Today is RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s last day on the job — and there’s still no official word on her replacement.
While her time in the post saw her navigate some profound challenges, some former RCMP employees say a lot of those challenges will still be around when the 25th commissioner eventually takes office.
“They are doomed,” said Eli Sopow, a former civilian member who served for 20 years on research and analysis teams.
“It doesn’t matter who you put in, because the structure is all broken. It’s like one of those Escher drawings where you see stairways going all over the place … That’s the RCMP.”
Lucki was the RCMP’s first permanent female commissioner. She followed in the footsteps of Bev Busson, now a senator, who served as interim commissioner.
When she was appointed in 2018, Lucki was tasked with modernizing a police force in the grips of a sexual assault and harassment scandal.
“She was given an impossible task,” said Karen Adams, one of the first women to don the red serge after the force allowed women to serve back in 1974.
The RCMP was forced to compensate more than 2,300 women who experienced sexual harassment or abuse — including instances of rape — and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation while serving in the RCMP. In all, $125,266,500 was paid to claimants and their lawyers.
Adams was one of those claimants.
She said she had no idea what she was getting into when, at age 22, she joined the first graduating troop of women.
“I was interested in helping people,” she said.
“I was so naive … I don’t think any of us were prepared for what was coming our way, to be honest.”
Adams, who has written a book abut her time in the force, has said she was raped by her supervisor. She said she was too afraid to report it and instead suppressed the experience, which left her to suffer from PTSD.
Adams would go on to have a 28-year career in the RCMP. She worked alongside Lucki when they were both corporals
“The biggest issues in the force [have] been cultural issues. And culture is very hard to change,” she said.
“And Brenda, and any commissioner that follows, is going to have a huge, huge problem attempting to change the culture.”
Lauren Bernardi, a lawyer and workplace investigator, said police culture in general has been prone to workplace harassment.
RCMP officers have to respond to traumatic events and often live in isolated areas, she said, which can lead them to believe that the only way to be a police officer is to be tough and strong at all times.
“Transforming any culture is hard, because you’re talking about behavioural change for individuals,” Bernardi said.
“When you think about the RCMP, how big they are, how dispersed people are, it makes it that much more of a challenge.”
Bernardi said she has seen some signs that the RCMP is moving in the right direction — like the establishment of the Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution, which has outside investigators review allegations of sexual harassment or abuse in the ranks.
“I think it is a massive undertaking and maybe we don’t always appreciate how hard that is,” she said.
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Sopow, now an associate professor at University Canada West, said Lucki’s successor will have to grapple with structural issues, conflicting mandates and a confusing command structure.
The force has contracts with most provinces and about 150 municipalities to provide frontline policing. It’s also in charge of federal policing, including investigations of foreign interference, cybercrime and organized crime.
Sopow said he doesn’t understand why the head of a police force — even a national one — reports to the federal public safety minister.
“The RCMP is a police service. Its culture is unlike anything else. It is not the agricultural department,” he said.
“Where the RCMP has consistently found a real problem is, how do you lead and manage an organization that has to be credibly responsive to public safety … with [this] uber-bureaucratic structure? Well, it can’t.”
The RCMP’s relationship with the federal government has plagued Lucki throughout her time as commissioner. She was accused of meddling in the RCMP’s investigation of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting by pressing investigators — on the federal government’s behalf — to make public details about the weapons used by the gunman.
Both Lucki and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair have denied interfering with the RCMP’s investigation.
During her testimony before the Emergencies Act inquiry — one of her last major public appearances as commissioner — Lucki said it’s time to bring in better guardrails between the national police force and the federal government to avoid future allegations of political interference.
She was also criticized over her response to allegations of systemic racism in the force and to the families of the victims of the 2020 mass shooting.
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Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino promised there would be a “plan in place” to find a successor as Lucki transitioned into retirement.
The federal government is expected to name an interim leader and set up an independent body to recommend a permanent replacement.
“We will search out somebody who reflects the best values and capabilities and skills and who is committed to continuing to reform this institution,” Mendicino said last month.
A ‘ship that’s sinking’
Sopow said that while he doesn’t believe Lucki was the best choice back in 2018, some of the problems she faced in the job were bigger than her and still need addressing.
“God bless her heart. You could put anybody in there you want and it won’t work. It simply won’t work,” he said.
“How can you put somebody as captain of a ship that’s sinking without any radar, any devices, anything to give a direction of where it’s going?”
Adams said she believes that if the next commissioner wants to make changes, they’ll need to start at the RCMP’s training depot — “the cradle of the force.”
“It all begins there. It’s that sense of, ‘Do as you’re told, don’t question, learn to not speak up,'” Adams said.
During her time as commissioner, Lucki did act to modernize the depot’s screening tools to make the RCMP more diverse and avoid recruiting people with racist beliefs.
“I hope they can work things out so it becomes a safer place,” Adams said of the next commissioner.
“For women, for people of colour, for First Nations people. I just hope it becomes much more inclusive than it has been over the last 150 years.”
Nearly 50 years after women were first allowed to join the force, Adams said she still hopes women can see the RCMP as a worthy career path. But it’s not something she would have recommended to her children.
“I’m glad my own daughters didn’t pursue that career.”