As a longtime Halifax Mooseheads fan, I’ve spent some time this spring inside a downtown arena named after a bank watching our Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team compete for the Gilles Courteau trophy as their league’s best.
The games on the ice have been excellent, but I often find myself drawn to what’s happening above ice level on the giant, fancy-dancy, four-sided video scoreboard.
There, you can not only check out the latest score and time remaining in the period but also — for reasons that are not exactly clear to me — watch the same live action happening on the ice before you on the screen above you, see instant replays, scan that night’s collection of smiling fans sharing their Instagram photos using the hashtag #gomoosego, and — inevitably — endure the many and various ads that scroll past or fill the big screen.
The most intriguingly stone-cold, tone-deaf advertisement by far is the one for — wait for it — the Nova Scotia RCMP. Its commercial offers a series of reassuring vignettes depicting Mounties doing good, being helpful, serving and protecting… and blah blah blah.
In other circumstances, there would be nothing especially shocking about such softcore promotion. There are many individual officers whose day-to-day, often dangerous work on our behalf is worthy of celebration.
But these are not other circumstances.
We are living in post-Portapique times, and:
- in the shadow of the massive and massively damning report of the Mass Casualty Commission,
- in the aftermath of the stunning revelation that senior Mounties couldn’t even be bothered to read the report’s executive summary before commenting mindlessly and defensively about a report that, among its 75 policing-related recommendations, urges the RCMP to publicly acknowledge its failings,
- and now, in the wake of a consultant’s report last month that concludes the Mounties and the Halifax Regional Police, who are supposed to share policing duties in HRM, can’t even seem to work together.
As my colleague, Tim Bousquet, noted in a Morning File last week: “Evidently, when the RCMP is pushed into a corner it goes into PR mode.”
Tim was referring to yet another scattershot in the Mountie’s offensive PR offensive, this one designed to convince Halifax councillors that the more than $20 million a year we pay the RCMP to police the suburban and rural parts of HRM is worth it.
Two key HRM officials — Cathie O’Toole, the city’s chief administrative officer, and Becky Kent, the chair of the police commission — flew to Regina recently for an “in-depth” tour of the RCMP’s national Training Depot.
The good news, I suppose, is that the RCMP didn’t underwrite this junket. Although the invitation was orchestrated by Halifax-district RCMP Chief Superintendent Jeff Christie, Kent says the still-unspecified costs were covered out of the CAO’s budget.
The bad news is that they went at all.
It should not have been — could not be — lost on either of them that the mass casualty commission report recommended phasing out the Mountie-controlled-and-run depot where recruits spend six months learning the how-to’s of policing and replacing it with three-year university programs that could educate wannabe officers in the larger social aspects of public safety as well as in how to handle guns and control crowds.
Whoever paid for the trip, however, it seemed to succeed in its real objective of dazzling our easy-to-dazzle locals.
“That was quite an honour,” O’Toole told the Examiner’s Zane Woodford. “I don’t think very many people probably get to see the inside of the facility and learn about how it works.”
Kent claimed their visit was a necessary follow-up to the MCC’s report. “So, we went to see it firsthand. We have to ask those questions, spend some time with those who are also reflecting on… the depot perspective and what their training modules are, all of the depth of it.”
The two of them might have spent their time more productively visiting Finland, which requires recruits to complete a three-year university program and which the MCC report highlighted as a potential model not just for the RCMP but for all police forces in Canada — including, presumably, the Halifax Regional Police.
Even better, Kent could have invited Finnish officials to visit Halifax to talk to the police commission and city council about how they train police.
As Lotta Parjanen, the head of education for Finland’s Police University College, told the CBC’s Blair Rhodes:
“Our education is based on the idea that we have a motto that police officers are civilized, we put a lot of effort on communication. The reputation of Finland’s police is very good, the trust. So, when there is police, there is also respect involved.”
The [MCC report also] quoted Kimmo Himberg, former rector of the Finnish police college, who said modern policing requires a complicated mix of skills and knowledge. As well, a thorough vetting of candidates is needed.
“We definitely do not want, as an example, Rambos, Rockys,” he said. “We want young people who are able to take initiative, make independent decisions, who have the characteristics for this so that we can build the education on those characteristics.”
Based on her own whirlwind visit, Kent was ready to challenge the conclusion of the mass casualty commission’s conclusions about the depot, which Kent described as “unexpected… I’m not sure the degree of which [the MCC] had the insight into it.”
Let me quote Tim again here:
The three Mass Casualty Commissioners included Leanne Fitch, a retired chief of police who has contracted with the RCMP. The other two commissioners are Michael MacDonald, the retired Chief Justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and Kim Stanton, a lawyer who has written a book about public inquiries. And the commission staff has both collectively and individually a thousand times the knowledge about all things policing than a municipal councillor who was taken on a tour of the depot with an RCMP minder. To suggest that the commission is uninformed is just wrong-headed.
But, from the RCMP’s self-serving perspective, Mission Accomplished.
No wonder we’ve had so many damning reports into the RCMP over so many years, and so little positive change.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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