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The RCMP (Part One): A Study in Cultism

Oct 21

Some may be shocked to see the name of our national police service linked with the term “cultism” in the title of this article.  We tend to think that it is the belief system of the group that best defines it as a cult; and after all, what could be wrong with the beliefs of a law enforcement organization?  In our minds cults are groups like the Branch Davidians, the Unification Church (“Moonies”), the People’s Temple, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Heaven’s Gate, or the Church of Scientology.  Another way of looking at cults involves focusing on their behaviour.  This perspective allows us to examine all types of organizations including:  religious; commercial; educational; psychological; national; militaristic; and, para-militaristic for example.  And what could possibly be gained by examining the RCMP in this light?
One of the most common concerns that motivates the study of totalitarian groups is the dangers inherent in ideological totalism.  Another, that is the focus of this article, is the need to protect the human rights, or civil liberties, of those who become ensnared in them.  There is presently a global epidemic of fundamentalism that is most often encountered as political or religious.  It is my thesis that the RCMP under the command of very poor organizational leaders, since its inception, has developed a totalistic environment that now threatens the human rights of its members.
Several authors have examined cults and the methods they use to organize themselves.  Here are several features they all have in common:
1. Create a unique reality. The majority of cults do this by isolating their members from outsiders.  If an isolated compound, in the middle of nowhere, is out of the question then train into your followers a form of self-censorship.  In the case of the RCMP this has become so ingrained that “if it is not of the Force, it’s of the devil”.  Members of the RCMP are all too familiar with the dictum, “there are three ways to do things: the right way; the wrong way; and the RCMP way”.  This distorted, and unique, reality reared its ugly head not long ago when a manager in charge of an RCMP colour guard, at an NHL playoff game, refused to have municipal police persons join the guard as they would “put a blue stain” on his troop.
2.Set up a leader or an inner circle as the only link to paradise.  In the RCMP this sacred group of disciples is made up of senior managers and executives.  They control the nebulous and subjective promotion process that the membership must expose themselves to, if they wish to inherit the keys to the kingdom.  There exists, within the organization, a wide-spread perception that the promotion process is still, despite many rounds of repair, “broken”.  Many RCMP members have difficulty explaining how the promotion process works, suggesting that at the very least, in this regard, the Force has a major communications problem
3. Constantly increase the demands made on the membership of the group. Cult leaders are noted for their gradually increasing demands that result in followers falling all over each other to give all they own to the group.  According to noted experts, with regard to street level RCMP members, “their job is making them sick”.  These individuals report higher levels of job stress, overall stress, depressed mood, burnout, role overload, and work interfering with family than does the general Canadian public.  They experience high levels of work-life conflict and access the health care system at a significant rate.  Many of them use alcohol to cope with the stress they experience and they push themselves to attend work when they are ill.  So under their managers’ increasing demands (see 5 below) these group members seem willing to even donate their health, welfare, and families to the organization.
4. Continually create stories about the greatness of the organization and its leadership. The more fantastic the stories, the more likely they will be believed.  Cult leaders realize that their members have already been conditioned, since they were children, to accept things like returning from the dead and walking on water.  Royal Canadian Mounted Police members, on the other hand, have been conditioned since childhood to accept statements like “the Mounties always get their man”.  So they are presented with, in the Force’s Mission, Vision, and Values Statement, the assertion that their employer will “ensure a healthy work environment that encourages team building, open communication, and mutual respect”.  Moreover, the greatness of the organization is reflected in the statement that their employer recognizes “the dedication of all employees” and strives to “create and maintain an environment of individual safety, well being and development” based upon a number of values including “integrity”, “honesty”, “compassion”, “respect”, and “accountability”.  All of this greatness is offered to a membership composed of a significant number who do not feel trusted, respected, fairly treated, or well lead according to the organization’s own data.
5. Make sure to keep everyone very busy. Cult leaders realize that burying their followers in work prevents them from engaging in critical thought.  If the minds of the membership were clear, who knows, they might put two and two together?  For this reason long shifts, longer shifts, overtime and “voluntary overtime” are essential.  Critics have pointed out that workloads in the RCMP have increased substantially over time.  The organization has not addressed workload issues identified in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2007.  Many RCMP members can’t complete their work during the course of a regular shift.  They get their work done by donating their personal time (e.g. evenings, weekends) to the RCMP.  The organization could not fulfill its obligations if its membership did not donate a significant amount of their own time each month.
6. Always promote your brand.   Cult leaders are well aware that a combination of aggressive public relations and proselytizing is critical in selling the group and attracting new members.  (In addition, there is the added benefit of the higher profile strengthening the commitment of those already in the organization).According to the latest Auditor-General’s report (2011) the RCMP has a serious cash shortage.  They have been forced to cut back “on investigations into mobsters, drug gangs, and white collar criminals, while putting off core duties so routinely that it is taking the force years to update simple records in its crime databases”.  At the same time they are planning to spend “$11.3 Million annually over the next three years pushing the RCMP brand”.  An RCMP spokesperson explained that “actively promoting the RCMP showcases to Canadians our values and standards” and helps to build positive relationships with all citizens. For the RCMP it seems that promoting the brand even outranks service to the public.
7. And finally, successful cults keep their members focused on “the carrot”. The big payoff is always just around the corner, and only those who played the game will be able to partake.  The clouds will part and the believers will be rewarded . . . and won’t all those non-believers be sorry?  There is nothing more important to an RCMP member than his/her retirement eligibility date.  Members of the Force count the days to retirement like a convict counts the days to mandatory release.  And senior management does their best to keep the membership fixated on the carrot by instilling an atmosphere that is hierarchical; respectful of position rather than person; that declares victory prior to achievement; that shoots the messenger; is risk adverse; one of winners and losers; one that is exploitive; puts policy over practice; discourages decision making; and encourages playing the game, all to ensure a safe arrival at retirement.
The Role of a Union
Organizations, run like cults, create significant psychological and human rights issues for their members.  In my opinion, after 37 years of wasted motion it is unlikely that a management tool like the Division Staff Relations Program will have much success in bringing about change.  The “cultism” practised by the RCMP is not unlike that found in other totalitarian organizations; it reeks of colonialism.  It is the domination of a group of people (the workers) by foreign leaders (senior management/executives) that includes damage to cultural pride, economic exploitation, denial of human rights, and the stifling of the colonized people’s right to gain some control over their own political and economic destinies.  The optimal method of bringing about change in these circumstances involves the engagement of the membership in the creation of a brand new organization.  And the only vehicle with the power to engage the membership in such an exercise would be a truly independent association equipped with the right to collectively bargain with the employer.
Part Two, to “A Study in Cultism”, will soon follow.  It will outline how those who have become “ensnared” can “de-program” themselves.
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.

