Editorial: Lawyer leaves public service on a high note

At the end of the year, Canada will lose yet another valuable and outspoken civil servant when lawyer Paul Kennedy leaves his post as chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

After finishing his law degree in 1972, Kennedy spent 25 years with the Justice Department that included stints as a criminal prosecutor and later senior general counsel for the federal prosecution service. Then, after rising to become a senior assistant deputy minister with two different ministries, the government appointed him to the RCMP watchdog role in 2005.

Since then, Kennedy has established a reputation for pulling no punches against a federal police force that in recent years has come to define government secrecy. He’s been particularly forthright about the need for the RCMP to stop investigating itself in cases of serious allegations against its officers, an issue the 2005 in-custody death of Ian Bush at a B.C. police detachment helped bring to public attention.

This week, we saw Kennedy come out swinging again in his report on the infamous Taser incident involving Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in 2007. The events that led to the Polish man’s death “represent a defining moment in the history of the RCMP,” Kennedy said.

In what amounts to an official validation of what most people have likely been thinking, Kennedy said police claims about the threat they felt from the stapler Dziekanski was brandishing didn’t justify using a Taser on him.
“The members demonstrated no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation nor did they approach the situation with a measured, co-ordinated, and appropriate response,” he wrote in his report.

Kennedy, in making his 16 recommendations, also criticized the officers involved for inappropriately meeting after the incident before giving their statements. In addition, he deemed that their version of what happened lacked credibility. “Overall, I found that the conduct of the responding members fell short of that expected of members of the RCMP,” he concluded.

In coming out so strongly in one of his final acts as head of the public complaints commission, Kennedy has demonstrated his value to our federal bureaucracy. But the government’s decision last month not to reappoint him raises questions about whether it’s merely pushing aside someone who has been a thorn for highly ranked public officials in recent years.

In fact, while Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has so far declined to provide details on the reasons for the move, it was only last December that he praised Kennedy for his commitment “to achieving excellence in policing” in announcing a one-year extension of his term.

So far, it’s unclear whether the decision to end Kennedy’s posting has anything to do with his outspokenness. But we’ve seen such scenarios play out already, including in the firing of former Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen after the agency ordered the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor.
Similar issues arose in the case of Military Police Complaints Commission chairman Peter Tinsley, who also clashed with the government and isn’t getting reappointed.

So, whatever the official reasons the government gives for its moves, they do raise concerns. Given the important role people like Kennedy and Tinsley play in upholding the rule of law, we need to keep them in our public service. Just this week, Kennedy proved his worth once again.
- Glenn Kauth

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