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Beleaguered RCMP boss takes firm grip on reins after months of turmoil

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott waits to testify before the Commons public safety committee on Feb. 6, 2008.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott emerged from months of infighting among Mounties with a new plan to salvage his job and the national police force's standing among Canadians, giving more power to loyal commanders and sidelining one of his biggest critics.

Arguing that internal rivalries are things of the past, Mr. Elliott said the RCMP will confront its various challenges with a slimmer management team, including two new deputy commissioners splitting responsibility for all operations between Western and Eastern Canada.

The major restructuring of the RCMP is a crucial move for Mr. Elliott, who is looking to persuade Canadians that he truly is in charge of the force and can be trusted to oversee the institution that is still reeling from years of scandal and controversy.

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In his first public comments since he got a vote of support from the Harper government last month, Mr. Elliott said he learned lessons from his confrontations with senior officers, who complained they could no longer function under his dictatorial and angry style.

"I look at myself in the mirror every day, and certainly the criticism caused me to look more closely," Mr. Elliott said at a news conference. "I certainly acknowledge that I need to find ways that are more constructive to deal with situations, to deal with people and to deal with my own frustrations."

While he said he contemplated resigning at the start of the crisis, Mr. Elliott said he is now confident that he will be allowed to continue to serve as the first civilian to head the RCMP in the force's 137 years, playing down the criticism that he has faced.

"There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for me," Mr. Elliott said.

The main loser in Thursday's exercise was Raf Souccar, the deputy commissioner of federal policing who is no longer responsible for RCMP divisions in Ontario and Quebec. Mr. Souccar was one of Mr. Elliott's main critics inside the force, and he was absent from a series of planning meetings this week.

Mr. Elliott refused to discuss the future of Mr. Souccar, who is widely rumoured to have been asked to retire or to go to another organization on secondment. His departure would be widely seen by Mr. Elliott's critics as a form of retribution.

"It's an atmosphere of turmoil," said Garry Clement, a 30-year Mountie who retired as an inspector in 2003. "We've really got an organization in the worst state of flux it can possibly be in."

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The main changes unveiled on Thursday were the creation of two new deputy commissioner positions, one based in Vancouver to oversee all operations in the Western provinces, and another in Halifax for all provinces in Central and Eastern Canada. Both positions will be held by people whom Mr. Elliott feels he can trust, namely Gary Bass in the west and Steve Graham in the east.

Other officers were bumped into more senior positions, such as Chief Superintendant Alphonse MacNeil, who is now in charge of the Mounties' Nova Scotia operations, after running the G8 Command Centre in Barrie, Ont., this summer.

Mr. Elliott consciously chose to send regional commanders back to communities they hail from, leading to the appointment of Assistant Commissioner Dale McGowan in Alberta and Chief Superintendent Russel Mirasty in Saskatchewan.

While the RCMP has faced many scandals in recent years, there have been success stories of late under the responsibility of Mr. Souccar, such as the Vancouver Olympics and a trip to Asia to persuade countries to clamp down on human smuggling. Even if he steps away from the organization, Mr. Souccar will continue to command a vast Rolodex and considerable loyalty in the ranks.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, a long-time Mountie watcher, said that "success is being punished" whenever accomplished Mounties are sidelined, and that Canadians will be the ones paying the price if "the signal goes out that the people who speak out are going to be punished and the people who suck up will be rewarded."

However, Mr. Elliott praised his current team of senior executives for agreeing to look to the future after tense and uncomfortable months. Asked about his detractors, Mr. Elliott said it would be best to "address that question in the past tense."

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He added that despite recent controversies, the RCMP still retains the support of 82 per cent of Canadians. Still, he said there has been a downward trend in support, which he hopes to reverse with increased civilian oversight of the force and a renewed focus on accountable and effective service to Canadians.

"I certainly am not suggesting that the changes that we are making today, important as they are, solve all of the challenges and address all of the weaknesses of the RCMP," he said.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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