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Home » As RCMP defends neck hold, minister says he ‘very clearly’ laid out his expectations for reform
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he has been “very clear” about the reforms he wants to see from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki – comments that come as the RCMP continues to defend its use of a controversial neck grip.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed the minister to work with the RCMP to ban “the use of neck braces in all circumstances”. The promise was repeated in Mendicino’s mandate letter to Lucki.
Earlier this month, the RCMP told CBC News that the technique used to check the carotid artery was safe and effective, and it would continue to instruct its officers to use restraint on rare occasions.
“Well, the very first thing I want to say is that it’s important that we reform our … law enforcement agencies,” Mendicino said on his way to a caucus on Friday.
“That is exactly why, after receiving my letter of mandate from the Prime Minister, I took the extra step to be very clear on how we can deliver this reform within the RCMP.”
With vascular neck restraints, the arteries on either side of a person’s neck are compressed, rendering the restrained person unconscious.
When used correctly, the fixation does not restrict breathing. It differs from the detention that killed George Floyd in police custody in 2020, but carotid restraint has come under intense scrutiny since.
Lucki promised to review the tech after Floyd’s death. A number of US law enforcement agencies have banned carotid artery restraint.
RCMP spokesman Robin Percival said the national police had “not banned or imposed a moratorium on the use of the carotid screening technique.”
Instead, she said, the RCMP issued new guidance to its officers late last year that strengthens “definitions, oversight and accountability measures, the risks of using the technique in medically high-risk groups, the medical care requirements and the threshold for use, and specify and the requirement to recertify the policy on application annually.”
RCMP const. Elizabeth Flemister demonstrates the carotid check technique in a video for the National Police Federation. (National Police Association/YouTube)
Percival said the carotid control technique was used 25 times in 2020 and 14 times in 2021 by RCMP officers.
Mendicino said he will continue to work with the RCMP to initiate reforms.
“The point here is to ensure that the RCMP sets the gold standard in the use of force so that we can keep Canadians safe and ensure we do so in a responsible and professional manner,” he said Friday.
“And we will continue to ensure that we work with the RCMP to implement these things.”
The RCMP law states that the commissioner serves “under the direction of the minister” and “has the control and administration of the force”.
“That’s why they’ve been fighting for 50 years”
Brian Sauvé, chairman of a union representing more than 20,000 RCMP officers, said he believes Lucki was acting within her authority to retain the carotid grip as an option for officers.
“Last year, for example, there was a lot of talk about the operational independence of the RCMP. The use of force, the Incident Management Intervention Model, I think would fall within that operational independence,” he said in an interview last week.
Michael Kempa, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, disagrees.
“The answer is an unequivocal no. It is absolutely the RCMP’s responsibility to receive political direction from the Minister of Public Security in all matters related to the policy of recruitment, use of force, weapons, etc.,” he said.
“This is an issue that has strained the RCMP and its relationship with its Secretary of Public Safety… They have been arguing about what exactly operational independence means for 50 years.”
Kempa described the federal minister’s power over the RCMP officer as equivalent to the power of police agencies over municipal police services.
The force’s operational independence was put in the spotlight last summer when the federal government was accused of pressuring Lucki into getting the Mounties to release the types of weapons used by the shooter in the tragic mass shooting in Nova Scotia, at which 2020 22 people died.
Both Lucki and former Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair have denied political interference.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki looks on Friday, July 1, 2022 during Canada Day celebrations at the Lebreton Flats in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
During last year’s public inquiry into the government’s use of the emergency law to end the convoy protests, Lucki suggested that the federal government should define operational independence more clearly.
“It’s pretty clear to me. Everything is operational, we advise what is happening, but we do not give instructions on how things are to be done,” she testified on November 15.
Lucki’s contract is up for renewal
Historically, disagreements between the federal government and the RCMP do not end well for the commissioner, Kempa said.
“In the end, they either get sacked or their contract just doesn’t get renewed,” he said.
“I think rather than making a big public scene about this particular issue if it is important to the minister, it would just be one more reason not to renew the contract and deal with it calmly in that way.”
Lucki was appointed Commissioner in April 2018. While RCMP law states that commissioners are in office at the “pleasure” of government,
Most commissioners have been in office for around six years.
In November, Mendocino said he would speak to the commissioner “when her currently defined term of office comes to its natural end.”
“And we’ll see where that takes us.”