New RCMP chief opens up about RCMP culture, past ‘mistakes‘ and plans for reform

OTTAWA – Over her 32 years with the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki says when it comes to the culture in the RCMP, she’s seen mistakes and has been the one to make them. Now, she’s pledging to do better and implore the members under her to do the same.

"It‘s how you handle the puck, so to speak, afterwards, and what you do to make that wrong right. And it’s like I say, it’s never too late to do the right thing," Lucki says in her first sit-down television interview since being appointed.

In five years the national police force will celebrate its 150th year and Lucki’s vision is to create a "more tolerant, more inclusive and absolutely more respectful" RCMP, saying that the women members who spoke up about being harassed was “a wakeup call” to not let history repeat itself.

In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Lucki, making her the first permanent female commissioner of the RCMP.

She took over as the head of the organization on April 16, and not long after at a committee appearance she who asked how "a lady" would "tell the guys how to behave."

She said questions like that show there’s still work to be done.

Lucki spoke with CTV News‘ Mercedes Stephenson about investigating returned foreign fighters, looking at specialization as a way to tackle staffing shortages, and what she expects will be an initial "stumbling" with marijuana legalization.

Stephenson: What is your vision for the RCMP as you take on this new chapter?

Lucki: Our RCMP does so many things that are so good and in the next few years I want to tell that story, but with everything we need to move forward. We need to innovate and we need to modernize. So I would obviously like an RCMP that’s more agile, more capable, more innovative, more tolerant, more inclusive and absolutely more respectful.

What would you like to do in the next five years?

In a perfect world I’d like to eradicate harassment and disrespectful behaviour in our organization. I want our members and our employees to take care of one another. I want them to have the courage of conviction to be accountable for themselves, but more importantly accountable to others.

I want to maximize our use of technology so that we can put the bad people in jail both nationally and internationally. I want to insure a safe Canada.

Your personal experience coming up through the ranks in the organization, what did you see in terms of harassment and bullying that’s led you to believe this is still such a priority for the organization?

The first thing that comes to mind when you speak about that is all the courage of all the women that came forward in the lawsuit and unfortunately that had to be our wakeup call and we really need to learn from those experiences so we don’t repeat history. Because they always say history repeats itself, but this should never repeat itself.

Our tolerances have changed over the years obviously for certain kinds of behavior, so right or wrong, I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong… it’s changed. And we have reacted to those tolerances and I would like our organization to be more proactive.

You bring something new to the job because you are a woman and that means that you were around, especially in the days when we hear the RCMP was truly struggling with this. Sometimes you were the only woman at a detachment. What was that like?

Every employee comes to work and they want to do the right thing. People don’t come to work and say ‘today I’m going to harass somebody, or I’m going to bully somebody, or intimidate somebody.’ People make mistakes. And it’s how they handle themselves when they make that mistake.

I think in my career I’ve seen mistakes, I’ve been the person who made mistakes, but it’s how you handle the puck so to speak afterwards and what you do to make that wrong right. And it’s like I say, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Was that your sense? Because I imagine you must have experienced some of this harassment, that it wasn’t necessarily malicious, but just unaware?

Unaware, and people… when women first came in the force I believe that most of our male counterparts wanted to make the females accepted. And maybe their intention was good but maybe their execution was a little off and so they lived and learned.

Unfortunately maybe we didn’t have an environment where women felt that they could come forward or deal with it. A lot of it is that everyone wants to fit in, nobody wants to be sticking out. It’s no different today. The fact that everybody asks me what it’s like to be the first woman commissioner tells me that ‘oh we’re still not there.’

When I ask you the questions about harassment you don’t want to talk about your personal harassment experience and I’m wondering if that’s because as the commissioner it’s hard if you personalize that publicly, to then deal with it institutionally? If it’s because you didn’t experience it? I’m asking because I know a lot of people wonder about that.

First of all, I’m a glass is half full kind of gal. I still think the best of all people despite all I’ve seen in 32 years. I believe that people really have great intentions to do the right thing and despite some of the negative experiences I’ve had, I’ve been able to move forward. Sometimes maybe not as easily in some cases. But I really want our organization to move forward, so as the leader of my organization I want everybody to follow my example.

I don’t want to ever ignore what happened in the past because as I said previously there was a lot of courage on behalf of all of those women in the and if we were to ignore that then that would be very shameful. We need to look at that, examine it and I think one of the plaintiffs said it was a monumental task. It is and it isn’t, because people really want to see our organization succeed, both inside and outside our organization and I’ve heard it and I’ve felt it over the past six weeks.

What do you do with some of the people who don’t seem to get it, when you correct them and you’ve told them the behaviour is unacceptable, and it’s still occurring, how does the RCMP deal with those individuals?

Well we put practices, policies in place, but that’s not enough. It’s education, awareness, and every employee in the RCMP must own our organization and they have to own it to the point that they will hold those people to account.

