November 28, 2007
SUDDENLY disbanded in 1950, our historic British Columbia Provincial Police was no more.
Though stunned and dismayed, a vast majority of rank and file members of the BCPP simply switched uniforms and continued to maintain law and order as members of a force leased from the federal government: a somewhat hybridized “E” division of the RCMP, answerable only to Ottawa.
Cost-cutting was supposedly at the heart of this unprincipled act of political expediency. In the purity of hindsight, it was politics at its most despicable.
Since 1950 British Columbia has relied on a succession of 20-year contracts with this inharmonious federal force. Each renewal period brings increasing involvement of “E” division in urban policing, something it was never intended to do. This deepening entrenchment in urban policing, bringing with it the bureaucratic persona and command structure of the RCMP, impedes formation of civilian regional police.
When our provincial politicians rejected civilian provincial police under direct control, and embraced what would soon become and remain to this day a federal paramilitary police force, they knew full well that the force was completely unaccountable under our Police Act. Today’s provincial politicians are tarred, too, with the same brush.
If our provincial government continues this aberrant and tunnel vision approach to the administration of justice and hangs onto “E” division for 20 more years beyond 2012 – when RCMP contracts are up for renewal – then the misadventure of 1950 will be revisited and worsened.
Beware of things happening in the shadows of government, out of sight and untouched by the light of public scrutiny and debate. Take-charge bureaucrats, once civil servants, are already stirring the pot of renewal under the auspicious cover of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
Either the UBCM is filling a vacuum of inactivity on the part of the Solicitor General or acting on his instructions as it fusses along in a self-fulfilling process intended to bring about renewal of contracts with the RCMP.
I say this because a memorandum dated Oct. 9, boldly titled RCMP Contract Mandate, produced by a grandiosely styled UBCM Secretariat is a blueprint for the status quo. It includes the suggestion that the federal government and our provincial government “are in the early stages of the contract renewal process” and certain guiding principles have been adopted; the most telling of which is that “Continuation of the RCMP is beneficial to all.”
I have questions for the secretariat.
1. Who is the exponent of the notion that “Continuation of the RCMP is beneficial to all”?
2. How can renewal of the contract be “…beneficial to all” when “E” division is already sapping away too many new recruits, thus having a deleterious effect on the national strength and federal duties of the RCMP; a force so troubled in the senior ranks that it is being administered by a civilian commissioner?
3. Have you considered that it may be best for the RCMP to be told by its masters in Ottawa to prepare for the end of contracting out approximately one quarter of RCMP national strength?
Let us not forget the facts of 1950 when a too-crafty Attorney General Gordon Wismer disbanded our historic, down-home and effective civilian provincial police. Wismer sacrificed our provincial police on the altar of ingratiation solely to prove his mettle amongst his Conservative/Liberal coalition bed-fellows. It was a callous political expedient.
In my opinion the coalition government of 1950 committed an act of constitutional malfeasance when it opted out of provincial policing, the bedrock of its constitutional duty to administer justice. It was wrong to hand over policing of this vast province to Ottawa’s RCMP and that wrong will continue so long as we contract with “E” division in a manner that nullifies the efficacy of our Police Act.
In order to deal with the constitutional malfeasance of 1950, Premier Gordon Campbell must first take policing out of the solicitor generals ministry and put it back where it belongs, constitutionally, with the ministry of the attorney general.
And by a most delightful quirk of fate, or providence, Attorney General Wallace Oppal is eminently qualified to right the wrong of 1950 and thereby avoid its repetition in 2012.
In June 1992, Mr. Justice Oppal was appointed as a Commissioner to conduct an Inquiry into Policing in British Columbia. On July 31, 1994, he handed the government a voluminous report: Closing the Gap – Policing in British Columbia; detailing the urgency to deal with a mixed-bag of policing problems including the question of 2012.
Mr. Premier, Oppal is the man for the moment. Return policing to the ministry of the attorney general; let him do the job of charting a course to civilian policing. To deny him the opportunity to take charge of policing matters in this time of urgency will be a sign of disrespect that may force the attorney to consider whether he has any place in your government.
Keep in mind that the rest of Canada looks at us in disbelief wondering why we don’t have the gumption and common sense to begin again. We British Columbians must be loud, clear and relentless in demanding our constitutional right under the division of powers in the British North America Act, specifically the provincial right to administer justice: to begin again with our own civilian British Columbia Constabulary.
On Nov 19, just after this column was written, the provincial government announced an inquiry into the Oct 14 death of Robert Dziekanski. He died while being subdued by officers of the RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport.
The truth of the matter: The inquiry commissioner will have no authority to deal with the RCMP and this avoidable and regrettable death.Our government sold its jurisdictional soul in 1950. Will it be déjà vu in 2012?