Canadian author, historian and honorary RCMP member Robert Knuckle was "taken aback" when he first heard the Mounties were being charged by an outside government agency, but he is now looking forward to the Moncton trial of the RCMP which begins on Monday.
- RCMP trial on labour code violations postponed 1 week
The RCMP has pleaded not guilty to violating four health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code during the response to Justin Bourque's shooting rampage in Moncton that left three Mounties dead and two others wounded.
Robert Knuckle, who has written several books about the RCMP, including one about the Mayerthorpe, Alta., shootings in 2005 that killed four officers, said he was initially upset by the charges.
"It didn't sit well with me but then in further reflection I thought, no, this is a good thing. This is bringing outside pressure saying, 'Help these guys out — give them what they need to do their job and keep them safe.'"
The charges, filed by the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada, relate to equipment, training and supervision.
Access to high-powered rifles
"I think this is going to ring the Mounties' bell," Knuckle said of the trial.
"There's a political emphasis tied to it as well and I think they realize that in today's society they have got to give our police forces ... the kind of protection they need to do their job."
Knuckle, who describes himself as a big supporter of the RCMP, knows the police force has "warts," but in the long run, he said, the charges and the trial will bring outside pressure that will improve services for all Canadians and safety for all officers.
He calls the charges "precedent setting."
"To be honest with you, I think it's probably a good thing because it's telling the RCMP, 'Get those high-powered guns into your detachments. You may never use them, you may use them once in 25 years, but you need them.'"
A report issued seven months after the Moncton shootings urged the RCMP to expedite the deployment of patrol carbines across the force, including improved training.
Retired assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil said in the report that officers were outgunned during the incident and had to rely on shotguns and pistols, while Bourque was armed with a high-powered rifle.
Severe fine unnecessary
Under the Canada Labor Code, the charges could lead to fines of up to $ 1 million, something Knuckle does not want to see.
"Ultimately, the taxpayer is going to pay that bill," he said. "I think [the RCMP] need to be reprimanded and found guilty and move on from there," Knuckle said. "But to fine them excessively doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me."
Knuckle said he wants to see high-powered rifles available to all RCMP officers at all detachments.
"Canada has in almost every community ... maybe one or two strange people who live on the edge of the law," he said. "So these guys in these detachments — they need this kind of equipment in the rare cases where they're up against high-powered rifles."
The other challenge, as Knuckle sees it, is making high-powered rifles in RCMP detachments easy to access.
He said he's been told by officers that the rifles should not be under "such severe lock and key."
"If you trust a Mountie with a sidearm surely you can trust him with a long gun of this calibre, and that makes sense to me."