It has been six weeks since the Nova Scotia massacre and as the RCMP dribbles out the official facts of the investigation, many have wondered why the Nova Scotia government has been reluctant to call for a public inquiry.
Premier Stephen McNeil has tried to fob it all off on Ottawa, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week seemed reluctant to catch the steaming hot potato.
And then there are questions about Justice Minister Mark Furey. He was a Mountie for 36 years before he became a politician. And now he’s in charge of all matters of legal and policing issues from soup to nuts.
From what I know of him in passing, Furey is an outwardly nice guy, a sort of Boy Scout on steroids. But as my late Sicilian mother, Lea, used to say: “Who is he when he’s at home?”
Furey collects a healthy pension from his Mountie days and is revered in Mountie circles as one who made a life for himself in the outside world. He says he does not have a conflict. But does he? He says he can deal dispassionately with the enormous task before him. But can he?
The powerful, mind-controlling threads of Mountie DNA are instilled in every recruit who passes through Depot, the RCMP training facility at Regina. Among the first things a young Mountie is taught in his or her indoctrination is that the RCMP is “The Silent Force.” It does not answer or explain itself but lets the public speak for the organization.
That sounds high-minded and confident. It might appear to the casual observer that all kinds of Canadians leap to defend the RCMP in the time of crisis, but dig deeper and you begin to understand that the seemingly spontaneous defence of the force and its actions is anything but. The force is being a little too disingenuous.
In my 2008 book I devoted a chapter to the Secret Armies of the RCMP. It told how the force directs dialogue and policy from behind the scenes, mostly covertly, sometimes overtly. This so-called army consists of current and retired Mounties, their families, friends, and a general coterie of typical right-wing zealots. In the United States, there is a two-word phrase to describe these sorts: Trump supporters. In Canada, they advocate against change, reform or investigation of the RCMP.
It’s as if they sit around the Lodge sipping tea and cordials and then charge out on their high horses in a cult-like mission to lobby and silence critics and other perceived threats to the force, particularly political ones.
For a current example of this, consider Alistair Macintyre. He is the retired assistant commissioner, once the Number Two commander in British Columbia. Last month he played the Smurf and wrote an open letter to hint at salacious behaviour by the mayor of Surrey. The real issue is that the Surrey city council has voted to replace the Mounties with a city force next year, which is huge blow to the Mounties. Surrey employs more Mounties than all of Nova Scotia.
Over the past couple of decades, many in the RCMP, municipal and provincial police forces, have told me about how they’ve been bullied and intimidated or afraid of the force. Most are so fearful that they refuse to go on the record about it.
“The Mounties play dirty,” Edgar McLeod told me for Dispersing the Fog. He is the founding police chief of the Cape Breton Regional Police department and the head of the Atlantic Police Academy at Holland College in Prince Edward Island. Friday, in an interview from his Summerside, PEI home, he elaborated: “Governments at both the federal and provincial level have failed in their duty to hold them accountable.”
Another person extremely familiar with RCMP thinking said this: “The biggest fear the RCMP has is to be held accountable. It believes that no one can tell the force what to do.” This source is close to the inner circle in Ottawa and I’ve chosen not to name him/her, but we will call the source Dudley, from now on. Dudley is more valuable to the readers keeping his ear to the ground.
“At this point,” Dudley says, “there is only two ways to go: save the RCMP or shoot it.”
The stakes are high and the Smurfs are coming out of the woodwork trying to affect, narrow, and even shut down public discourse. One tactic they have is to conflate any criticism of the force and the system in which it operates, which is my focus, down to an attack on officers on the street, which is not.
After I did a radio interview in Halifax, the Smurfs started calling in, suggesting that because I wasn’t physically at Portapique Road, I had no right to be commenting on what happened.
That evening, just after midnight, a person identifying himself as a retired Mountie named Staff-Sgt. Eric Howard contacted me. In a shirty rant, Howard demanded that I provide a resume showing my expertise before I be allowed to comment on matters regarding Mountie tactics, operations, and human resources. “Should you continue to make statements without the expertise to back it up, you are just prostituting yourself for money or attention,” Howard wrote. “Think about this before commenting on any situation. I await your reply and resume.”
