The head of the RCMP admitted that Canada’s national police force neglected to keep tabs on hundreds of cases of serious misconduct committed by Mounties across the country for years.

Commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged that an access to information request by CBC News inadvertently revealed that not even senior leaders in the RCMP could say with confidence whether incidents of misconduct that include assaults, impaired driving, and fraud were a problem in the force.

“You’re right,” said Paulson, who’s been on job just over a year. “The RCMP hadn't been tracking until I got here and now we are. We're tracking them all."

The discovery that no one within the RCMP had a comprehensive list of Mounties who’d been disciplined, became obvious after CBC News asked for basic data between 2005 and 2008 that included offences and findings by internal adjudications boards.

CBC News submitted the request in November 2008. It was delivered four years later in November 2012. An officer who handled the file offered an embarrassed apology, and explained the delay was due to the list having to be created from scratch.

Serious problem in management

Walter Kostekyj, a Vancouver lawyer and former RCMP officer himself, was astonished.

“It tells you there's a serious problem in management," Kostekyj said.

“How would they measure their training? How would they measure who they're selecting to be a police officer if they're not keeping track of who it is they're having problems with?”

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association called it irresponsible.

“The RCMP is an organization charged with keeping track of crime right across the country,” Paterson said.

“And yet within their own organization, they had no way, short of spending four years pulling this research together, knowing the rate at which their officers were committing very serious misconduct.

“Senior leaders in Ottawa, and here in British Columbia would not have been able to say with any confidence, do we have a problem or do we not have a problem with the most serious kinds of misconduct with our force. They just didn't have that information.”

Misconduct not rampant

As it turns out, the details don’t suggest that misconduct was rampant. There are approximately 19,000 serving members, and just 335 were brought before a tribunal over the four year period, including:

- 35 cases of assault, sexual assault and harassment.

- 30 officers impaired on the job or while driving.

- 29 Mounties who gave false or misleading statements.

- 16 unauthorized uses of CPIC, the central police data base.

Many of the allegations are also criminal offences, including two cases of possession of child pornography. The CBC asked for details on which cases went on to criminal prosecution, but the RCMP did not make that information available.

And while about 50 of the cases were withdrawn, in some cases due to the expiry of the statutory time limit for a hearing, more than a third were deemed so egregious the officers involved either quit, were forced to resign or had to forfeit 10 days pay — the harshest punishment under the RCMP Act short of dismissal.

Just mistakes

However the commissioner downplays the significance of the findings.

“95 per cent are just things where people have made mistakes”, Paulson told CBC News. “And, police work is very complicated and people are going to make mistakes.”

Paterson took issue with Paulson’s characterization.

“Surely they are mistakes”, he said. “But these aren't just your garden variety, Oops! I screwed up today at work. These are some serious, serious matters.”

Compassion for misconduct

Although the list obtained by CBC News had all the names removed, Abe Townsend, a long serving member of the force, recognized some of the cases just by the allegations.

“It’s sad,” he said. “One incident is too many.”

Townsend sits on the National Executive of the RCMP’s Staff Relations Representative (SRR) program. When a Mountie runs into trouble, they turn to the SRR for help.

Townsend wasn't surprised by the number of incidents. He said it’s consistent with the average of about 100 cases of formal discipline a year.

“I'm discouraged that it wasn't being tracked in a more centralized way” he said.

But, Townsend said the details show that members are being held accountable. Even when they’re off duty, officers are still subject to the code of conduct, and Townsend appeals for compassion.

“It's physically and psychologically arduous work,” Townsend insisted.

“That's been shown not only by our studies but by other Canadian studies, and international studies, and it wears on you. It does wear you down both physically and psychologically. Not to make any excuses because that's not what I'm making, I'm just pointing out a reality.”

But Kosteckyj believed that most Canadians would be surprised by the breadth of misconduct committed by people who go through rigorous recruitment and training.

“It's a fair comment that you're going to get some aberrant behaviour in the RCMP”, Kosteckyj conceded.

“You're going to have some mistakes made. You're going to have some guys drinking more than they should — and driving. But these things go beyond that”, Kosteckyj said, adding that Police are supposed to set an example.

“You're not expected to be driving and impaired, you're not expected to be guilty of harassment, you're not expected to mistreat prisoners,” Kosteckyj insisted.

“These are all things that the RCMP are sworn to uphold and prevent — not participate in.”

The RCMP withheld some data requested by CBC News. The reasons why some Mounties were punished were redacted, including for the 21 officers who resigned over their misconduct.

The RCMP also refused to list the regions in which all of the incidents took place. An RCMP spokesman told CBC News that was to protect the privacy of the offenders, even though none were named in the document.

“My suspicion would be that the greatest amount of these would be in the province of British Columbia,” Kosteckyj suggested.

“E Division (the largest division in the RCMP) has the highest proportion of members in uniform in Canada.”

Paterson was all for privacy, but he didn't see the argument in this case.

“I think there's a higher public interest in being able to know where in the country are these kinds of things occurring.

“Are the instances of very serious police misconduct going up? Going down? What are the trend lines? And really we need that information broken down by region so that [it] is of much more use to people right across the country.

“There's been a real crisis of confidence,” Paterson pointed out. “I think people in this province would want to know, do we have a problem?”

Paulson said he wants to know as well.

“We always need to be aware of our training practices,” he said.

“It's another sort of indicator I need on my dashboard to know where the organization is going.”

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