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With trust collapsing in the RCMP, some call for ‘broken force’ to be rebuilt

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With trust collapsing in the RCMP

Harry Bond is blunt in his assessment of the RCMP‘s role on the night his mother and father died in the Nova Scotia mass shooting — and of the force’s potential to reform in the future.

“My trust for the RCMP is gone,” he said during a recent telephone interview from his home near Mahone Bay, N.S., where he’s been going over the hundreds of hours of testimony heard at a public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020 rampage.

His parents, Peter and Joy Bond died at their Portapique, N.S., home between 10:04 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. on the first night, murdered by a 51-year-old neighbour who drove a replica police car and carried on his killings the next day — taking a total of 22 lives, including a pregnant woman.

During the public inquiry, Bond heard senior Mounties testify they didn’t send out an emergency alert that night due to lack of protocols; that just four officers were available to enter Portapique because of chronic staff shortages; that no RCMP air support was available; and that basic smartphone apps to let police officers track one another in the dark also wasn’t available.

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And he said the explanations for these and a multitude of other shortcomings — including failures to probe early reports of domestic violence by the perpetrator — never seemed to begin with an admission that the force’s rural policing has failed to adapt to modern times.

“The biggest thing we need is for some of the senior people to say, ‘We screwed up. This is what we did wrong’ … Otherwise, nothing is going to be solved. This will happen again,” he said.

The revelations during the mass shooting inquiry are the latest to fuel distrust in Canada’s national police force that some experts suggest has been building for years. There were calls this year from an Indigenous group in Newfoundland and Labrador and from a government committee examining systemic racism in British Columbia for those provinces to get rid of the RCMP, while Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is working on a plan to replace the Mounties with a provincial police force.

In Cumberland County, where some of the Nova Scotia killings occurred during the rampage’s second day, the municipal council recently voted to seek proposals for local policing, including from police agencies other than the RCMP.

A poll commissioned by the force earlier this year showed only 51 per cent of Canadians believe the Mounties are honest, a drop of five percentage points from the year before. Only a third of Canadians feel the RCMP treat visible minorities and Indigenous people fairly.

“The RCMP is in for a reckoning. They really need to rethink what they’re doing as a police force,” said Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. With the force’s missteps unfolding before the public during the mass shooting inquiry, Boudreau said it would be a missed opportunity if the commission’s recommendations don’t prompt sweeping changes — though he said he’s only “mildly optimistic” that will happen.

“Unfortunately, politicians are going to have to get involved if we’re going to have a serious discussion about the future of policing,” he said. “We cannot leave it up to the police to fix themselves.”

Historically, the RCMP has been adept at keeping its turmoil out of the public eye, Boudreau said. That all changed a decade ago when several women on the force said they faced discrimination, harassment, bullying and sexual assault at the hands of their colleagues. A resulting class-action lawsuit ultimately paid out about $125 million to more than 2,300 women.

Janet Merlo was among those women, and she was a lead plaintiff in the class action.

She said in a recent interview that she’s seen familiar problems with the force surfacing throughout the inquiry in Nova Scotia, including chronic understaffing, friction with local police, and a “cops first” attitude that delayed a public warning about the shooter driving a replica police car for fear it would put officers in danger.

“It’s all starting to collapse,” Merlo said. “I feel bad for the first responders, the ones that are doing the work.”

She’s now leading an effort to establish independent, external oversight of the RCMP, which she hopes will provide more accountability and help trigger a cultural change within the force. “They shouldn’t be allowed to police themselves, or investigate themselves anymore,” Merlo said. “That’s where public faith is eroding. They investigate themselves all the time, and they come back and say everything looks fine.”

Two years ago, when a final report from the class action she led released a crushing report detailing the force’s “toxic” culture of hateful, sexist and homophobic attitudes, Merlo said she had hope Commissioner Brenda Lucki would change things.

But now, as Merlo watches the inquiry in Nova Scotia and sees little change after the lawsuit, she said that hope is gone.

“I have lost total faith in Brenda Lucki doing anything to right the ship,” Merlo said.

Boudreau believes Lucki should be replaced — preferably by a civilian who has never been a police officer, and who hasn’t been entrenched in the ranks for decades, he said.

The RCMP began as a national police force, and Boudreau argues they should return to those roots rather than stretching themselves thin across the country. They should be “looking at corporate crimes, national security and those kinds of things, not responding to 911 calls when someone’s stolen my ATV,” he said.

And while building municipal or provincial police forces to fill in the gap is costly and daunting, Boudreau said any significant change with the RCMP should involve a “fundamental, if not radical” re-examination of policing as a whole, both at the national and provincial level.

In an emailed statement from the RCMP’s national headquarters, Cpl. Kim Chamberland said reforming workplace culture and addressing harassment and discrimination is a priority for Lucki. “We know that ending workplace harassment and discrimination, and improving workforce culture, is critical to achieving operational excellence and to our success as a modern organization,” Chamberland wrote.  She said the force has identified five key priorities toward this goal, including addressing systemic racism and improving accountability.

Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner Dennis Daley, the new commander of the RCMP’s Nova Scotia division, has pointed to lessons learned from the mass shooting, such as the force beginning to use an emergency alert system, and commitments to improve communication with the public, municipalities and other police forces.

However, Boudreau said he agrees with Harry Bond that the force has not come to grips with its failings.

“I’m starting to think that maybe it is time for the federal government to get involved to really strip this force down to its bare bones and start again,” Boudreau said. “Because it’s a broken police force.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 26, 2022.

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Alberta minister denies crying, yelling during doctor confrontation

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Alberta’s justice minister says he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.

The Law Society of Alberta didn’t complete its hearing Thursday into allegations that Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. Three complaints date back to his time as the United Conservative Party government’s health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawyers for both sides are working to determine a date for the hearing to continue.