He’s still waiting.
Later that day I had a pre interview with another radio show host. I could smell the Smurf on him. We booked a time for the next day.
That night, just after midnight again, I got another missile fired at me from R. G. Bryce, who claimed to be a long time and current member of the RCMP.
In the officious sounding comment Bryce challenged former Halifax and RCMP officer Calvin Lawrence for what he had to say about the readiness of the Mounties in dealing with such a horrific situation that began on Portapique Beach Road. On Facebook, Lawrence continues to be pummelled by the Smurfs for speaking out.
Bryce wrote: “As a former member, you should be supportive to your fellow members ….so to make myself clear, shut your mouth, because you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
He gave a perfect demonstration of how the Smurfs talk when they want to control the narrative.
When I appeared on the radio the next day, I was prepared for the expected attack. The first question could have come right out of Staff-Sgt. Eric Howard’s mouth. I batted down by reading the exact response I had sent to Howard, which began: “Sir: Many of your retired superiors say I’m 100 per cent right…. The deep seated problems afflicting the RCMP are obvious and a matter of public interest.”
Over the decades I have experienced these attacks in both an overt and covert way. Some of it was reported in 2008 in the Georgia Strait newspaper in Vancouver, among other places.
What’s different this time, is a sense of desperation by the RCMP. As I popped my head up in this story, I got a notice from Linked In that a number of top Mounties in Ottawa were interested in me, including Ted Broadhurst, an Ottawa-based cyber special projects officer in federal policing criminal investigations. What? Was he looking to hire me or work for me? Not likely.
Paranoid? No, the curious thing was that Broadhurst is an expert on doing sneaky things. His public resume shows he was in the special services covert operations branch, tactical internet open source and other creepy things. He’s a guy who should know how to cover his tracks, but he didn’t. Why? Maybe he was trying to spook me. That’s what the Mounties tend to do.
To understand how the Mounties have worked behind the scenes in Nova Scotia, we need to go back to the years prior to the 2012 signing of the latest 20-year contract with the RCMP in Nova Scotia. At that time then Halifax police chief Frank Beazley noticed severe discrepancies on the rosters of the RCMP detachments who had the contract to police Halifax County outside the city. Although taxpayers were footing the bill for a certain number of officers, there were consistently fewer working. Beazley told me: “We began to look at RCMP staffing in the area and what individual officers were doing. Beside some officer’s names we’d find a zero for time, zero files, zero investigations, even though they were listed as being on the roster. We asked the Mounties what was going on and they wouldn’t tell us. We sent 1,500 emails to the RCMP about this, but never got one reply. Eventually we learned that one of the officers who was on our roster was also on the roster of a force in B.C. Another was on a federal police roster, and so on.”
You would think that such shenanigans would generate considerable interest in the provincial government. The Mountie shell game was essentially a fraud and still is, as was pointed out in an excellent CTV story on Sunday. But the New Democratic Party Justice Minister at the time was Ross Landry, an ex-Mountie. He pretended to hear the arguments about why the RCMP should be replaced at least in Halifax, but then pushed through a new contract which pretty well gave the RCMP everything it wanted and needed. If the Mounties had lost the Halifax County contract, they were effectively finished in the province.
Now Mark Furey is the minister of all things touching on the law in Nova Scotia. He is the point man when it comes to holding the RCMP accountable. It’s obvious that there are a thousand horrible questions for which we need answers. At the same time, the Mounties and their fervent Trump-like supporters are literally saying: “Move along. Nothing to see here.”
But there is plenty to see and to suggest otherwise is pure negligence. If anyone who is a threat to the Mounties and doesn’t say the right thing is attacked, how is Furey resisting this? Does he have some sort of immunity from overt and covert RCMP pressure?
We need to know what exactly the Mounties did and didn’t do over those two days.
How many Mounties were supposed to be on the roster of the various detachments and communications centres and how many of them were actually there that weekend?
Who was in charge at every moment?
