Ex-senior RCMP officer testifies to frustration over delay approving carbines

Ex-senior RCMP officer testifies to frustration over delay approving carbines

A former senior RCMP officer testified Tuesday he was frustrated in 2010 with how long the national police force was taking to adopt patrol carbines and ordered work to that end to proceed, even before the decision was officially made by the senior executive committee.

Rod Knecht, who was the senior deputy commissioner in Ottawa at the time, said he believed it was urgent to get better weapons for frontline officers following the shooting deaths of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005.

"I felt there was no need to delay it any further," said Knecht, who approved research be conducted to identify the best model of the semi-automatic weapon in early 2011.

"In my mind, it was a pretty easy decision.

He said he knew the actual implementation would likely take 12 to 18 months, in part because of financial constraints and training requirements.

"I was pretty comfortable with my decision," he told the RCMP's trial on charges of violating health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code in connection with the shooting deaths of three Moncton Mounties and wounding of two others in 2014.

Mayerthorpe fatalities had lasting impact

Knecht, who is now chief of the Edmonton Police Service, said he was "not a big supporter of the carbines initially." He had concerns about using such high-powered weapons in urban areas, he said.

"But I guess I became educated on the value of the carbine over time by talking to my colleagues" and through personal experience during his 40-year policing career.

He said he realized carbines, if used properly, were superior weapons to shotguns or pistols.

Carbines were a "topical issue from time to time" over the years but "became more of a pressing issue post-Mayerthorpe," he said.​

Knecht is from Alberta and was the RCMP's second-in-command there during the Mayerthorpe shootings, the Moncton courtroom heard.

He said the events had a lasting impact on him and when he arrived at the national headquarters in Ottawa in 2010, he was determined to speed things along.

In early 2011, the judge presiding at an inquiry into the Mayerthorpe shooting deaths recommended the RCMP give high priority to carbines.

Knecht left his position of senior deputy commissioner at the end of May 2011. He was unaware of timelines or target dates for rollout at that time, he said.

Defence knocks consultant's report

Earlier in the day, a lawyer defending the RCMP tried to poke holes in a 2010 report that recommended patrol carbines be adopted immediately.

Mark Ertel argued the RCMP rejected Carleton University criminology Prof. Darryl Davies's recommendations because his report failed to meet expectations — not because the force didn't believe in protecting its officers.

When the force signed a contract with Davies in April 2009, "it's obvious from the statement of work the RCMP wants to bring in carbines,"  Ertel said.

But Davies's report was largely anecdotal, rather than evidence-based, and he didn't follow what was outlined in his contract, according to Ertel.

That's why more research was needed in subsequent years as part of the force's due diligence, Ertel suggested.

The RCMP is accused of four health and safety violations under the Canada Labour Code stemming from a shooting rampage by Justin Bourque in June 2014 that saw three Moncton Mounties killed and two others wounded as he walked through a Moncton neighbourhood with a high-powered weapon.

In his testimony Monday, Davies said his 2010 report concluded the RCMP needed to acquire carbines for front-line officers "yesterday."

Carbines have greater range and accuracy than the shotguns used by RCMP.

Crown prosecutor Paul Adams challenged the defence lawyer's assertions during re-examination of Davies.

He said the criminologist worked closely with the RCMP's use-of-force section for roughly a year and no one ever told him he should do things differently.

Outside court, Davies told reporters it was only when Bob Paulson came in as assistant commissioner of the RCMP that there was confusion about the expectations from the report.

"There's something that's wrong and it's called incompetence in the RCMP," said Davies.

"That they wouldn't know what reports they're dealing with, they wouldn't know what terms of reference they're using, I think it speaks to the arrogance, it speaks to the inertia and the apathy of senior managers, and the rank and file have a right to work in a safe environment."

Davies said he can't go as far as saying his report would have saved lives, but he's sure it would have started the debate over supplying officers with carbines four years before the fatal shootings in Moncton.

The charges against the RCMP are:

- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate use-of-force equipment and related user training when responding to an active threat or active shooter event.

- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure their health and safety when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.

- Failing to provide RCMP supervisory personnel with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure the health and safety of RCMP members when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.

- Failing to ensure the health and safety at work of every person employed by it, namely RCMP members, was protected.

Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1 million.

The trial, which started last week, resumes on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. AT with the Crown's fifth witness.