That horrible weekend last month, all Canadians witnessed what was likely the most catastrophic collapse of policing in Canadian history. Little, if anything, went right.
Twenty-two people were murdered. The gunman marauded around the province of Nova Scotia with seeming impunity, only being killed and captured because the last person he murdered had left her gas tank empty.
We all know that we can’t let that happen again. Yet, in Nova Scotia, the premier and his ex-Mountie Justice minister have been virtually silent, caught up in the COVID-19 disaster.
People, even many Mountie supporters, want a public inquiry to hopefully clear the air, but the Crown and the RCMP seem tone deaf. Even if they are not in cover-up mode, it smells like that. They seem bent upon using up the provincial supply of permanent ink, blacking out large chunks of the various informations to obtain a search warrant.
Little seems to make sense about it.
The position taken by the censors is that the blocked information is key to an ongoing criminal investigation. Their focus is on the shooter. Just as much, if not more attention, must be paid to the Mounties.
What investigation arising out of the circumstances is going to change the fact that the RCMP embarrassed itself with its performance that weekend? There are supposedly more than 900 Mounties in Nova Scotia in contract and federal policing? Where were they all?
Logic dictates that since the shooter, who the Examiner is calling GW, was absolutely linked to the shootings and fires, any new criminal investigation should have little, if anything, to do with him. RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said as much at a press conference three days after the rampage: that GW “acted alone.”
Has the RCMP has stumbled onto some new, sensitive, and dramatic case or are they and the government just slowing everything down to a crawl, to control the narrative and buy some time?
My gut tells me the latter. Prove me wrong.
That there is a well-known public market in RCMP uniforms, badges, and patches and nothing has ever been done about it, it suggests there is not much room for a criminal investigation there. That is, unless Mounties were actually hawking their stuff to make a buck, and even then that’s only a tiny sliver of the larger story.
Donald Walker told the Toronto Star, a week after the shootings, that GW “didn’t hide this vehicle. This car was not like in a garage where he was secretly making it…. He was very proud of that vehicle. He told me he wanted to go to car shows, take it there, show off.”
The Mounties apparently knew this, too, and it was widely reported that GW was told he could take the decked out fake police car to shows, but not drive it on the road.
To date, various media entities have reported on everything from the gunman’s quirks, threats to others, illegal guns, replica Mountie cars, possible cigarette smuggling, and even the murder of someone in the United States, among other things.
Even if any of those allegations are worth pursuing, as I said, the perpetrator is dead. There does not appear to be reasons enough to run through Sharpies by the caseload.
The public has a right to know what was in those documents and disclosure should not be unreasonable withheld.
Last week, I reported that a Deep Throat Whistleblower told me that the media must continue to push for information on the relationship between GW and the police, either the Mounties or Halifax.
There was a Big Secret there, the source said, big enough to blow the entire story into another dimension.
Which brings me, briefly, to my qualifications to write about these matters.
I am a citizen.
Reporters across the country tell me that the mention of my name draws immediate ire from the Mounties. “He hates the RCMP,” more than one has been told.
For the record, here’s what I think, based upon my considerable research over the years. The RCMP is a secretive, stubborn, archaic, and dysfunctional organization that is foremost a danger to its own hardworking and mostly loyal employees. All too often, young Mounties become quickly disillusioned when they begin to realize that they are mere faceless pawns in the force’s over-arching ambition to protect its multitude of franchises. Because that’s what they are: business-like franchises. Profit centres.
The issue of my competence and insights is politically heated among RCMP and other police supporters on talk shows and in internet forums.
So here we go, wading into the past.
As a journalist since 1974, I’ve covered policing from a variety of perspectives.
In 1976, fellow reporter Steve Jarrett and I responded to a gun call one Saturday night where the then Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police were using their SWAT team for the first time. As we approached the scene, one of the SWAT members was heard to say that they had hoped “Palango would show up.” He jokingly implied he was going to take me out. I got so close to the scene that I had to push down the barrel of a tear gas gun a sweaty officer was about to fire into a room filled with his fellow officers. It was a pretty funny story. The police hated it.
Over the years, I Iearned a lot being close up and had not a few harrowing moments here and there facing down an enormous range of physical and legal threats.