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.

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The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.

Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.

“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.

“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”

Zaidi testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset. He said Shandro told him to remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.

“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.

“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’

Zaidi told the hearing Tuesday that he deleted the post but contacted law society lawyers to let them know he discovered he had a second Twitter account where it was still up.

Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, filed an application to have all of the posts filed as evidence over the objections of law society counsel.

“Dr. Zaidi has testified that he in fact deleted the post in question after his discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Shandro. Not only did he not delete it from the website, another Twitter account, he continued to post detailed information thereafter,” Stapon argued.

“And it is a credibility issue before this proceeding as to whether or not Dr. Zaidi was telling the truth and I will submit he has not been telling the truth.”

Earlier in the day, Shandro testified he walked to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.

“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”

Shandro’s lawyer asked his client about Zaidi’s description of Shandro crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.

“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.

“I definitely did not yell at him.”

Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.

“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”

Shandro said at that point they returned home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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NDP says Alberta premier’s prosecutor review flawed, calls for outside investigation

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Alberta premier's prosecutor

Alberta’s Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith’s assurance of a thorough investigation into allegations of interference with Crown prosecutors is “an empty talking point” given new details on the search itself.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that while the Smith-directed email search covered the four-month period in question, any deleted message was erased from the system after just a month, meaning the relevant time period for those emails was likely missed.

“It is outrageous that Danielle Smith is really naive enough to think that Albertans would trust an internal investigation that has not been transparently conducted, that has been conducted by people who answer to her, and that only considered deleted emails that go back 30 days,” Notley said Thursday in Calgary.

“This is an empty talking point and nothing else,” she added, renewing a call for an independent, judge-led inquiry into whether Smith and her office interfered in the administration of justice.

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Smith ordered an email review last weekend after CBC News reported allegations that a staffer in the premier’s office sent a series of emails last fall to Crown prosecutors questioning their assessment and direction in cases related to the blockade at the Coutts, Alta., U.S. border crossing in early 2022.

The CBC did not specify precisely when the emails were sent and said it has not viewed the emails in question.

RCMP laid charges against several people involved in the three-week blockade at Coutts to protest COVID-19 restrictions. The charges range from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.

On Monday, the Justice Department reported that a review of almost a million emails — incoming, outgoing and deleted — sent over a four-month period last fall turned up no evidence of any communications between prosecutors and the premier’s office.

However, Alberta Justice, in a statement to media outlets Wednesday, stated that deleted emails are only kept for 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails would only capture those from around Dec. 22 onward and perhaps not capture deleted emails during the time frame in question.

Alberta Justice, along with Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, who speaks for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, declined to respond to requests Thursday for that statement or explain why the statement was now being withheld.

Notley’s comments came a day after Smith faced a second CBC story, quoting unnamed sources alleging she pressured Shandro and his office to intervene in COVID-related cases.

Smith reiterated in a statement: “All communications between the premier, her staff, the minister of justice, and ministry of justice public servants have been appropriate and made through the proper channels.”

In the statement, Smith also accused the CBC of publishing “a defamatory article containing baseless allegations” referring to the original email story.

Chuck Thompson, the CBC head of public affairs, said in a statement Wednesday: “We stand by the story which transparently attributes the allegations to trusted sources and provides context to the allegations.

“As is our practice, we gave the premier and her office an opportunity to react and we included that response prominently in the story, including the sub-headline.”

Smith has given multiple versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.

She has not taken questions in a general news conference with reporters since the affair took off two weeks ago when Smith announced that she was talking to prosecutors about the COVID-19 cases.

Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times said she reminded them to consider factors unique to the COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.

She has attributed the confusion to “imprecise” word choices.

In her statement Wednesday, Smith delivered a sixth version, now saying she met not only with Shandro and the deputy attorney general, but also with other unnamed “ministry officials” to discuss the possibility of legal amnesty to those charged with “non-violent, non-firearms pandemic-related violations.”

The statement added: “The premier and her staff had several discussions with the minister of justice and ministry officials, requesting an explanation of what policy options were available for this purpose.

“After receiving a detailed legal opinion from the minister to not proceed with pursuing options for granting amnesty, the premier followed that legal advice.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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B.C. to install earthquake warning sensors to give life-saving notice

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B.C. to install earthquake warning

Up to 50 earthquake early warning sensors are being installed around British Columbia as part of a larger plan to protect people and infrastructure in a big quake.

The sensors will be connected to the national Earthquake Early Warning system that’s expected to be in operation by 2024.

A joint federal and provincial government announcement today says the sensors will give seconds, or perhaps tens of seconds, of warning before the strongest shaking arrives, helping to reduce injuries, deaths and property loss.

Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s minister of emergency management, says in a statement that an early warning system is critical to helping those in the province mitigate the impacts of a seismic event.

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When the full system is operational next year, more than 10 million Canadians living in the most earthquake-prone areas of the country will get early warning alerts, giving them precious seconds to take cover.

There are over 5,000 earthquakes in Canada every year, most of them along B.C.’s coast, although about 20 per cent of the quakes are along the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa River valleys.

On Jan. 26, 1700, a magnitude-9 megathrust earthquake hit North America’s west coast, creating a tsunami that carried across the Pacific Ocean and slammed into Japan.

The statement says if a similar quake happens when the early warning system is operating, it could give up to four minutes’ warning before the strongest shaking starts in coastal B.C. communities.

It says the system could also be used to automatically trigger trains to slow down, stop traffic from driving over bridges or into tunnels, divert air traffic, automatically close gas valves, and open firehall and ambulance bay doors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

This is a corrected story. A previous version said the earthquake warning system is expected to be operational in 2023. In fact, it is expected to be operational in 2024.

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