|Canadian News of 2007
The Canada eZine - Newsmakers
From Terrorism to Tasers
From terrorism to Tasers, from pensions to the perils of solitary policing, the RCMP have been squarely in the public eye for the last 12 months – though not for the reasons the force might wish.
The troubled Mounties are the collective choice as Newsmaker of the Year for 2007 in the annual poll conducted by The Canadian Press among newsrooms across the country.
Voters cited a variety of reasons for their selection, but the bottom line was summed up by Jack Romanelli, editor of the Halifax Daily News: "The RCMP dominated Canadian news this year".
"Many of the stories they generated shook the traditional view of the 134-year-old force as a scarlet-clad symbol of national identity".
There was continuing fallout over the Maher Arar affair, new scrutiny from the Air India inquiry, a furor over the death of Robert Dziekanski after the Polish immigrant was Tasered and grief over two young officers gunned down while on solo patrol.
There was also the appointment of veteran Ottawa bureaucrat William Elliott as the first civilian commissioner to preside over the force and there were recommendations for a drastic overhaul of RCMP management in the wake of a pension scandal.
It all added up to a crisis in public confidence.
"Canadian society has changed," says Paul Kennedy, head of the federal commission that fields public complaints about the Mounties.
"The seminal issue here is the challenge that we have to maintain public trust in major institutions.
"Most people have always trusted the Mounties as a matter of course," he says, but now "that default position isn't falling into place with the same ease."
Kennedy hastens to add that, whatever the force's past mistakes, it's not too late to fix things – especially given the reservoir of good will that many still feel toward the RCMP.
That view was illustrated by Joanne McKenzie, news director of CJCD radio in Yellowknife and one of the voters in the newsmaker poll.
She noted the sense of personal loss and community mourning over the slayings of Constables Christopher Worden and Douglas Scott in separate incidents in the North.
"It is time our country realized what these officers really do and how they help keep these communities together," said McKenzie. "Our loss can and should be a signal to the rest of the country to value our world-renowned and respected police force."
"Worden and Scott were shot while responding alone to incidents involving local residents. The RCMP has introduced a new policy designed to ensure backup officers are on hand in the future, but it's unclear how that will work in practice because understaffing is a chronic problem in remote areas."
The 2007 Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year poll marks the second straight year the people who run the nation's newspapers, radio and TV stations have chosen a collective newsmaker rather than an individual one. Last year, they picked the Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan.
The only other time that's happened in the 61-year history of the poll was 1992, when voters opted for the referendum on the ill-fated Charlottetown constitutional accord.
The Mounties got 37 votes this year, edging convicted newspaper baron Conrad Black who came second with 27 and Prime Minister Stephen Harper with 15.
Other vote-getters included Taser victim Dziekanski with 14, convicted serial killer Robert Pickton with eight and Maher Arar, also with eight.
Arar won a $10-million settlement from the federal government after a public inquiry found he had been wrongly labelled an al-Qaida terrorist by the RCMP – information later used by U.S. authorities to deport him to face torture in Syria.
The resulting storm forced Giuliano Zaccardelli from the commissioner's post late last year and led the Harper government to install the civilian Elliott as his successor in mid-2007.
Another inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing has resurrected, in painstaking detail, the mistakes made by both the Mounties and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in probing a terrorist plot that took 329 lives but has produced only one criminal conviction in 22 years.
Zaccardelli has also faced renewed criticism in a report by Toronto lawyer David Brown, who slammed the ex-commissioner for an autocratic management style that aggravated the controversy over mishandling of the force's pension plan. Senior officials went largely unpunished in that affair, while rank-and-file whistleblowers faced retaliation.
In a second, more sweeping report, Brown has called for a new civilian management board for the Mounties, as well as a more powerful oversight commission to investigate public complaints.
About the RCMP:
Arctic Melting in 2007
The "shocking" record loss of Arctic sea ice was Canada's top weather event in 2007, according to Canada's environment ministry.
Each year for the past 12, Environment Canada has published a list of the top 10 climate or weather phenomena to impact Canada that year.
For 2007, "the dramatic disappearance of Arctic sea ice -- reported in September -- was so shocking that it quickly became our number one weather story," the ministry said in a statement.
Satellite images in September revealed that Arctic ice had shrunk to about four million square kilometers (2.4 million square miles), a 23 percent decrease from the previous record low of 5.3 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles) in 2005, it said.
The area of ice that melted roughly corresponds to the size of the Canadian province of Ontario or the country of South Africa.