  1. John permalink


    Members pay attention. Mike speaks the truth yet again. We need to understand that these articles are for our benefit. We were once a strong stand up organization, now we are all hunched up hiding in dark corners afraid to speak up out of fear. How can we continue to function with dictators. We need real bosses that care about their guys… you know what I am talking about there are many of them out there. They try to defend the guys/girls and get silenced or ignored. I have seen so many good leaders get ousted by the “cult”. It is either time to stand up for what we believe in or admit defeat and destroy the organization that was once a Canadian Symbol and start new.

    As for Div. Reps. or Staff Relations as they like to be called. Give me a break. Actually give us all a break. These guy’s always seem to be away when you need them on all expense paid trips to Ottawa. We elect them as a voice for us but that is a joke and a half. They are powerless have no say in anything and when they claim success its advertised all over the web as if they have done something so fantastic that they deserve full recognition for it.

    I challenge the Staff Relations to run a survey as to whether members are pleased with their productivity or not.

    The results will be overwhelming in the NOT category.

    Something needs to change and soon before we become further pawns in the Cult’s failures.

    Be brave be safe and stand up for yourselves. Enough is enough.Bring this elite organization back to where it belongs or create a new one either way its win win.

  2. Anonymous permalink

    I would like to put my two cents in as well. First off, well said and so true. There needs to be an inquiry to this organization. As a member with over 25 years, I have seen how this corrupt system works. The worst thing that any supervisor in the RCMP can do is to stand up to protect their people. Do that and you will pay the price. What is it that RCMP management is afraid of? The answer is control. They want to control their people in every aspect of their lives. I say leave me alone, let me do my job, and do not threaten me. Let me go home at the end of my shift and spend time with my family, without feeling guilty.

    This is bullying to the extreme. Most RCMP members want to do a good job and truely care about their communities. Most RCMP members are treated terribly by there employer and have a very difficult time doing their job, because there is no protection from the constant threats and bullying.

    We need an Association like every other Police Force in Canada. What makes us different? Nothing, other than the people who lead us.

    Shame on them.

  3. John permalink

    Good on you (anoymous) for supporting the obvious. Yes indeed if we were given the job/task of supervising our hard working men and women then let us do just that. The system is corrupt and you are brave enough to identify this as many should. Voices like yours are integral in changing the present and the future.

    The upper management does not want to relinquinsh the “control” hence they micro-manage their supervisors and second guess us by bullying email’s based on little fact. We see this every day. I experienced it daily. The battles and wasted time explaining and justifying the obvious to upper managers (white shirts) that are so out of touch with reality that we question their very existence. We also notice their (white shirts) inaction when it comes to making decisions.

    I am sure I speak for the majority when I say that we have all experienced how senior management continues to “poop” all over the hard workers expecting more out of them every day and support the non-workers/slackers. This still amazes me to this day. I am sure we as supervisors let alone the regular hard working men and women can attest to this support of the supposed ill. How many members from coast to coast are “using” the system to their benefit. Upper management do not deal with them instead, they leave it for us to try to deal with. They offer no exit strategy for the non -workers.

    It is simple if the R.C.M.P. wants to run the organization as a business then tell me what business in Canada would keep an employee who is incapable of performing the work? We can go on and on with this but we all know of one or many (so called members) who are not on the street not performing police duties but are getting the same wage as the ones that are risking their lives out there.

    We will stop here for now my friends. I am sure Dr. Webster will have more of the “cult” to come. Stay tuned and be safe.


  4. Looking forward to Part II. I know a lot of this is already starting to sound eerily familiar, in relation to different organizations and communities I have been a part of (and a dissenting voice within for those very same reasons — which is met, of course, by ableist jabs about my cognitive capacities or mental integrity).


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