Open mouth, insert . . .
By Jim Poling
I think it is time that Justin the Good sat down for a serious heart to heart with his No. 1 policeman, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
The Commish is a political train wreck waiting to happen. He’s been close to running off the rails several times now, causing his political bosses some embarrassment.
His latest public relations disaster was last week in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade where he noted that it is reasonable for the public to expect police officers to be held to a higher standard.
Later, he drew some laughs when he told about vacationing in British Columbia and being stopped for speeding by one of his own officers. B.C. is one of those provinces where RCMP do highway patrol.
He related how shocked the officer was when he realized he had pulled over his boss. Chuckles all around and that was the end of the amusing anecdote - until a reporter asked the obvious question: did he receive a speeding ticket?
“Oh, that was just a story I made up,” the commissioner replied.
Questioned further, he reversed himself and said the story was true. Pressed harder on whether he received a ticket, he said he didn’t want to talk about it, then admitted he did not.
You have to be awfully dim, or having a really off day, to think that story could be told without anticipating the obvious follow-up questions. It shows bad judgment on the commissioner’s part.
Paulson is building quite a history of bad judgment. The news media often refers to his shoot-from-the-lip style. He has been dressed down by three different federal public safety ministers, the department to which he reports, since his appointment in late 2011.
In 2012 he apologized and repaid the federal government $912, the cost of having on-duty RCMP honour guard assigned to his wedding.
Documents obtained recently by journalists reveal that Paulson had to issue another apology in 2012. The government ordered him to apologize to a subordinate for intimating and demeaning behaviour.
Staff Sgt. Tim Chad of B.C. complained to Paulson after the commissioner distributed a video lecture to all detachments on needed improvements and getting rid of the force’s bad apples.
“We are not all a bunch of screw-ups but it is evident we are all being lumped into that category and we are not valued and trusted,” Chad wrote in an email.
Paulson replied that Chad is “living under a rock” and that his complaints “reveal an ill-informed arrogance” that is “at the heart of what ails us.”
Another B.C. officer then complained that the commissioner’s response to Chad was “aggressive, insulting, arrogant, condescending and immature.”
The government obviously agreed and then-public safety minister Steven Blaney ordered Paulson to apologize. Ralph Goodale, the latest public safety minister, has said nothing about Paulson’s most recent judgment misadventure, but no doubt is watching closely.
Back in February, Goodale told Paulson that he wants to see a plan to end “toxic workplace behaviour” in the RCMP. That came after reports of alleged bullying, sexual touching and nudity at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.
Goodale also has asked the RCMP watchdog to take a new look at bullying and harassment within the RCMP. The watchdog earlier reported that the RCMP needs swift, effective action on complaints about bullying and harassment.
Paulson was in trouble with another public safety minister, this one Vic Toews who was replaced by Blaney. Toews ordered Paulson in 2012 to rewrite an action plan to address findings of gender bias in the RCMP.
That’s a lot of serious sit-downs with your bosses. The next one might be with the boss of them all, the Prime Minister. Trudeau, when he appointed Goodale told him he wants an RCMP workplace that is free from harassment and sexual violence.
No doubt he is not amused at Paulson’s stumbles, and he likely is becoming impatient. He should be. Paulson has had fours years to change the RCMP. He boasts of some success, but it clear that he has done nothing to change his own style.