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Ottawa hopes to pick new RCMP commissioner from within ranks

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson appears at Senate National Security and Defence committee in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Paulson called the commissioner job “soul destroying” just before retiring in June.


Ottawa is primarily looking within the RCMP to appoint its next commissioner, instead of focusing on an outsider, senior officials in the government and RCMP say. Selecting an external candidate would widely be seen as bringing further scrutiny to the beleaguered force.

Amid the ongoing struggles over the much-publicized cases of sexual and workplace harassment, many Mounties have been wondering whether the government will feel a need to go beyond the force to find a new leader.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale publicly mused about the need for greater civilian management of the RCMP after the release in May of a watchdog report into harassment in the federal law-enforcement body.

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Read more: RCMP at a crossroads: Who will lead the charge in an age of sophisticated crime?

Many Mounties still remember the rocky tenure of long-time bureaucrat William Elliott from 2007 to 2011, when the appointment of a civilian at the top of the paramilitary organization was widely seen as a rebuke for a string of mishaps.

But the senior officials say the government is not pro-actively looking to shake up the force in a similar fashion and will be hoping to appoint "from within" this time around. The final decision, set for early 2018, will be made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a shortlist of candidates put together by a selection panel headed by former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.

The next commissioner will inherit the crucial task of continuing a cultural shift toward a more respectful working environment. Another key challenge will be obtaining greater federal funding to beef up policing ranks to continue anti-terror policing while modernizing the fight against organized crime.

The government will also be looking to select a commissioner willing to oversee increased civilian management inside the RCMP. In particular, the individual will be expected to help obtain "buy in" among the rank and file for the widely anticipated changes, a senior government official said.

Commissioner Bob Paulson called the job "soul destroying" just before retiring last month, making it clear his successor will have to juggle a number of hot files from the outset.

In particular, the 144-year-old police force is awaiting the verdict at a Labour Code trial in Moncton in relation to Justin Bourque's rampage with an assault rifle in which he killed three outgunned Mounties in 2014. Several senior RCMP commanders were called to testify about why they failed to make good on the force's long-standing plans to equip the rank and file with more powerful guns.

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The senior officials say the top potential candidates currently working for the police force are three deputy commissioners – Kevin Brosseau, Brenda Butterworth-Carr and Gilles Michaud – and Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Strachan.

Deputy Commissioner Brosseau is currently in charge of contract and Indigenous policing, by which the RCMP oversees policing services in provinces and municipalities covering three-quarters of the country's territory. Deputy Commissioner Michaud is in charge of federal policing, such as investigations into financial crimes, terrorism and organized crime.

The head of the RCMP division in British Columbia, Deputy Commissioner Butterworth-Carr, and in Ontario, Assistant Commissioner Strachan, are also seen as top contenders. Either pick would be the second woman to lead the RCMP, after Bev Busson's interim tenure in 2006-2007.

Deputy Commissioner Brosseau is of Métis descent, while Deputy Commissioner Butterworth-Carr is from Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation in Yukon. Both would be the first members of their community to head the RCMP.

The Department of Public Safety has just unveiled its job description for the position, which specifically points out that the government is seeking greater diversity in senior-management positions.

"The Government of Canada will use an appointment process that is transparent and merit-based, strives for gender parity, and ensures that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are properly represented in positions of leadership," the job posting said.

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Everyone inside and outside the RCMP will have the opportunity to apply for the position, with the posting stating that "recent and significant experience in law enforcement" is an asset.

The posting adds that a law degree would be an asset. Deputy Commissioner Brosseau has a master of law from Harvard.

According to their official biographies, Deputy Commissioner Michaud has degrees from the FBI National Academy, the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Program and McGill University, while Assistant Commissioner Strachan has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social sciences at the University of Ottawa and Royal Roads University.

Video: Plaintiff hopes suit against RCMP leads to change (The Canadian Press)
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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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