An RCMP PR coup

Canada’s top Mountie gets lots of media
for a misleading message that avoids
some embarrassing questions —
like why he’s keeping a rapist on the payroll

March 22, 2010

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott rolled into Vancouver last week, granting an exclusive interview to the Vancouver Sun’s Kim Bolan. A day or two earlier he was in Edmonton, where he gave another exclusive interview. Given that both interviews conveyed a surprisingly positive message, it’s possible that Elliott and his handlers not only chose which media outlet he would talk to, but which reporter too.

At first, Bolan would seem an appropriate choice, even from the public’s perspective. She’s probably B.C.’s most prominent crime reporter. But a crime reporter doesn’t necessarily have time to delve deeply into issues of police accountability. That’s where the RCMP face a crisis and that’s most likely the reason for Elliott’s interviews. That’s where Elliott most needs to manage the message.

If that’s what he and his handlers were doing, it worked. To the uninitiated, Elliott probably sounded sincere when he spoke of a possible arrangement to improve accountability by putting B.C. Mounties under provincial oversight.

But that “oversight” would likely come from B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. The OPCC is at least as bad as the RCMP’s apologists, with the added problem that it gets almost no media scrutiny. Few reporters know about OPCC boss Stan Lowe, deputy police complaint commissioner Bruce M. Brown and OPCC analyst Rollie Woods — their backgrounds, how they got hired and how they go about their work.

Granted, without corroboration no one can say for sure that the RCMP selected Elliott’s interviewers, and that the RCMP did so to manipulate the news. But in both Edmonton and Vancouver, and possibly other locations too, he spoke with one reporter only. He could have granted a number of separate interviews or given a press conference to all media.

And while Bolan is a very experienced crime reporter, there are other Vancouver journalists, at the Sun and elsewhere, who probably know more about police accountability. Even more significantly, Bolan might be reluctant to press a sensitive issue. As someone who prides herself on having the Real Scoop (as she calls her blog), she probably relies on friendly relations with cops.

At any rate, Elliott certainly didn’t talk to National Post Vancouver correspondent Brian Hutchinson. Elliott wasn’t talking to him last December, either.

That’s when Elliott refused Hutchinson’s repeated requests for an interview. Hutchinson had some tough questions.

Hutchinson wanted to know why Elliott won’t fire police officers, why he claims that the RCMP Act prevents him from doing so, why he doesn’t wrap up disciplinary proceedings that drag on for years, why he keeps Mounties on the payroll even after the most outrageous transgressions and why he’s keeping a rapist on the payroll.

No matter, no worries — Elliott is open to provincial oversight. All is good.


March 27, 2010 update: William Elliott’s misleading Vancouver Sun interview has been reprinted in other media outlets including the National Post, the Nanaimo Daily News, the Kamloops Daily News and The interview also drew favourable attention in the North Shore News and might have been mentioned in Polish media as well. RCMP PR flacks have really pulled off a coup.