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An Exercise in Ethics

Oct 01

As I write this article the RCMP’s new Commissioner approaches the completion of his first year on the job.  Many of you may be unaware that I made application for the job.  Among those of you who were aware of my attempt there was likely a variety of reactions; chief among them, the question as to why I would even want the position.

The answer is two-fold.  Contrary to what many may believe I am not anti-RCMP.  I, at one time, had enough respect for the organization to engage with it and complete basic police training at the Training Academy in Regina.  Today, I maintain much of my respect for the Force as a part of Canadian law enforcement, but have little respect for the senior executives who over the last several decades have regarded it as their private country club and run it into the ground.  Like many other former, retired, and serving members I would like to see the RCMP’s credibility restored.

The other answer is related to my personal and professional ethics.  I have never forgotten, and try to live by, the words of the past-president of the university where I completed my undergraduate studies:  “It is easier to live your values than it is to teach them”.  With this in mind, my responsibility to my clients, and the widely accepted opinion that the RCMP is “horribly broken” what was I to do?  It seemed to me that engaging entirely in mainstream psychology and attempting to abide by the RCMP Occupational Health and Safety’s mandate, with regard to my clients, was unethical.  Community psychology stands on solid ground when it asserts the effects that institutions, organizations, systems, and contexts can have on individuals’ mental health.  Cure the dysfunctional organization and you will cure its’ suffering members (victims?).

The Dysfunction

I am not experienced at running a large police service; I’m not even an industrial/organizational psychologist.  I am however, and have been throughout my many years as a psychologist, a student of change.  I understand clearly the difference between instrumental and transformational change; and the types of crises that best suit each one.  It is uncontroversial that the RCMP is in a state of organizational crisis.  A crisis of this magnitude, whether on the individual or organizational level, requires transformational change.  General Motors, formerly the world’s largest corporation, will not only survive but will thrive due to the implementation of immediate “turn around change”.  The RCMP is over-tasked and under-resourced.  The organization could not meet its monthly mandate if its members did not donate inordinate amounts of unpaid overtime.  The most current and complete data on employee health indicates “that compared to the Canadian public, employees of the RCMP report higher levels of job stress, overall stress, depressed mood, burnout, role overload and work interfering with family”.  Royal Canadian Mounted Police decision-makers, according to their own data, as a result of bad management have created a toxic workplace, high levels of employee stress, and a culture of fear within their organization.

The RCMP is a mess of bad management, poor employee communications, and a rotten promotion system that rewards cronyism and sycophants while denying competent members advancement based upon their merit.  The system has spawned the development of “careerism” that interferes with the organization’s ability to do police work.  It fosters egocentric individuals who are not motivated by interest or the intrinsic value of the task.  These individuals undertake their tasks motivated solely by the opportunity to “validate” on certain “competencies” in order to look good for their next promotional opportunity.  This perversion has resulted in a promotional process that has destroyed the concept of teamwork and replaced it with a system where everyone is out for his or her own career interests.


When I indicated my interest in the position of Commissioner, I thought of myself as the “common sense alternative”.  I viewed the other candidates, most of them presently serving or recently retired RCMP senior executives, as mainstream, more-of-the-same, conservative thinkers uncomfortable with transformative change.  Unlike them, I am unburdened by RCMP history, tradition, and “sacred cows”.  I am not afraid to radically transform the RCMP in order to save it.

The RCMP wears too many hats, and none of them well; they are an international, national, provincial, municipal, and territorial police service.  They are spread too thin.  The RCMP must be right-sized.  Its tasks must be in check with its resources.  As in any crisis, I proposed commitment to a few vital priorities.  The RCMP must direct its collective energy and talent toward delivering on these.  The organization must set its course, going forward, by the Rule of 80/20; that is, 80 percent of its effectiveness will come from 20 percent of its activities.  It must pare away the excess (e.g. contract policing) and get down to the vital priorities (e.g. federal statutes); and then push hard to regain effectiveness and credibility.

I also proposed that as Commissioner I would fully endorse the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC).  In my opinion one of the most effective ways to destroy the RCMP’s poisonous corporate culture is through the establishment of a professional association.  The RCMP is the only major police service in the country without an association/union.  Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the freedom to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right.  Item 2 (a) of the International Labour Organization’s “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” defines the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” as essential rights of workers.  Royal Canadian Mounted Police members have none of these.  The establishment of the MPPAC would provide the RCMP’s membership with the right to collectively bargain with their employer and to reach an agreement which would regulate working conditions.  For the first time in the history of the organization, managers who had been previously accountable to no one would have to abide by a collective bargaining agreement governing a variety of issues including wage scales, working hours, training, grievance mechanisms, promotions, and independent occupational health and safety services.

There are many other things that could be changed with regard to the RCMP including transparency, accountability, and governance issues; however to change those things prior to transforming the organization, as noted above, would be comparable to polishing the brass on the Titanic as she was sinking.


Working with the RCMP for more than 30 years has led me to, increasingly, view the organization as a colonial empire.  The membership is dominated by a senior executive not unlike a group of foreign leaders who have destroyed the indigenous people’s cultural pride, exploited the oppressed economically, denied their human rights, and stifled their attempts to achieve control over their own political destiny.  In order to restore the membership’s dignity and motivation, radical changes must occur.

However, as Che Guevara has told us, new goals cannot be achieved through old ways.  The RCMP is a bureaucratic system, like any other, and it has checks and balances to avoid change.  Anything that is viewed as radical change will threaten the status quo of the system.  What I propose as change for the organization will surely be viewed as a threat.  They are all blinded by The Brand.  Are you?

Dr. Mike Webster, Registered Psychologist



From → Ethics, Leadership

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