Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The O'Connor Report: Part 2

While Harper and Day were falling all over each other proclaiming their undying support for now former RCMP chief Zaccardelli, one ex-RCMP member tells a totally different story about Zaccardelli's reign:

"There's a rot in the senior executive of the RCMP," said former RCMP Staff Sgt. Ron Lewis, who retired from the force two years ago. "(Zaccardelli) has resigned, yes. But there's a culture left behind. He has created a culture of protect, cover-up, circle the wagons. We have to root that out."

Lewis, who was a senior staff relations officer representing RCMP members at national headquarters before he retired, said he has been approached by 12-15 officers since 2001 with complaints about mishandled pension and contracting funds.

As Dave over at the Galloping Beaver wrote on Monday, the circumstances around Zaccardelli's resignation are about much more than his flubbed testimony related to the Arar affair. Most likely, that 'mistake' was the final straw.

The TO Star article continues:

After repeated efforts within the force failed to produce results, Lewis took the complaints outside to the federal auditor general's office, and to the former Liberal government. (Sheila Fraser two weeks ago reported that about $1.3 million from the pension and benefits fund was spent on contracts that gave little or no value to the police force and benefited senior employees' friends and family.)

Now Lewis and Wrzesnewskyj, a Liberal MP, say at least four Mounties currently on the force are willing to testify privately before a parliamentary committee with more information about obstructed investigations. They say they are unable to go public now because the RCMP Act forbids officers from speaking to the media.

"We've arrived at a point where the RCMP rank and file are bitter, demoralized and unable to function at levels of competency we'd expect," Wrzesnewskyj said yesterday.

The Star also obtained yesterday a summary of an internal RCMP investigation that clearly states two senior RCMP officers retired before facing internal sanctions.

The news that Justice O'Connor, who tabled the second part of his Arar findings today, is calling for an independent civilian review committee to oversee the RCMP's activities is certainly welcome but is also long overdue. It should not have taken the tragedy that Maher Arar went through to reach this conclusion or to finally implement it. The lack of such oversight has allowed the RCMP to act with impunity in some cases without any accountability causing an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

CSIS has had such oversight in the form of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which puts out annual reports made available to the public, for years now. Information that might compromise national security is redacted, but the reports are worthwhile, informative and the fact that the members have no political agenda - which would be the case if a parliamentary committee had been tasked with the same duties - ensures an arms length process.

O'Connor is also recommending the following (some of 13 such recommendations) in order to provide coordination of all bodies charged with overseeing national security issues:

* The ICRA review the national security activities of the Canada Border Services Agency.

* The Security Intelligence Review Committee, the current watchdog over CSIS, also monitor the security activities of Citizenship and Immigration, Transport Canada, Foreign Affairs, and Fintrac, the national anti-money laundering body.

* Changes to the law to allow national security watchdogs to exchange information and conduct joint investigations.

* Creation of a co-ordinating committee that includes various security watchdog chairs to ensure smooth handling of complaints and probes.

O'Connor's report is once again very lengthy, so more information will be coming out as it is reviewed.

CTV has video of O'Connor's press conference today. He did not take any questions once he finished his statement.

The government and Maher Arar are also expected to hold press conferences later today.

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