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Opinion stories

KNIGHT: Tragedy of errors created when the RCMP aren’t honest with the public

We expect the RCMP to be honest with Canadians and to tell the truth.

As our national police force Canadians expect certain things from the RCMP.

We expect to be protected from threats to our national security and from threats in our communities they police. But we also expect the RCMP to be honest with Canadians and to tell the truth.

Last week the first mediation / settlement conference was held in one of four lawsuits brought against the RCMP by the members who responded to a disturbance call at YVR airport in October, 2007 that resulted in the death of Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski.

Yes, this has been going on for 12 years.

It began with the first media briefing given by Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre the Media Liaison Officer (MLO) for the RCMP in the Lower Mainland in the hours after Dziekanski’s death. Lemaitre had preliminary information from the investigators and gave an erroneous statement to the media.

When further investigation made it clear that Lemaitre had provided inaccurate information to the press, he wanted to correct the record but he was ordered not to by then Inspector Wayne Rideout who was in charge of IHIT, the homicide investigators handling the file.

Lemaitre was replaced and ultimately transferred to a traffic unit once the error became public and the baying media hounds became relentless. That failure haunted him to the point he committed suicide in the summer of 2013.

That decision by Rideout not to be honest with the public triggered everything that resulted, from the Braidwood Inquiry, to the formation of the civilian review agency, The IIO in B.C., to the members being charged criminally with perjury and with two being ultimately acquitted and two convicted. The two that were convicted served time in prison.

The reality of the situation is the four members responded exactly as they were trained to do but the senior management of the RCMP never said that publicly. They allowed their members to twist in the wind for years and ultimately to go to prison.

The machinations that went on behind the scenes continued for years as the force tried to contain the damage they had wrought by their own failure. Predictably, they only managed to exacerbate the problem.

The whole matter was examined in depth by veteran journalist Curt Petrovich in his excellent book Blamed and Broken.

I should also add that the RCMP conducted an internal review two years after the events of 2007 and determined that members acted appropriately. It was again reviewed ten years later and that report reached much the same conclusion.

In August of 2015, I spoke with Gary Bass who had just retired as the Deputy Commissioner in charge of E Division (BC) during all of these events. He tried to explain the actions of the force and decisions that were made but at the end of the interview he could not explain why the truth was never told.

On the actions of the four officers, he said this, “I continue to be of the belief that the four members acted in accordance with their training and the policy at the time and that I never saw any indication that they committed perjury.”

Well, why not say that publicly? It would have avoided a whole lot of grief, especially for the two members who went to jail.

The four members have all filed lawsuits against the RCMP. And the mediation efforts have begun to try and find settlements. But even the RCMP still won’t admit publicly that the YVR Four were just doing their jobs as they had been trained.

Petrovich wanted to attend the mediation but was told he’d have to sign a document essentially agreeing that he’d get sued for $100,000 if he said anything. Where they get the authority to say that is unclear. Petrovich declined to sign the document.

None of any of this would have happened had they just been honest with the public out of the gate. And it seems they still don’t want any sunlight shone on their actions.

Canadians expect better of their national police force.

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