In my thirties, as the City and later National Editor at the Globe and Mail, I was in charge of investigative reporting. As I look over at the wall in my office, there is a photo of me accepting the Michener Award from then Governor General Jean Sauve, the highest award for journalism in the country, on behalf of the Globe and Mail. It is for disinterested public service journalism. Disinterested? It means we didn’t have a dog in the race. Why me? I was directly involved in the conception, reporting and editing of three different series of stories and had imput on a fourth, all of which were co-winners of the award. One of the stories, the so-called Patti Starr Affair, resulted in nine Ontario Cabinet Ministers losing their jobs in one day.
After I left the Globe, I wrote three increasingly more critical books about the RCMP and its operations, as well as newspaper and magazine articles. I met hundreds of Mounties and policing experts. I rode around in police cars around the country and saw what the Mounties go through firsthand. I fielded hundreds of calls over the years from distressed Mounties. They all told the same stories about how the force has and continued to let them down. “I would go to a city police force in a moment,” one Mountie told me when we met over an incident. “But I can’t transfer my pension.”
In fact, as I look around my office, I can also see another way the world has changed.
I’m looking at a large framed print of the Musical Ride charge by Bill McMillan from 1997. It was given to me as a gift by a detachment in British Columbia who invited me to speak at and attend their annual ball. Why me? The Mounties there believed back then that I was speaking for the rank and file, the ordinary members, trying to protect them from the scourge created by the incompetence of their masters. Not much has changed. In fact, almost all tell me, things have deteriorated even more.
But what has changed is the echo chamber mentality created in the closed, invitation only chat rooms on the Internet. I have had a peek into some of them recently and it’s what you’d expect. It’s like the Taliban in there. Anything perceived to be liberal or Liberal is the subject of scorn. Anyone who speaks out of turn is either castigated or threatened with banishment. People like me are accused of being libs, gay (not that there is anything wrong with that), stupid, greedy, or corrupt. In those rooms, as Donald Trump might put it, a Mountie could mow down everyone on 5th Avenue, and no one would hold it against him.
The final taunt, and you hear this one on the radio talk shows all the time. Neither I, nor anyone, like me can talk about policing unless you are a police officer.
No, I’m not one and never have been. I couldn’t be. I’m partially colour blind, which in the context of what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years or so, glass art, should give anyone pause.
But when I argue that Constable Heidi Stevenson should not have been where she was, I say that because I understand the deep flaws in the system and I care about what happened to her.
Why do I care? Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s in the public interest. Caring about how she died might prevent it happening to some other police officer. And, secondly, contrary to what the mad-dog police defenders seem to assume, I am not some wimpy, money-grubbing theorist with no clue about policing and law enforcement.
I have a long family history of peace officers, people who have been on the line and are still on the line.
My father was military police watching over Nazi prisoners at Camp Barriefield, just outside Kingston, Ontario.
My brother, Dave, was a corrections officer in one of the most difficult jails in the country, until he retired.
Six weeks after she became a peace officer, my daughter had to use a weapon to protect a fellow officer during a near riot situation. When another one happened, subsequently, it was on her day off. She told me that when she asked prisoner the next day about what had happened, the prisoner told her: “We did it when you were off, ma’am, because we know you shoot.” She is now a crisis negotiator.
Her husband is also a corrections officer in a federal institution and an avid hunter, which brings me to my final qualification, which I self-admittedly dismally fail.
My son-in-law along with his buddies took their children on a weekend hunting trip to a camp. When they got back, I asked my grandson what he thought. He said: “it was boring.”
When he gets older, I’ll tell him what I really think: “Hunting isn’t much of a sport, since the animals don’t know the rules. It would be a real sport if the deer could put out donuts and jerky, perch in trees with long guns and shoot at the hunters. That would be a sport worth watching.”
The long and short of it is that I am confident that I know what I am talking about.
The 30 law professors at Dalhousie who have been joined by others like former coroner, Dr. John Butt, are right in calling for a public inquiry. The sooner, the better.
And then there is that final thing, my last name. Palango.
Although I’ve lived here 20 years, I’m still considered to be a CFA, a come from away.
Well, these days, you never know who you’re dealing with. My father was conceived in Nova Scotia and was born in Ontario, four months after the family arrived there. Here are my other Nova Scotia credentials. My great grandfather was Big Allan MacLellan from the Inverness area on Cape Breton. My great-grandmother was Mary Kennedy from nearby Broad Cove. She was born on Campbellton Road. So was her daughter, my beloved grandmother, Mary Sarah MacLellan.
And, right now I am calling on her to send a message to Premier McNeil. As she would have put it: “Jeezus snow-shovellin’ Christ, Stephen, get the blazes off your arse and call an inquiry.”
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