I used this in a cabinet appearance. If I came in this room and lit up a cigarette you would tell me ‘you can’t smoke in here,’ it’s automatic. And if you didn’t 17 other people would. Yet we can allow people to do things that are inappropriate and everybody seems to not have the same courage of conviction.

In my organization I want us to be the lead on that and not be afraid for people to say ‘you can’t light that cigarette, you can’t say those words, you can’t do those actions, those are completely inappropriate’ without, zero fear of repercussion or feeling uncomfortable because nobody would feel uncomfortable to tell me not to light up a cigarette, if I was a smoker.

How do you deal with an organization that is facing significant staffing shortages in some pretty important areas?

Geography is definitely a challenge in the RCMP. We police from coast to coast to coast in remote areas of Canada. To have sufficient backup in all areas of the country is a big challenge and having a vacancy rate does not help. So we need to insure that first of all, we’ve ramped up our troops at the training academy, that’s one thing and we will continue to do that, so that we can make sure that we have enough graduating.

We’re looking at alternate sources of resources with different police academies to see if we can take somebody who has already graduated from another police academy, top up their training, make sure it’s matched with what we teach people at our training academy, and then put them out in the field.

Civilianization in the sense that getting specialized resources in areas for example like cybercrime or commercial crime, or economic crime, maybe we don’t need somebody who is a six-month, gun-carrying trained member that’s taught to deal with Criminal Code offences on the front lines.

There’s also the question of all the different hats that the RCMP wears. The contract policing, the aboriginal policing, national security, organized crime. In some cases carrying out municipal roles, in other cases it’s provincial roles and with the strain on staffing and resources, some are asking can the RCMP still do it all, or is it time to rethink all the roles the national police force is taking on?

It would never hurt to review all the roles, to the look at the way we do business, to look at all those different hats and that is part of our modernization… What people think though when they look at the RCMP, they think it’s all one big ball of various types of hats I guess.

We don’t work in silos… We’re the only police force that has that many hats, but there are great benefits to those many different hats as we can draw on different resources. And the perfect example is the upcoming G7. We draw on various resources and we can take from one mandate and another mandate and put them together. When there’s a need for something else like a Fort McMurray fire or a flood we can draw on different kinds of resources to fill those gaps.

What do you say to the government when you go and talk to them about what all of these mandates are and the shortfall on resources? Does it come down to saying to them either we have to make a choice about what we are doing, or there has to be additional resources?

We are exactly in the midst to examining to insure first of all before we go to government in different areas, we have to make sure that the resources that we have are doing what they are supposed to be doing… Once we figure that out then we can say we need more resources.

On missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, you have a lot of experience with aboriginal policing, Indigenous policing, in fact you’ve won awards for it… There’s a call from some of the families and in fact that was in the review that was published, that there be a separate investigative force that basically looks into this issue. Do you think the RCMP can handle that issue on its own or does there need to be an outside third party?

There will be some solid recommendations that come from that inquiry that are going to assist us on our way forward.

I have to comment though, it had to be tough for all those families after so many years to come forward and re-live those tragic experiences. And as the investigating police officer, police force, in many of those investigations we have a responsibility to make sure we did everything we could with those investigations.

So with each and every one we are reviewing and bringing it forward, we are providing information back to the inquiry on specific cases.

On a personal note, I’ve reached out to all the Indigenous leaders with all the various national organizations and I’m hoping to meet with them face to face within my first 100 days obviously and see what people’s expectations are, what the Indigenous peoples expectations are for their police force.

I want to hear it first hand and see what I can do as the leader of our organization to work towards that.

Is that part of the culture that needs to change, because I know there have been some concerns and reports about attitudes inside some parts and some members of the RCMP in terms of Canada’s Indigenous people. Is that part of the cultural overhaul that you’re looking for with that compassion that you’re talking about and revamping the perception and the relationship?

Absolutely, compassion is one of our core values. With that comes empathy. I know recently we have introduced into the cadet training program, . That is an exercise that creates greater understanding, it teaches empathy, and gives a person a way to connect with what happened in the past and how to move forward. I myself went through it and was simply amazed at how such a simple exercise could be so impactful and so powerful.

We’ve heard the government talk about deploying peacekeepers, both military and police. I know the RCMP were there doing some recce [reconnaissance] to figure out when and if they might go in. There were reports that the Canadian Forces are looking at deploying for an August 1 deadline, do you have any sense yet of what the RCMP contribution to that mission might look like?

I have no idea on what the contribution will look like today, I know we will be examining it. We get requests, various different requests on peacekeeping missions and we want to ensure that whatever we add to it is value added so we’ll be working with various government agencies to look at that.

You’ve served of course, with the United Nations yourself overseas. Why do you think it’s important and do you think it’s important still for the RCMP to engage in that kind of a role, like in Mali, like in the former Yugoslavia as you did?

