Making History in Moncton: The RCMP Canada Labour Code Trial

By Greg Marquis

Recently, history was made in a court room in Moncton, New Brunswick. Provincial court Judge Leslie Jackson convicted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on one count under the Canada Labour Code: “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.” The RCMP as an employer was acquitted of three other charges and both the defence and prosecution will return in January to learn the sentence, which will be a fine of up to $ 1 million. Most of the fine, whatever the amount decided, will be given to programs that help victims of crime.

Mountie-on-Parliament-Hill

RCMP Officer – Source: Wikimedia Commons

The trial was unique in that RCMP defence witnesses, including outgoing Commissioner Bob Paulson, testified for the defence which argued that the force had exercised due diligence in training, equipping and supervising its officers in order to keep them safe on the job. While being a police officer in Canada is not as dangerous as driving a taxi cab or working on a fishing boat in terms of the chance of dying on the job, it can be risky and the RCMP rank and file seems convinced that it has become more dangerous even as overall crime rates fall.  The incident that prompted the investigation of Employment and Social Development Canada was a rampage in the summer of 2014 by Justin Bourque, who roamed a residential neighbourhood of western Moncton, dressed in combat clothing and carrying a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun. Within minutes he had fatally shot three members of the Codiac Regional RCMP: Dave Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan and Doug Larche. The men left behind widows and, in two cases, children.  Constables Éric Stéphane J. Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded by Bourque, who eluded the police for thirty hours. By the time he surrendered to Emergency Response Team (ERT) members, Bourque had paralyzed much of the city and prompted one of the biggest deployments of RCMP and municipal police units in Atlantic Canadian history.

In the end Bourque pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder. After apologizing to the families of the victims, he was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of twenty-five years, meaning that the twenty-four year old had no hope of parole for at least seventy-five years. Despite his anti-police and anti-government views, and his explained motive of wanting to target police in order to set off a rebellion against the state, Bourque was not deemed a terrorist. Also, despite initially appearing to paralyze the second largest police service in the province, and forcing much of Moncton’s west end to be ‘locked down,’ the active shooter incident generated little debate on gun control. This was despite the comments of defence lawyer David Lutz, who partly blamed the tragedy on “right-wing, gun nut culture” and Canada’s weakened gun control laws. [1]

The Harper government, like most federal governments before it, chose to allow the RCMP to investigate itself, despite calls for a public inquiry. This had been the response in 2005 when a suspect armed with a prohibited assault rifle had murdered four young Mounties in rural Mayerthorpe, Alberta.  The RCMP also investigated itself in the wake of the fatal shooting of two officers in pursuit of a suspect at Spiritwood, Saskatchewan in 2006. Although the issue of equipping, training and supervising front-line officers to respond to active-shooter incidents would land the RCMP in provincial court in Moncton in 2017, for most of the preceding decade it was preoccupied with another use-of-force issue that was damaging to its public image. In 2007 three Mounties responded to a report of an agitated man at the Vancouver airport.  Robert Dziekański, a Polish national, was subdued by the use of a conducted energy weapon (also known as a Taser) and subsequently died. The incident was captured on a cell phone camera and in 2010 subsequent provincial inquiry ruled that the use of the weapon against Dziekański had not been justified and concluded that the RCMP had misrepresented the facts of the case.

A much lower profile problem for the RCMP in this period was the issue of a new secondary weapon that could be issued to front-line officers. ERTs and patrol officers in police services such as the Ontario Provincial Police were being issued carbines, short-barreled semi-automatic rifles with a greater range and accuracy than the standard semi-automatic pistol and shotgun. RCMP headquarters began a search for a new weapon in 2007 and by 2011 it had decided on the Colt C-8. There was also research into hard-body armour, which is worn over soft-body armour during critical incidents.

