OTTAWA -- The Mounties should apologize for mistreating protesters at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver, says the head of a commission that handles complaints about the RCMP.
In the final report on the APEC affair, Shirley Heafey, chairwoman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should have apologized by now -- but it's still not too late.
The RCMP refused to apologize yesterday, as they have since protesters were dealt with aggressively at the summit of world leaders.
An apology would be a concession to high-profile activists such as Jaggi Singh, Jonathan Oppenheim and Rob West, whose complaints helped launch the APEC inquiry.
Ms. Heafey noted that the interim report by retired justice Ted Hughes, made public last August, found protesters were "adversely affected" by the RCMP's actions.
"In keeping with the RCMP's notable Force-wide emphasis on community policing, timely apologies to those people would have certainly been appropriate but, unfortunately, were not forthcoming," Ms. Heafey concluded.
She noted Commissioner Zaccardelli's admission that the RCMP made mistakes, but said it is not enough: "An apology now would still be appropriate."
The final report summarizes many of Mr. Hughes' findings that the RCMP misplanned security at the conference and breached the rights of protesters through heavy-handed arrests, removing their signs, and arresting them for legal actions like using walkie-talkies.
It also notes Mr. Hughes' finding that the RCMP breached the constitutional rights of protesters and "abandoned its independence" by giving in to pressure from aides to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who asked the Mounties to move protesters' tents from near the summit site.
While Commissioner Zaccardelli has admitted that the force botched some parts of the job of ensuring security at the summit, he would not say sorry.
A spokesman for the RCMP, Corporal Benoît Desardins, would not answer questions about whether the Mounties will eventually issue an apology to the protesters whose rights were breached. He reiterated that Commissioner Zaccardelli had accepted that RCMP made mistakes.
"That's all I can say," he said.
In his response to Mr. Hughes' interim report, Commissioner Zaccardelli noted that a senior RCMP officer had already concluded that no disciplinary action should be taken against officers found at fault in the report.
The 1997 APEC summit, held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, brought together leaders of the major Pacific Rim nations. Demonstrators sought to protest against the actions of governments in countries like China and Indonesia.
Mr. Hughes found that Jean Carle, then Mr. Chrétien's operations director, pushed the Mounties to keep the protesters farther from the leaders.
In his reply to Mr. Hughes findings, the RCMP commissioner said he would include five principles on the RCMP's independence from government officials in a national statement to RCMP officers.
Mr. Carle, the second-most powerful aide in Mr. Chrétien's office at the time of the summit and a close friend of the Prime Minister, left the PMO in 1998 to work at the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Crown corporation at the centre of the so-called Shawinigate controversy.
He quit last year to join Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, which saw its government subsidies leap by $500,000 around the same period Mr. Carle was appointed.
Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay released a statement saying the RCMP have learned their lesson from APEC.
"The RCMP has taken swift action to implement the recommendations made in Mr. Hughes' interim report," Mr. MacAulay said. "I am confident that the RCMP is well prepared to handle security challenges of major international events."
But New Democrat MP Svend Robinson says he's skeptical the RCMP or the government have learned from the experience.
He said that already, G8 organizers are planning to keep protesters far away from the site of the summit, despite Mr. Hughes' recommendation that they be given "generous opportunity" to "see and be seen."
"The buck stops on the Solicitor-General's desk, and it's up to him to ensure that the recommendations . . . are respected and he clearly isn't prepared to do that," he said.
The 1997 APEC inquiry:
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