Why did the RCMP not call in the local forces in Truro, Amherst, Halifax, and New Glasgow and environs?
Conversely, why have the chiefs of those same local forces been closed lipped about what happened? Is it the thin blue line in action? Or is there something going on between those forces and the Mounties that the public doesn’t know about? Did that something affect the decision-making process that night.?
A big question: Why did the Halifax Police Chief refuse to call in his emergency response team? Why did he tell them not to shoot the gunman?
How and why was Heidi Stevenson at the traffic circle in Shubenacadie at the time she was murdered?
What was the seemingly hidden relationship between the gunman and the police?
There are more questions, many more, and I suspect they will lead down a dark hole for the Mounties.
At this particularly delicate time in its history, when its very structure across the country is at stake, the RCMP will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo.
That means it will resist a public inquiry. Even its house union has taken that position, which should tell you something.
Can Mark Furey rise above all this, be the bigger man and be totally objective?
Or is he just another dyed-in-the-wool Mountie Smurf who, given the choice between defending the public interest or those of the Mounties, slyly tilts to the side of the red coats.
Furey says he doesn’t have a conflict, but the smart thing would be for him to recuse himself and let Caesar’s wife, someone above suspicion, take over the file.
Paul Palango is a former senior editor at the Globe and Mail and author of three books on the RCMP. He lives in Chester Basin.
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I already got the memo. However, Mike, people have told me there has actually been some rational discussion within the forums of late; not a lot, but something other than Trudeau is a Nazi and I’m a stupid, wimpy loser. Keep an eye on them, please
Paul I was not convinced at first that retired rcmp smurfs know the term but I can assure you that on the Facebook forums discussing the GW case, they sure do !
(Hint : they ain’t fans..)
With Steve & Mark in the back pocket, thank God almighty that on the RCMP /public inquiry file our three opposition leaders are so “silently effective”.
Or was that “effectively silent”, can’t remember which….
As my piece points out, the noisy, nasty chatter from the RCMP Smurfs scares politicians. They fail to appreciate that this single-minded constituency is not representative of the entire province. The cowardly approach is typical. Real leaders take charge and aren’t afraid of the tin gods. Over the years we’ve talked endlessly about making the police accountable, but when a time like this comes, politicians duck for cover. Too bad. It really is time for an adult conversation filled with facts, not just cheap emotion and blind faith in a dysfunctional organization.
The RCMP maintain they had no idea what kind of villain they were dealing with. They’d never encountered anything like this. The miscreant drive more than 140 km, and posed as a policeman, in a marked police car. Then he set fires, murdered 22 people, kidnapped his own girlfriend — all of it over the top. Isn’t that what the RCMP is trained for – dealing with “over the top” situations?
Politicians across the country have allowed the RCMP to basically dictate what it will or will not do. Yes, they should be prepared for something like this. The Smurfs in their closed chat rooms have attacked those who said they weren’t prepared. They say there is training in active shooter situations. But as a number of members pointed out, the training was for a shooting in a building, not outdoors over a wide area and at night to boot. I’ve argued for years that the RCMP was a danger to its own members and citizens. Incompetent negligent leadership led to the deaths of many people, not the least being Heidi Stevenson. She should never have been there alone.
No coincidence that our Premier who has family in law enforcement and runs his government with the same cult like grip on secrecy and access to information.
The public, journalists and the opposition should be banging down the walls … but, sadly, far too many don’t have the energy to do it.
“Twice as Far” by Thomas Juby also details corruption by RCMP brass in the Swissair investigation.
David: I am well aware and up to speed on Juby’s work. I was the first person to really look at it. I tried to do a book, but was rejected. I met with the Halifax Chronicle Herald publisher and suggested a series of stories outlining what Juby’s investigation suggests. Nobody would touch it. She basically wrote me off as being a conspiracy theorist, even though there were more than 10,000 pages of previously unpublished materials. She didn’t want to see them. She said the paper was too small to take on such a big project. Now, look where it is, smaller and it reads like its written by civil engineers and edited by accountants. The only memorable writing in it is the obituaries, a collection of the most colourful would make a wonderful book. They are the best I’ve ever seen. When I ran out of options, Tom Juby did it himself. I believe his story.