The main issue in the Moncton trial was whether the RCMP fulfilled its statutory duty to and equip its front-line officers with the necessary equipment and training to respond to active shooters. Statistics indicate that RCMP officers, partly because so many are posted in rural and northern Canada, tend to be shot with rifles and shotguns as opposed to pistols.  Partly because of the need to acquire accessories and set up a training program, and the requirements that provincial and municipal contract partners, who pay the cost of equipment, be consulted, the rollout of the carbine was not immediate. When Justin Bourque left his trailer in Moncton in the early evening of June 4, 2014, the Codiac RCMP detachment had acquired six C-8 carbines. But they were at CFB Gagetown where the first Moncton officers we being trained in their use.

The Codiac RCMP is a rarity for the urban Maritime provinces, an urban RCMP detachment that serves the cities of Moncton and Dieppe and the town of Riverview.  It was imposed on the area by the McKenna government in the late 1990s. Following the shootings in 2014 there was a large emotional ‘regimental’ funeral in Moncton for the fallen officers. The community rallied around the families of the victims and the RCMP. Although some retired officers spoke to the media in favour of a public inquiry, the force as a whole appeared to maintain a united front to the public, mourning the dead heroes. In 2016, on the second anniversary of the murders, an impressive memorial featuring statues of the three murdered officers was unveiled along the bank of the Petticodiac River. Following the incident the RCMP asked a retired senior officer to conduct an internal investigation. Working under a tight timeline, Alphonse MacNeil delivered his report before the end of 2014. It was released to the public early in 2015, with the RCMP stating that it had already adopted many of its recommendations concerning officer safety, and planned to adopt more.

In May of 2015 came the dramatic news that provincial prosecutors, following an investigation by federal workplace safety officials, was laying four charges against the RCMP under the Canada Labour Code. Many members of the force expressed disappointment when the employer decided to fight the charges. Complicating the situation was the on-going drive by the rank and file for the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining.  In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that RCMP members had a constitutional right to unionize and the Trudeau government prepared Bill C-7 to provide a framework for the new labour relations regime. The bill was held up by the Senate in 2016 as too restrictive. The union drive took place against the backdrop of a number of other issues important to the rank and file, such as a toxic workplace culture, an ongoing problem with the harassment of female members, and budget cutbacks and a shortage of officers that is leading to stress, burnout and officers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Given all these pressures, the apparent perception of most front-line officers appeared to be that senior management had allowed the RCMP in Moncton- and by extension all of its detachments across Canada- to be ‘out gunned.’ The Labour Code trial took place in the summer of 2017 and resulted in the one conviction noted above. This was welcomed as a victory for the rank and file, with more members becoming openly vocal against senior management. The three widows told the media that they hoped that the trial would lead to positive changes in the force.

The battle fought in the provincial court in Moncton is one front in an ongoing war between senior RCMP management and an increasingly vocal rank and file. It extends all the way back to the creation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920 after the Winnipeg General Strike. At that time the new federal force, in the interest of paramilitary discipline and supposed neutrality in the relations between capital and labour, was banned from unionizing. Recently the Mounted Police Professional Association, one of the groups seeking to certify a union, called on the federal government to investigate RCMP brass and even local officials in New Brunswick for criminal wrongdoing and to remove the entire senior leadership of the RCMP, arguing that a fine was an insufficient response to fix an institution in crisis. The rank and file, as it waited for the appointment of a new commissioner, appeared to fear that management would continue to prioritize image over substance, ignore or downplay the concerns of the rank and file, and put front-line officers in harm’s way.[2]


Greg Marquis is working on a book on the Moncton Canada Labour Code trial and the future of the RCMP.


Notes:

[1] CBC News New Brunswick, “Justin Bourque’s lawyer slams gun laws,” Oct. 31, 2014.

[2] CBC Moncton Information Morning,  “Terry McKee-Labour Code Case,” Dec. 1, 2017.

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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1 Response to Making History in Moncton: The RCMP Canada Labour Code Trial

  1. Theriault is the national secretary of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC). He is also an RCMP member serving in Moncton who was working during the time of the shootings in 2014.

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