OTTAWA -- The RCMP should have apologized to protesters they pepper-sprayed at the 1997 APEC conference, and it's not too late, a final report on the matter concludes.
More than four years after Mounties pepper-sprayed and arrested protesting students in Vancouver, the head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has essentially closed the matter with yesterday's report.
In her report, Shirley Heafy notes that the RCMP have already acknowledged errors were made in the handling of protesters, and that it accepts the recommendations of an interim report on the matter last year.
But three months before the Mounties' restraint is tested again at protests expected at the G-8 summit in Kananaskis, Heafy is still hoping for an apology.
"Timely apologies to those people would certainly have been appropriate, but, unfortunately, were not forthcoming," Heafy's report says. "An apology now would still be appropriate."
RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli refused an interview request yesterday. A spokesman would not directly address whether the Mounties will ever apologize for their conduct. Following the release of the commission's interim report, written by Judge Ted Hughes, Zaccardelli "accepted that errors were made by the RCMP at the 1997 conference," said spokesman Benoit Desjardins.
At least one of the original protesters says an apology is a moot point now. But any apology should come from the prime minister and the government, Garth Mullins said.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose office was cited in the interim report for interfering with police activities at the summit, has escaped any culpability, said Mullins, one of the complainants against the RCMP.
"If anybody is to apologize, I think it should be Chretien and the government for giving the orders to the police to begin with," Mullins said in a telephone interview.
Whether the RCMP learned a lesson is more important than an apology, he added.
"The police behaviour at subsequent events shows what they have or haven't learned from APEC," he said.
Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay said in a release he's confident the RCMP will be up to big jobs like the G-8 summit in Kananaskis. He said the RCMP have learned "valuable lessons" from APEC, and cited restraint at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last year as an example.
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