Paul, thanks for this piece and all your other reporting on the RCMP. Here in Sackville, N.B. where I’ve been covering town council for the past four years, the Mounties were finally pried out from their closed-door, town briefings which had been going on for years. Now, they’re trying to get most of their briefings held in camera again and some town councillors are sympathetic. As I pointed out in February, policing services is the single largest item in the town’s budget and there needs to be more public oversight, but the Mounties are resisting it. Under Sackville’s rules, anything heard in camera, can’t be divulged to public or media. One councillor had been complaining to the RCMP repeatedly in closed-door meetings about their lack of action to protect the town’s water supply from illegally parked oil tanker trucks — but the issue became public only because the police briefings were finally out from behind closed doors. Now, I fear, the Mounties will succeed in getting most of them closed again https://warktimes.com/2020/02/04/sackville-town-councillors-respond-to-rcmp-complaint-about-public-police-briefings/
Bruce: The Mounties always want to work behind the curtain. As Dudley says today, the RCMP’s greatest fear is accountability. The structure of contract policing all but guarantees they have free reign: it’s a federal police force operating under provincial laws. You’d think that would mean there would be all kinds of meaningful oversight, but the opposite is usually true. Each side defers to the other until nothing of substance gets done. It’s a hybrid system fraught with a bevy of fundamental conflicting problems. The only resolution is for Nova Scotia to form its own regional/provincial forces and take full control of its own destiny. Yes, it will cost a little at first, but at least it would put an end to all the shenanigans. In any event, the RCMP as we know it is dwindling on the vine of its own volition and maybe your local councillors should wake up and come to the realization that there is a different world ahead for which they need to be prepared.
Saint John is the only New Brunswick municipality with a police board. Councillors hate having an arms length police board and councillors love having ‘in camera’ meetings. The RCMP may like private meetings but you will find councillors love them more.
This : ” The Police Act also makes provisions for regional policing authorities to be established
for a region policed by a regional RCMP force. The only regional policing authority in
existence at this point is the Codiac Regional Policing Authority serving the
municipalities of Dieppe, Moncton, and Riverview. ”
More details here :
Local politicians are a big problem. They get all star struck dealing with cops. It’s like when I covered major league baseball as a journalist.
Some reporters were jock-sniffers, and a few were not. Guess which group I fell into?
In HRM there are/were 1 RCMP officer per 965 citizens and HRP has 1 officer per 441 citizens. HRP covers Dartmouth,Halifax and Bedford.
Minutes here, read pages 3-5 https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/boards-committees-commissions/180115bopcMins.pdf
As the CTV report yesterday indicates, the real problem is that even if the RCMP is allowed to hire more members, where are they going to come from? They are short in huge numbers right across the country and can’t possibly train enough new Mounties to fill the positions. The proportions in Halifax are normal. When you spread the police too thin, bad things happen, as we’ve seen.
I haven’t read the RCMP report on the shooting, but I find it unbelievable that officers responding to an emergency had to stop to gas up. It was of course fortunate, in this case that the RCMP and GW ran into each other at the gas station but it is ridiculous that our “first responders” don’t keep enough fuel in their tanks to respond to an emergency without stopping for gas. I’ve never heard of an ambulance or fire truck having to gas up on the way to an emergency.
Not only that, the fact that the police were still in Halifax County more than 13 hours after it all began and at least 30 minutes after two police officers had been shot about 24 kilometres away, speaks volumes about the RCMP response. What were they doing? The RCMP and its hordes of supporters will say that in any difficult situation mistakes will be made and that we shouldn’t dwell on these. What happened goes beyond mistakes and into the realm of gross negligence.
Why “smurf”? I couldn’t find an explanation of this nickname in the article.
In the world of money-laundering, Smurfs are seemingly ordinary people who do the bidding of their masters and make deposits here and there to clean the dirty money.
Yeah, I probably should have elaborated. You’re right.