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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