The sovereign state of RCMP?

IAN URQUHART May 31 1976

The sovereign state of RCMP?

IAN URQUHART May 31 1976

The sovereign state of RCMP?


One afternoon in mid-May, Maurice Nadon, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was due to make a statement on gun controls to the House of Commons justice committee. He had been invited to appear before the committee at the suggestion of the Conservatives, who oppose gun controls and hoped the Mounties would support their stand (former RCMP Commissioner L. H. Nicholson, for example, is a leading spokesman for the gun lobby in Canada). Nadon had a statement prepared and ready to deliver. Officials under Solicitor General Warren Allmand, the minister responsible for the RCMP and chief architect of the gun-control legislation, asked for a copy. They got the brush-off. But Nadon met with Allmand before going to the justice committee and afterward declined to deliver his prepared statement on gun controls. The Tories, disappointed, asked what he thought about the gun legislation anyway. Nadon offered tepid support: “The force has recognized the desirability of some form of control of firearms for some time,” he said. “So what is the best form of control? That remains to be seen.”

The incident, relatively small in itself, nonetheless illustrates the growing friction between the RCMP and the government as the Mounties continue to flex their muscles and assert their independence. Some Liberals have even been moved to describe the RCMP as constituting a “parallel government” or “opposition” to the government.

Tensions between the governmentand the Mounties are not new, and can be dated back to late 1970. when then Solicitor General Jean-Pierre Goyer began efforts to rein in the independent-minded

RCMP. But frictions have grown in recent months, not just because of government legislation that some Mounties consider ill-advised—such as gun controls and abolition of capital punishment—but also because of RCMP investigations into areas such as Sky Shops, the Seafarers International Union (siu) and the dredging scandal that touch directly or indirectly on members of the cabinet and on the Liberal Party. Although the Commons’ attention was diverted from the row by the new federal budget, it is expected to surface in the House again as the Mounties continue their probes.

What increasingly irritates and angers the government is that the investigations have lately been accompanied by a series of leaks to opposition MPS and the press. When Environment Minister Jean Marchandé office was visited by two RCMP plainclothes officers last November in connection with the Sky Shops investigation, a television camera was on hand to record the event. A furious Marchand blamed the presence of the camera on an RCMP leak and accused the Mounties of using publicity to “gain a strength they wouldn't have otherwise.” This comment was brushed aside at the time; Marchand seemed to be a man who had cried wolf too often. But when a letter from RCMP security chief Michael Dare,outlining a governmentdecision to stop surveillance of legitimate po-^ litical parties suchas the Parti Québécois, was leaked to the right-wing, anti-govern-,

ment Toronto Sun in May, others began to wonder whether Marchand hadn’t been right. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau charged in the Commons that the leak was “obviously designed to destroy my reputation and credibility.”

Normally, such quarrels between a government and its officials would be a mismatch in favor of the government. But the RCMP is no ordinary bureaucracy. A force of 18,000—including 11,600 policemen, one quarter of the total number of policemen in Canada—the RCMP covers a variety of federal functions that in the United States are handled by such agencies as the FBI. the CIA., the Secret Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In addition, the RCMP operates as provincial police outside Ontario and Quebec and as local cops in 171 municipalities across Canada. A paramilitary outfit, the Mounties enforce internal discipline with a rigid code and officers who break it face penalties of up to a year in prison.

In addition to these signs of strength, the Mounties have a public image that places them seemingly almost beyond criticism— a 1972 poll showed that 91.7% of the respondents judged the force to be “competent” or “highly competent.” Building on this base and on a 103-year tradition of fierce independence and honesty, the RCMP has pursued its investigations with vigor even when they affected the political careers of the force’s nominal superiors in government.

The recent blowup over the Dare letter, for example, centred on the fact it was leaked and overlooked the contents, significant in themselves. Dare said in the letter that, in response to the government’s wishes, “I have accordingly issued an instruction that all inquiries being conducted on the Parti Québécois and its members cease . . .” Here was an admission by the RCMP that it has in the past carried out surveillance of the activities of a legitimate political organization. The responsibility for such surveillance falls to the Security

Service, or ss. a highly secretive branch of the RCMP under Dare, responsible for the country’s internal security. Even its budget and manpower are unknown to the outside world. Such mystery has prompted speculation in the past that the ss regularly spies on legitimate groups, ranging from the National Farmers Union to the Canadian Association for Repeal of the Abortion Law. But the Mounties, through the government, have always responded that investigations are only conducted where there is a suspicion of “criminal or subversive activity.” According to the Dare letter, the scope of ss surveillance was evidently much wider than that until the cabinet cracked down.

Someone—possibly a Mountie— evidently disagreed with the new policy and leaked the Dare letter to express this

dissatisfaction. It is a familiar pattern. In 1964, the Rivard scandal was touched off by leaks when it seemed the government was sitting on information that an assistant to Justice Minister Guy Favreau and the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Lester Pearson had been involved in efforts to spring mobster Lucien Rivard from Bordeaux jail. It appears the practice has been revived. Nadon insists there is no proof yet that any of the leaks have emanated from the RCMP. But one recipientformer Ontario MPP Morton Shulman, who sparked the SIU allegations concerning Labor Minister John Munro—admits the RCMP is a valuable source.

In some cases, the disclosures are not without a sleazy sort of drama. While the Dare letter simply arrived by mail in a plain envelope, Shulman says he once got \a copy of a transcript of a wiretapped conversation in the men’s room at Montreal’s Dorval Airport. He was told to be there at a certain time. The transcript was stuck to the bottom of a toilet bowl.

