Tories tried to limit RCMP's apology to Robert Pickton victims


The federal public safety minister's office tried to scale back an apology the RCMP delivered earlier this year to the families of serial killer Robert Pickton's victims, Postmedia News has learned.

A senior adviser to the RCMP commissioner later wrote that the government's proposed revisions which ended up not being adopted drained the apology of its "purpose" and "impact," according to internal emails obtained under access-to-information laws.

A Public Safety spokeswoman and top RCMP officials insisted this week that the email exchanges reflected a natural back-and-forth dialogue that occurs between government and its agencies. Experts were divided over whether the government had overreached or not.

On Jan. 27, just days before RCMP investigators were scheduled to start testifying at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in Vancouver, British Columbia's top Mountie, then-assisstant commissioner Craig Callens, released a statement to media regarding the force's handing of the Pickton investigation.

"I believe that, with the benefit of hindsight, and when measured against today's investigative standards and practices, the RCMP could have done more," the statement read in part.

"On behalf of the RCMP, I would like to express to the families of the victims how very sorry we are for the loss of your loved ones, and I apologize that the RCMP did not do more."

Pickton, a pig farmer, was arrested in 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, though the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property in Port Coquitlam, B.C. He once told an undercover officer that he killed 49.

Email records show that shortly before the RCMP statement was issued, Julie Carmichael, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, wrote to Daniel Lavoie, the RCMP's executive director of public affairs in Ottawa, requesting changes to the text.

"Daniel please find attached the revised product," she wrote.

The next line was underlined for emphasis: "Please ensure the statement issued is reflective of these changes."

The revised statement did not include any acknowledgement that the RCMP "could have done more" in the Pickton investigation and the apology was limited to saying "how very sorry we are for the loss of your loved ones."

"Here is the text," Lavoie wrote later that day in an email to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. "I have removed what they did not want issued. Truncated this way, it looses (sic) its purpose and its impact."

But in the same email, Lavoie wrote that the revisions had come "too late" and that Callens had already delivered the apology to reporters in B.C.

A spokesman for Callens, now a deputy commissioner, confirmed Tuesday that any recommendations received by Public Safety were not received in time for him to consider.

"Callens stands by his statement," the spokesman said.

Carmichael refused to explain this week why the minister's office sought to pare down the wording of the apology.

"We always work with the RCMP to ensure that we communicate with Canadians as effectively and appropriately as possible," she said in an email.

Carmichael added the government extends its "heartfelt sympathies" to missing and murdered aboriginal women, and noted that the government supports a number of law-enforcement initiatives designed to help locate missing people.

The RCMP commissioner said Tuesday that the government had a "legitimate interest" and was "entitled to give advice" regarding the apology.

"In the end, we said what we had to say," Paulson said via email.

Paulson also confirmed that he was originally going to deliver the apology in B.C., but that the timing of a plane flight prevented him from doing it.

Lavoie, who had initially expressed disapproval of the proposed changes, said via email Tuesday that the government's feedback was "part of the process" to ensure that Public Safety and the RCMP "can respond appropriately to the public."

"We work with partners and the process yields good results," he said.

Darryl Davies, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Carleton University in Ottawa, said there is no need for a public apology to be "scripted and edited and re-edited and wordsmithed."

"The government seems to bureaucratize even an apology," he said. "What people are looking for is genuineness and sincerity."

Davies speculated that concerns about legal liability were likely behind the government's attempts to revise the wording of the apology.

Troy Riddell, a political science professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, offered a different take.

"While one may disagree with the nature of the requested changes, it was not an inappropriate request in terms of the relationship between the executive and the RCMP, particularly given that there was no interference with police operations," he said. "Given that it's a public announcement and could impact on the perception of the force, it is a legitimate concern of the government."

Under a "communications protocol" signed between the RCMP and Public Safety Canada in September 2011, the RCMP agreed to give "advance notification" to Public Safety of any public statements related to "major events," that were defined as incidents, events, announcements and speaking engagements "likely to garner national media attention."

The protocol states that communications "products" - such as media advisories, news releases, media lines and talking points for major, non-operational events were to be approved by RCMP communications staff at headquarters in consultation with Public Safety communications staff "PRIOR" to public use.

"Public Safety Canada will provide timely feedback on these documents," the protocol states.



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016