Saturday, December 26, 2009




Some anniversaries should never be forgotten. It was four years ago this Christmas holiday that the RCMP meddled in a federal election, tilting its outcome, as even Conservatives confirm, and arching eyebrows over the relationship between the national police force and ruling parties.

Little has changed since. It remains a mystery why in the heat of a campaign then-Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli curiously revealed a criminal investigation into alleged Liberal income trust leaks. It remains a glacial work in progress to reform an RCMP that a 2007 inquiry concluded is horribly broken.

Wrapped around both the mystery and the slow-motion reforms are layers of fear and distrust more common to tinpot dictatorships than mature democracies. Politicians are keenly aware of the proven RCMP career-wrecking potential and dot a line between its behaviour and success resisting reorganization and civilian oversight.

Those changes were to be in place this month. Instead, Ottawa is delaying again, this time for Justice John Major's report on the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.

While delaying, Conservatives are comforting a force rattled by serial snafus, including an internal pension scandal and Robert Dziekanski's Vancouver airport death. Gone within days will be Paul Kennedy, the RCMP complaints commissioner whose scathing reports and urgent demands for independent investigations embarrassed Mounties and irked Conservatives.

Ottawa insists reform and a new commissioner are coming. But restoring trust begins with fully airing what Zaccardelli did and why it's so easy for him to remain silent.

Each of the three national parties has reason to push the past under the rug. Liberals want to erase memories of the ethical failures and infighting Zaccardelli stirred, the NDP prefers to forget its fevered response to the faxed RCMP letter and Conservatives have zero interest in adding a retrospective taint to an election victory.

Still, public trust demands the removal of all suspicion that a federal election was less than free and fair. Conservatives are not only failing to restore that confidence, they are compounding the legitimate worry that politicians are too intimidated or self-interested to act when the RCMP plays politics.

That reticence is easily explained. Wild RCMP runs at high-profile politicians, including Ontario's former finance minister Greg Sorbara and B.C.'s one-time premier Glen Clark, are reminders that the RCMP, despite concerns about its competence, is still credible enough to ruin those in public life.

Logic argues that it's in the interest of political elites to modernize a historic force that operates with the secrecy of a cult. Implementing fundamental changes recommended more than two years ago and still promoted by Kennedy would protect politicians from frivolous investigation while restoring public faith that the RCMP is safely under civilian control.

Both should have been priorities after Zaccardelli, later defrocked for misleading Parliament in the Maher Arar affair, apparently tinkered with an election. Any doubts about the legitimacy of that campaign should have been dispelled before voters next cast a ballot.

Instead, politicians opt not to risk RCMP wrath. Instead, a country that actively promotes its democratic brand abroad is now marking the fourth anniversary of an outrage so beyond the Canadian experience that it remains hard to believe it happened here and still harder to accept that the truth remains securely under lock and key.

*** Yet another reason to tighten the reins of the horsemen. If CSIS can have civilian oversight, if other agencies can have civilian oversight why would the RCMP have a problem with it? MS ***