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New RCMP boss promises to crack down on bad behaviour

OTTAWA -- The new RCMP boss says he'll root out "dark-hearted behaviour" in the national police force by swiftly firing clear wrong-doers and giving his senior officers the authority to settle disputes without delay.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told The Canadian Press that lying, cheating, stealing, intentional use of excessive force and blatant harassment will not be tolerated.

"We're going to suspend people immediately. We're going to seek their dismissal through a formal process and we're going to suspend their pay," Paulson said in his first interview as top Mountie. "Those are all powers that are available to me now."

The veteran officer, who assumed the high-profile job last week, says leadership and accountability within the RCMP are his immediate priorities. He stepped into the post as long-simmering concerns about harassment and bullying within the iconic police force boiled over, prompting an internal review and an investigation by the RCMP watchdog. The police force continues to feel reverberations from the case of a bewildered Polish immigrant who died at the Vancouver airport after being zapped repeatedly with an RCMP Taser.

A video of the incident shot by a bystander was beamed around the globe. Four officers face perjury charges in connection with the aftermath. And Mounties across the country have made headlines for alleged misdeeds — from breach of trust and theft to drunk driving and assault.

"I think Canadians expect that we'll make mistakes. And when we do, as long as they're sort of good-hearted mistakes, people are patient," Paulson said. "Dark-hearted behaviour has no place in police work. And Canadians are right to expect that the higher standard of conduct comes from their police officers. And so we're going to take some very simple but decisive steps in the first little while to try and get that back on track."

When a case of Mountie misconduct "clearly attracts the outrage of Canadians" and the facts are indisputable, Paulson said, "we will dismiss those people on the spot, almost."

"If it's outrageous and it's serious enough to go after a person's job, then that's what we're going to do."

Paulson says the RCMP Act already provides sufficient muscle to take such action in the worst cases. He also wants to deal with less serious infractions expediently. And when dismissal is not the fitting punishment, Paulson seeks truly corrective measures to make officers better.

The RCMP's disciplinary process has "meandered off into some sort of irrelevance," Paulson said. "We have decision-makers in our hearing process that spend a tremendous amount of time deliberating between the benefits of seven days' loss of pay and nine days' loss of pay, as though somehow that's determinative of something, and it's not. It's nonsense."

Paulson said he will demand more accountability from RCMP supervisors across the country not only for enforcing discipline but for the day-to-day decisions they make.

"It means that leaders have to own what they are in charge of," he said. "I think that's where we're vulnerable and where we're weak. Because we haven't insisted on that kind of simple, clear accountability. We're a paramilitary organization — everybody says that — but we're not living it. In some areas we are, but in many areas we're not."

In 2010-11, the RCMP, which has 31,000 employees, received 126 complaints of harassment, says the force. Of these 31 met the definition of harassment and 10 were concluded as being founded.

"If there's harassment occurring in your unit, or your detachment, or your area of responsibility, you better be acting on that," Paulson said. "You've got to dive in there and fix it. And it takes some difficult decisions sometimes, and it requires some risk-taking."

Paulson said as a supervisor he once witnessed a female Mountie being harassed and immediately dealt with the problem. He also acknowledges being accused of insensitive behaviour.

"When I was a junior officer I think I was a little bit overly focused on the mission sometimes and less interested in the person with whom I'm working, their feelings or their contributions," he said. "I wasn't convicted of harassment or anything like that. But I'll be honest and say that I have conducted myself in my career in instances that I needed to apologize for."

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