Oh my goodness, absolutely. There are countries obviously wanting to move towards a democratic type of model of government and with that becomes a different way of policing in a democratic society.

I think overseas we have a lot of value to add in helping those countries to progress in policing specifically. And I saw that in Bosnia myself.

Looking at our own borders here at home, of course we have a high number of, they call them ‘irregular’ border crossings. People who are running the border particularly in Quebec, some in Manitoba as well and you have RCMP officers at the border who are warning people that if they cross that they’ll be arrested and when they cross anyhow you see them being very Canadian and helping with their luggage. Are you concerned that the RCMP is getting sucked into a role there that it really wasn’t intended for?

No. As the national police force one of our roles is to provide security in between the border crossings so when migrants come across the border we work with other agencies… We work with those to ensure that those people coming across are coming into Canada under a certain status and providing a safe way for them to do that. Along the way, many lessons learned, we are standardizing our processes to ensure the safe migration.

What is your plan this summer for how you’re going to handle those border crossings? Because they continue to grow every month.

Again, the beauty of the RCMP, we’re able to reallocate resources from within, for instance in Quebec, we’re reallocating the resources and for the type of migration or the numbers of migration that we have now, we have ample resource to reallocate in order to ensure that.

Some people at home wonder, and I know because I see this being asked on our Facebook page or on Twitter, why do the RCMP let them cross? Can you explain to me what the role of the RCMP is at the border and why it is that they allow people to come across the border?

Well many of them are refugees that are coming across the border, that are looking for a safe place to be, and as a country we have said that we will provide for that.

National security, which links from that in some ways, is a huge file for the RCMP and it’s been something that’s seen a lot of discussion recently… Can you tell me a bit about how the RCMP is handling the somewhere between 60 and 90 they estimate returned foreign fighters who are in the country? Because people have genuine concerns that these people are back at home and they want to know are they being monitored.

Under the Criminal Code we have a new section, a fairly new section that says anybody who has been involved with terrorist activities home or abroad, can be charged under the Criminal Code for that activity. So as an investigative agency that is our role.

So we look at the evidence, we do our investigation, we gather up as much as we can, we work with the prosecutions and when we have enough evidence to lay a charge that’s our goal. With any investigation whether its terrorist activity or other Criminal Code activity, it’s important that we have the reasonable and probable grounds to know that that offence has occurred and once we do that then we lay the charge.

What do you think the big picture looks like on the national security file in Canada right now?

That’s a good question, in the sense I’m into week six, I probably don’t have all the information I need to properly respond to that. What I do know is that we have a lot of resources that work day in and day out to ensure our national security… Can we control everything that happens in the world? Absolutely not. But we will do our best to ensure the safety of Canadians.

The other thing a lot of Canadians are thinking about as we draw closer to the summer is the legalization of marijuana. This is something that poses a challenge for police forces as you try to figure out how to determine who is impaired and to conduct the training. How much of a challenge is this for the RCMP on such a short deadline?

People keep mentioning the short deadline but we’ve been dealing with drug impaired driving for quite some time and that’s why we’ve been involved with the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program, and we just need to increase our capacity.

So this coming year we’re having I think 22 courses to increase our numbers, we have approximately 200 Drug Recognition Experts, and there’s probably over 200 nationally from all police agencies, so even if they’re not our police agencies, we can still draw on that expertise as well, but our goal is to ensure we have good coverage from coast to coast to coast in regards to having that expertise.

As far as legislation goes, we will be prepared through training of our members to ensure that they know what that legislation is and how to react to the legislation. I think that like with any new legislation, there’s always that new bit where people are stumbling even with training, they’ll stumble a little bit through it until we figure out how it plays out on the frontline and after that I think we’re good to go.

Will you tell your officers to expect possibly an initial spike in impaired driving when it’s legalized?

I can’t say for sure, I hope that the Canadian public is more responsible than that. I think the newer generations, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, have been raised not to go behind a wheel when they’re impaired in any state.

I think it’s important that we continue with that messaging to not get behind the wheel, not be distracted by your phone, not be fatigued, not be under the influence of any kind of drug, so I’m going to give the Canadian public, the drivers on the road the benefit of the doubt and say no, I hope it doesn’t get any larger than it is.

What message do you have for Canadian today and RCMP across the country?

I really want the Canadian public and RCMP to look at RCMP as their RCMP. I want them to see themselves, the Canadian public, as their RCMP, and I want them to see themselves in there. Because if they can see themselves reflected in their police force and they too will have some ownership, because we are a Canadian icon.

For my employees, I want the same message. I want them to own the RCMP and I go back to something I said earlier, I want them to have the courage of conviction to hold each other to account. I always say when I was talking to new cadets, I always say the same four messages:

  • Make the community better than what it was when you got there;
  • Be kind, and take care of one another;
  • Be safe;
  • And above all, every day try to have some fun.