Leaks are not the only avenue for expressing dissatisfaction or getting back at the government. In April, the “divisional representatives,” a sort of RCMP company union, went to the point of publicly expressing nonconfidence in Allmand as Solicitor General. That same month, the RCMP pulled the Sky Shops case out of Quebec and handed it over to the Ontario courts when Quebec prosecutors attempted to dictate the charges to be laid.

That series of events prompted concern in the upper echelons of government, and the RCMP became the subject of several meetings in the Prime Minister’s office. But by Victoria Day, the government was attempting to play down suggestions of growing friction between it and the force. Trudeau put out the word privately that he was satisfied that only a few individuals in the RCMP were misbehaving. Adds Allmand: “If you say the RCMP are playing politics, the answer is no. There may be members in the force who are, but there are in every government department. Maybe some don’t like my position on capital punishment, or are opposed to government bilingualism policies. But I think these are just individuals. Not the whole force.” Says Nadon: “We’ve been accused of trying to defeat the government. But we investigated crimes that were brought to our attention and crimes only.”

But some Liberals were not so sure, especially in Quebec, where there has always been strong suspicion of the motives of the federal police force. Marchand compared the RCMP to the CIA, an independent U.S. force dancing to its own tune. Backbench Liberal MP Louis Duelos suggested jokingly the Mounties were planning a coup d’état, but added in a more serious vein: “You look at the series of incidents—the leaks and the dispute with the Quebec prosecutors and all—and you begin to wonder: what is the RCMP up to?” Quebec newspaper editorialists depicted the Mounties as “a state within a state” with “a political axe to grind.”

Such comments could be brushed aside as self-serving politics or simple paranoia, but others have begun to express concern about the direction the RCMP is headed as well. Even Conservative MP Elmer MacKay, the “Sky Shops man” who has been a beneficiary of RCMP leaks in the past, says the force is out of control. While he won’t accuse the RCMP of playing politics, MacKay says the Mounties are “leading Allmand around by the nose” and adds: “If there’s any group in this country we cannot afford to have drifting, it’s the RCMP.” MacKay has acknowledged that one of his primary sources in the Sky Shops affair was a former Mountie, Don McCleery. A veteran of the RCMP who was commended for his work during the FLQ crisis in 1970,

McCleery and fellow Mountie Gilles Brunet were fired from the force in 1973 for consorting with Montreal businessman Mitchell Bronfman, who was allegedly associated with accused mobster Willie Obront.

Ironically, it was Allmand’s office that started the chain of events that led McCleery to MacKay. McCleery and Brunet felt they had been shafted for an innocent relationship with a friend and took their case to Allmand. The Solicitor General wrote then RCMP Commissioner W. L. Higgitt asking if the two men would “have an opportunity to fully present their case.” Higgitt replied curtly that there was “no provision for further appeals.” McCleery persisted in his efforts to clear himself but, finally, Charles Beuglet, then Allmand’s executive assistant, told him he would have to go to the opposition if he wanted to get anywhere. (Allmand says McCleery and Brunet themselves first raised the possibility of going to the opposition and he told them to go ahead.) Beuglet suggested Conservative MP Pat Nowlan to McCleery, but Nowlan put McCleery in touch with MacKay, who tried to help out the exMountie, so far to no avail. As a return favor, McCleery helped MacKay on the Sky Shops investigation and met with considerably greater success.

That Allmand’s office should be unable to get McCleery and Brunet a new hearing is not really surprising. Although the Solicitor General is nominally in charge of the RCMP. he in fact exercises little control over the force. A weekly meeting with Nadon and his top aides is, by most reports, little more than a formality. Says McCleery: “When the minister asks the RCMP some-

thing, they don’t give him the right answer. They give him what they want to give him. And if he gets too cocky, they release an embarrassing thing on him, like that Dare letter. If a guy gets out of line, they try to embarrass him.”

The force is not, of course, monolithic. One source knowledgeable in rcmp-government relations estimates that about 40% of the force has come around to the idea of ultimate government control of its activities. “But the other 60% thinks it is answerable to God, or, at least, the Queen. Certainly not to the government.” Nadon rejects the idea the force is out of control. He notes that, in addition to Allmand, the RCMP must answer to the courts, provincial attorneys general, municipal councils and even the press. There is also, of course, an argument to be made that too much political control is not a good thing. It could result in deflecting the Mounties from legitimate investigations into criminal acts by politicians or, worse, transform the RCMP into a branch of the Liberal Party. Says one top Mountie: “We just could not operate if we were politically controlled.”

Recently, a commission of inquiry into the RCMP headed by Judge René Marin of Ontario recommended establishment of an ombudsman to hear public complaints against the RCMP. That step is still under consideration by the government. But ultimately, the government must take responsibility for the RCMP. The next big test could come with the appointment of a new commissioner to replace Nadon, due to step down in 1977. If concern over the RCMPcontinues, the government might appoint an outsider to the post, something that hasn’t been done since 1931.

Another possible step might be to split off the Security Service from the RCMP-a sort of divide-and-rule tactic. A separate security agency=-the Police and Security Planning and Analysis Group (PSPAG)was set up in 1971 by the government to provide an outside evaluation of RCMP intelligence. But it has become largely a captive of the RCMP, which supplies it with most of its information,

Many Mounties, fearful of changes such as these, have reacted harshly against the leaks in connection with their investigations. One irate corporal described the person who leaked the Dare letter as “some mindless little twit” who didn’t realize the backlash he could cause. But like it or not, the Mounties are almost certain to face further run-ins with the government in the near future. That is especially likely to be true if ongoing investigations into overspending at Mirabel airport and at the Olympic site—two probes that reportedly are turning up a harvest of wrongdoingturn out to touch on the cabinet or the Liberal Party. IAN URQUHART