Lack of leadership. Intimidation. Cover-ups. Uniform members as scapegoats. A toxic, systemic culture. Sexual harassment. Lack of discipline and bullying.
Those are some of the major problems that former officer Don Matheson of Enderby believes exist at the top levels of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And those problems adorn the A-side of his one-man protest sign, which Matheson carried for nearly four hours outside the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP detachment Thursday.
“The protest is about what’s going on inside the RCMP, said Matheson, 75, who served his entire 12-year RCMP career in Alberta. “It’s not what the public’s creating against the members. It’s what the higher ranks and federal government are doing to the members inside the force. It’s all internal.”
Matheson has walked with his sign in Armstrong, Kamloops, at B.C. Division headquarters in Surrey and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Vernon was the fifth stop of his one-man protest, coming two days after the Vernon-North Okanagan detachment requested six new officers – at a cost of $1.05 million – from the city, which heard that morale at the local detachment was low due to heavy caseloads.
“Council may say we can’t afford them (new officers), but when you realize what’s happening inside the force, you better afford them,” he said. “You need them, the public needs them.”
The other side of his sign lists four derogatory words which spell RCMP– and best describes the national force, said Matheson – Reprehensive (SIC – should be Reprehensible). Complacent. Manipulative. Pervasive.
On Matheson’s jacket are five commemorative buttons: a Canadian flag, the 125th anniversary of the RCMP in Canada, the Canadian Army button, and buttons that remember four officers killed on duty in Mayerthorpe, Alta, and the ribbon button that commemorates fallen officers or who died in the line of duty. He starts to break down, his voice cracking and tears welling up, as he mentions that 36 former or current RCMP members have committed suicide over the past several years.
“The silence is this country is deafening. Nobody is standing up (for the officers),” he said.
Matheson graduated from depot in Regina in 1963. It was in 1974, when he was stationed near Grande Prairie, that Matheson left the force after losing faith in the judicial system.
“We had 103 impaired drivers in the Peace River subdivision out of Grande Prairie, and 97 got tossed out because of an alcoholic judge,” said Matheson. “He got transferred to Edmonton, sobered up and became one of the best judges Alberta ever had. On appeal, we won 97 of those impaired driving charges.”
He worked in the oil industry and has kept in touch with colleagues throughout the years. During his protests, he’s also heard from officers and the public at large.
“The public reaction, I would say, has been outpouring,” said Matheson. “People really care. But we get too far into a discussion on the sign I’m carrying, and they can’t handle what I’m telling them.
“People say ‘we trust Don, he’ll talk about what we tell him without saying who we are or what we tell him.’ Having served, it’s part of me.”
Asked if he feared repercussions, or being taken as a “crazy old man,” Matheson shook his head.
“You can’t stop an individual from doing what he thinks should be done,” he said.
Matheson is hoping to meet with the top brass of the Vernon-North Okanagan detachment to discuss his concerns.