April 27, 2022

MCC Day 16 – Roundtable Discussion on Police Paraphernalia and Impersonation

As we delve further into the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings, we are seeing a variety of formats for the conveying of information. Today, the MCC proceedings featured six individuals in what was called a ‘round table’ discussion, answering questions about police paraphernalia and those who impersonate police officers.

(Information was conveyed, and questions were answered, but I am purposefully avoiding using the word ‘testimony’, as the witnesses were not sworn in, nor was there any suggestion that these individuals would potentially be subjected to cross examination.)

Krista Smith from the MCC was the moderator, and the speakers were former Kentville Police Chief Julia Cecchetto, retired RCMP officer Brian Carter, retired Edmonton Police Inspector (and memorabilia collector) Phil Baily, self-described “settler lawyer” Meaghan Daniel from Montreal, and Oxford University Professor Ian Loader (speaking from Melbourne, Australia).

Carter spoke about earning your uniform as an officer, and that the ceremonial uniform was an important possession for retired officers. Baily spoke about the community of collectors, and how collecting and exchanging memorabilia can be a social connector with other police officers. Cecchetto was less sentimentally attached to the police uniform or paraphernalia ,and suggested that if citizens are unsure of whether someone is an officer, they should call dispatch for confirmation or drive to the police station to have the status confirmed.

Other than some isolated comments from Loader and Daniel, this was not the most insightful discussion one might imagine on the topic. There were comments on the pride that retired officers feel for the uniforms and symbols of their police force, their abhorrence for any officer who would abuse the privilege of possessing the uniform, and how difficult it would be if we could not trust that police officers are real officers.

It is not clear exactly what the Commissioners might take from the discussion. It seems to me that this is akin to a prerequisite course you need to get through, or the introductory paragraphs before you get to the real point of an essay, laying out the basic framework of the discussion before coming to a meaningful conclusion. With a few exceptions, what we heard this morning would not come as a surprise to anyone who has given these issues a moment’s thought.

It was also not clear whether any of the suggestions may have made any difference in Wortman’s killing spree. Other than a comment from Ms. Daniel that marginalized individuals may be less likely to challenge a potentially fake police officer, and that the female victims of Wortman would perhaps have been less likely to challenge him should they have sensed he was not a real officer, there was no focused attention on the specifics of the mass shooting during today’s discussion.

The key points from the day came from Prof. Loader and Ms. Daniel. Prof. Loader noted how venerated and revered the RCMP brand has become, like the British police, and that it is difficult to have a sober conversation about reforming police structures and practices because of that status. Ms. Daniel added that for marginalized individuals, the brand is not a symbol of safety, but rather terror. She also made an important point when asked about the risk/benefit analysis of allowing police memorabilia to be possessed outside of actively serving officers. She said we should look at who bears the risk, and who gains the benefit when we ask that question.

After the discussion concluded, Commissioner MacDonald spoke about a decision the Commissioners have made with respect to Cst. Vicki Colford. They are going to allow Cst. Colford, who was stationed at the head of Portapique Beach Road during the early hours of the killing spree, to answer questions in writing by sworn affidavit. This is certainly not the most effective way to get answers, but Cst. Colford must have presented compelling evidence of her mental health condition or concerns.

The other note was from Commissioner Fitch, who confirmed that the MCC’s interim report would be released on May 1st, as scheduled, and that it would be posted to the MCC website. Expectations are quite low for this report, given that we have not completed the examination of witnesses for any portion of the killing spree. Commissioner Fitch said that there would be no recommendations contained in this initial report.

The MCC is back then next Monday, May 2nd, when there will be presentations on firearms access and the laws surrounding the possession of certain guns. I am going to be reviewing the seven published reports that are now on the MCC website to see what, if any, wisdom may be gleaned from them.