more responsive to the communities it serves, but those efforts have largely failed.

RURAL POLICING

One of the issues that contributed to the poor police response to the shooting was chronic RCMP staffing shortages in rural detachments, the inquiry found.

The MCC says the RCMP must provide adequate services in rural and remote communities and that those communities should expect a timely response from police.

“All levels of government should provide financial support to communities for the provision of adequate policing services within rural and remote communities,” said the commissioners.

The MCC says more value must be placed on rural policing, which is sometimes seen as the first step in an officer’s career.

Instead, the MCC says the RCMP should establish an attractive career stream for members who wish to specialize in rural or remote policing.

Rural police should be able to progress in their careers in their communities and potential leaders should have the opportunity to pursue further training in rural policing, notes the MCC.

Rural police officers must be capable generalists who possess a good working knowledge across a range of kinds of crime and community problems. Additionally, good systems must be in place to ensure that access to specialized services is available in ways that meet the needs of rural communities, particularly underserved rural victims of gender-based, intimate partner, and family violence and race- or hate-based crimes.”

RCMP TRAINING

The report found that the current training model doesn’t fully prepare RCMP officers for the complex demands of modern policing, and that the organization isn’t open to independent research, which impairs its operational effectiveness.

The MCC is recommending that the RCMP phase out its current model of training by 2032 and implement a new model by that time.

The commissioners say a three-year, degree-based model of police education should be established for all police services in Canada.

The new model should be research-based and allow students to participate in the research.

The new model should be accessible to all groups, including women, Indigenous students and other groups that have historically been underrepresented and underserved by police, says the MCC.

At least one campus should be established in Atlantic Canada.

While the MCC is calling for significant changes to the RCMP, at this time they are only recommendations. It remains to be seen whether the RCMP will implement any of the changes included in the report.

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