An RCMP corporal who was a friend of three murdered Mounties is publicly condemning the commissioner’s testimony last week on the killings as a clear failure of leadership.
“I hold you personally responsible for the deaths of my friends,” Cpl. Patrick Bouchard, who worked alongside the Mounties who died during a 2014 shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., wrote in an open letter on Facebook.
“I hold you responsible because you as a manager (you are not a leader) have placed money and image ahead of the safety of the members you are sworn to protect. You sir have failed us.”
Commissioner Bob Paulson testified last Thursday at the RCMP’s trial on Labour Code charges in the shootings that management had concerns over the possible militarization of the force as it prepared to arm officers with high-powered carbine rifles.
READ MORE: Mountie was ‘waiting to be shot again’ during Moncton shooting: RCMP labour trial
Carbine rifles were not available to general duty officers during Justin Bourque’s shooting spree on June 4, 2014, and numerous witnesses have testified they could have made a difference as Mounties tried to take on Bourque’s high-powered long guns with their service pistols.
However, Paulson told the court that he worried that the carbines could “distance the public from the police.”
The guns were approved in 2011, but their rollout was delayed on several occasions.
Paulson also said under oath that the RCMP needs to demonstrate the ability to use force, but it is not central to its presence. “We have tanks, drones and machine guns, but are we going to a shoplifter with a carbine?” he testified.
Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche were killed, while constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded when Bourque targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion.
READ MORE: RCMP labour trial hears that no one took command during Moncton shooting rampage
Bouchard, who is a 15-year-veteran of the force and is now posted in the Miramichi area, said he worked alongside the officers and was deeply saddened and angered by their loss. He said Paulson’s testimony hit him “like I had been punched in the gut.”
He said in an interview that he doesn’t accept the logic of Paulson’s arguments, and finds it difficult to accept that the top Mountie was willing to risk officers’ safety out of worries “we’ll look too mean.”
“The militarization of police is in reaction to what society is today. If you take away police’s tools to do their jobs, you cut them off at the legs,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
“We would use that tool appropriately, just like any tool we have at our disposal.”
Bouchard said that delay was ultimately Paulson’s responsibility.
“It stayed on his desk and his was the final decision as the leader of the organization. He could have made this happen sooner and he could have prevented further tragedy.”
The officer said the letter was sent to Paulson and he received no response.
READ MORE: RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson to retire in June
He said after he decided to post the letter publicly, he received dozens of phone calls and close to 800 likes on his post – many of them from retired and serving RCMP officers.
Paulson, who is expected to retire at the end of this month, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Another veteran officer who was present for the commissioner’s testimony said Bouchard is far from alone in his frustration with Paulson’s defence of management’s actions.
He spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concern over repercussions for speaking publicly.
The officer said on the day of the shooting he and his partners weren’t properly armed or trained by the force to deal with an active, outdoor shooter.
He was particularly angered by Paulson’s comment about “going to a shoplifter with a carbine.”
“If they don’t have enough confidence in their members, to think we’d go and respond to a shoplifter with a carbine, nothing more needs to be said,” he said.
“It was insulting. … I was offended by a lot that was said.”
The officer said some officers are taking the rare step of going public because there is a sense that senior management won’t listen through internal communication.
“They (members of the RCMP) are frustrated, and they’ve had it. There’s a lack of trust toward senior management in the RCMP right now.”