Never again, Operation True Blue

Last Wednesday, a group of former and present RCMP officers blew the whistle on what they describe as corruption and cover-up at the very top levels…

Last Wednesday, a group of former and present RCMP officers blew the whistle on what they describe as corruption and cover-up at the very top levels of Canada’s national police force.

Addressing the Commons Current Accounts committee, they have accused former chief Giuliano Zaccardelli and other senior officials of robbing the police pension fund of millions, which they claim was channeled into the force’s budget.

Zaccardelli rejects the accusation.

The story of the missing pension funds has been percolating for five years, while top Mountie brass suppressed it.

But when the lid was opened it all bubbled over quite suddenly.

By Thursday we had heard that Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day may have been sitting on this scandal for more than a year.

By Friday the Globe and Mail was reporting that at least some of those raising the stink about the pension funds had an agenda of their own.

They were advocates for an RCMP union, something the law currently forbids.

RCMP officers answer to a quasi-military power structure that gives orders and expects to be obeyed. Loyalty is demanded, and everybody knows their exact place in the hierarchy.

In short, individual Mounties have little protection against exploitation by the system.

A union would help to protect them from abuses, the alleged theft of their pension funds being only the most obvious.

Policing is dangerous work, and unions help to protect workers from on-the-job risks.

It’s very common for the cop on the beat to believe that his or her job would be safer under a tougher criminal code, with stronger police powers — a union can help them to pursue these goals.

The trouble is, the interests of the police are not necessarily identical with the interests of citizens.

In January 2000, the Toronto city council passed a motion banning the police union’s controversial political campaign, Operation True Blue.

It was one move in a protracted struggle between elected officials and the Toronto Police Association.

Operation True Blue was a telemarketing campaign whose purpose was to raise funds for the TPA’s political campaigns.

The TPA has been a very effective machine, once mobilizing 300 constables on short notice to canvass door-to-door for the law-and-order Harris Conservatives.

The TPA under its tough-guy leader Constable Craig Brommel made no secret of plans to throw its weight against politicians who were in any way critical of police actions. City councillors and police board members complained of harassment and intimidation by union officials, and even the deputy chief of police accused Brommel of trying to blackmail him into leaving the force.

Operation True Blue didn’t smell very good on the intake end either.

The TPA was peddling three different coloured windshield stickers, at three different prices.

No promises were made, of course, but the public clearly understood possession of a gold sticker to be a positive factor in the event of a roadside encounter with the police.

The expression “get out of jail free card” was tossed around, though perhaps a little optimistically.

The scheme had its origins in (guess where) the United States, and the TPA was encouraged in its campaign by motivational speakers from that most media-sensitive police force, the Los Angeles Police Department.

Like the LAPD, the Toronto police had reasons to be concerned about too much media or public scrutiny.

Politicians and reporters in Toronto were prying into accusations of brutality, racism, frivolous strip-searches, and prisoner abuse.

When the Toronto Police Service Board banned Operation True Blue, the union threatened to sue.

Police chief David Boothby ordered Brommel and other union leaders to obey the ban or face discipline.

The union’s response: “It’s war.”

After more than a week of this brinkmanship, into which Mayor Mel Lastman strode with both large feet, the TPA did back down, gracelessly and without apology.

By this time the affair had gone a long way to help undermine public confidence in the police.

The ordinary cop on the streets was tarred with Brommel’s bullying — in large part because he never lost support of the union rank and file.

Collective bargaining would certainly change the nature of the RCMP.

It would open up what is now a hierarchical, militaristic organization and help to prevent cover-ups and abuses.

But as citizens let’s remember that what’s good for the police is not always good for us.

It’s not impossible to write a charter that offers the regular working cop protection from the bosses and still protects the citizenry against abuses by the union.

An RCMP union must never be allowed to dabble in politics, and there have to be strict limitations on the way it raises funds.

Operation True Blue was a good lesson in what can happen when you mix politics, police, and union powers.

Let’s not see how it plays out on a national scale.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Premier Sandy Silver speaks to media after delivering the budget in the legislature in Whitehorse on March 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Territorial budget predicts deficit of $12.7 million, reduced pandemic spending in 2021-2022

If recovery goes well, the territory could end up with a very small surplus.

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read