An advocacy group for RCMP members said Friday that a decision to take the rare step of charging the force with violations under the Canada Labour Code could lead to safety improvements members have been demanding for years.
Rob Creasser of the Mounted Police Professional Association said he had mixed emotions about the four charges, which are linked to the shooting deaths of three RCMP officers on June 4, 2014, in Moncton, N.B.
He said RCMP members have persistently asked for training and equipment after recommendations from inquiries into police fatalities.
“I’m saddened that it’s come to this, but I’m elated that maybe there will finally be some accountability at the top end of the organization for members’ safety,” he said from Kamloops, B.C.
“We’ve seen recommendation after recommendation after fatality inquiry that have all basically said the same thing — that the RCMP are not properly trained and equipped to be effective in their work. Now another government agency has recognized that.”
He also called for the resignation of Commissioner Bob Paulson, saying he had failed to fight for his employees.
“I think he’s a lame duck already and I think they should expedite his departure,” he said.
Employment and Social Development Canada said in an email it is alleging the police force violated labour code provisions by failing to provide appropriate weapons and equipment to deal with “active shooter” incidents.
It also says the force didn’t provide officers or supervisors with the necessary training and information needed to respond properly to incidents such as Justin Bourque’s shooting rampage.
The final charge is that the RCMP failed “in general” to ensure the health and safety of its members.
A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said the matter will be heard in a Moncton court on July 9.
A labour lawyer said it could be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the RCMP didn’t ensure officers’ health and safety, but it’s an important test of those issues.
“If they are successful, it can have significant implications for overall management of health and safety in Canada,” said Ron Pink, a Halifax lawyer. “When one of the leading police agencies is held accountable, what does it mean for everyone else?
RCMP members have been critical in recent years about the training and equipment they receive. In particular, they say the force has taken too long to roll out the C8 carbine, a high-powered assault rifle that was recommended in a 2011 fatality inquiry report into the deaths of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta.
Retired assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil, who issued 64 recommendations after the Moncton shootings, said the carbine could have made a difference in that incident and should be brought into service faster.
MacNeil’s review of the shootings in January said officers responding to the shootings faced a litany of problems that included communicating accurate information, accessing high-powered weaponry and securing protective equipment.
Paulson has in the past rebuffed criticism over the carbine.
In a statement Thursday, Paulson said the police force is considering the substance of the labour code charges and reviewing what actions it will take.
“The safety of our employees in doing this dangerous job, protecting the public, is always our priority,” he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday he is confident the RCMP will move forward with recommendations stemming from the incident. He wouldn’t comment on the allegations because they are before the courts.
“The commissioner of the RCMP, commissioner Paulson and his people, have debriefed me from Day One on their analysis of the situation, on what they believe needs to be done going forward,” he said in Truro, N.S. “They commissioned a report and they are acting on the recommendations of that report and I have complete confidence in their ability to move forward.”
Bourque, 25, murdered constables Doug Larche, Fabrice Gevaudan and Dave Ross, and wounded constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen in a targeted attack on police.
He was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 75 years in October.
Bourque used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot the five officers in the city, and set off a 30-hour manhunt that drew in officers from around the region.
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By Alison Auld, The Canadian Press