VANCOUVER — The head of the RCMP is bidding the force’s complaints commissioner farewell by accusing him of creating an “inaccurate” picture that suggests the Mounties have obstructed the work of the federal police agency’s independent watchdog.
The final weeks of Paul Kennedy’s term as the chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP have been marked by a public squabble with RCMP Commissioner William Elliott.
Kennedy, who leaves his post at the end of the month, released two damning reports last week while describing the force as a “massively inert” organization that is resistant to change.
And in both cases — first a report into the death of Robert Dziekanski and then another into the use of a Taser on a 15-year-old girl in the Northwest Territories — Elliott posted letters on the RCMP website taking exception with the timing of the reports and Kennedy’s comments about the force.
“Of more concern is the impression left by your public comments that the RCMP, and I as commissioner, are motivated or have attempted to prevent reports critical of the force from being made public. I categorically reject this,” Elliott wrote to Kennedy in a letter released by the RCMP on Friday.
“An inaccurate perception of the actions and motivations of the RCMP has been created.”
Typically, reports from the complaints commission include a response from the RCMP, but Kennedy set the release dates for the latest pair of reports before the force had formally replied.
Elliott said in his letter that the RCMP rushed to deliver a response for Friday’s report into a Taser incident in Inuvik, N.W.T., but insisted the force couldn’t respond to the Dziekanski report before the results of a public inquiry in British Columbia, expected early next year.
When Kennedy decided to release the Dziekanski report anyway, Elliott objected and later described it as a troubling “deviation from established practice.”
Kennedy, in turn, accused Elliott of trying to control when information is made public by demanding that reports not be released before the force prepares a response.
He cited several cases in which the RCMP took as long as one or two years to respond to reports from the commission, and said delays of more than three months have become commonplace.
“His interpretation that I cannot release something until he and his staff get around to looking at it, processing it and releasing it — if that were the case, it would reduce our review function to a sham,” Kennedy said in an interview.
“Because no matter how effective I am, all they have to do is put a file somewhere and not process it, and automatically the whole process stops.”
Kennedy said he’s not suggesting the RCMP is intentionally trying to block critical reports, but he said the end result is the same.
One of Elliott’s letters explained that the RCMP had a backlog of reports because “significant increases in the financial and human resources” for the complaints commission have increased the number of reports Kennedy’s office has released.
Kennedy dismissed that excuse, noting his commission has a budget of just $5 million compared with the RCMP’s budget of more than $4 billion.
The recent tension between the chair of the complaints commission and the force comes weeks before Kennedy steps down after four years on the job.
The federal government decided not to renew Kennedy’s appointment when it expires at the end of the year, although it hasn’t explained why. Opposition critics have suggested the decision was political, aimed at silencing another critic.
Kennedy has denied the timing of his reports had anything to do with his departure, but one observer suggested it may partly explain why he used the release of his reports last week to offer such a blunt critique of the RCMP.
“When you piece together those various reports Kennedy has put out over the last little while, you get a sense that he’s really pushing for change,” said David MacAlister, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University.
“Kennedy’s really letting people know that there are problems within this organization and that it’s not responding. He probably realizes he’s got very little time to get his message out there.”
MacAlister said it’s also not clear who will replace Kennedy, and what sort of person the Conservative government has in mind to fill the role.
“(He may be trying) to ensure that his reports are released and get an appropriate airing before he hands the reins over to somebody who isn’t going to be as aggressive in the inquiries into RCMP conduct,” said MacAlister.
Kennedy is a veteran public servant and a trained lawyer who spent 25 years with the federal Justice Department before joining the then-solicitor general’s portfolio, which is now Public Safety. He retired in May 2005 as a senior assistant deputy minister.