Ottawa — Canada's world-famous national police force, the Mounties, suffered their darkest moment Aug. 25 when a government-appointed commission studying wrongdoing by policemen recommended the force be stripped of its domestic security role.
The Liberal government immediately announced it would comply with the recommendation by the McDonald Commission, a three-man board of inquiry set up in 1977 to look into the conduct of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP) domestic intelligence-gathering and security activities.
The commission -- named after its chairman, Justice David McDonald of Alberta Province -- issued a scathing report in which it said the RCMP "has an institutionalized frame of mind that places expediency above respect for the law."
The report is certain to spark another round of the controversy that has periodically plagued the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ever since allegations of RCMP misdeeds began to emerge in the mid-1970s.
The commission's report contained the first public proof that Mr. Trudeau may have known about some of the RCMP's questionable activities. The report said Mr. Trudeau was told in December 1970 that the force's security officers had been doing "illegal things" for 20 years.
But the commission failed to settle the matter of government culpability in the RCMP's actions, an issue that has led to frequent charges that Mr. Trudeau and his government ministers have been engaged in a lengthy coverup of their knowledge of RCMP activities.
The report said there was no evidence Mr. Trudeau was given specific details of illegal acts, and he apparently did not ask for them. Mr. Trudeau has consistently denied detailed knowledge of RCMP wrongdoing. An aide said Aug. 25 that the prime minister would have no immediate comment on the McDonald Commission's findings.
The commission said that Canada's future security operations should be handled by a new, civilian intelligence-gathering and security force, not by the RCMP.
A government spokesman said Ottawa has set up a task force to oversee the recommended transition and that the government will also give consideration to the commission's other extensive recommendations, many of which are intended to ensure that police officers do not infringe on Canadian civil liberties.
The commission zeroed in on a series of questionable activities by the RCMP. Among the incidents of RCMP wrongdoing investigated were the taking of dynamite from a locked warehouse; the burning of a barn; removal of documents from a left-wing news agency; the copying of a political party's membership lists; mail openings; and the use of confidential income tax and social security information by the RCMP.
The commission concluded that senior RCMP officers had misled the government ministers to whom they were supposed to report. IT cited "a willingness on the part of members of the force to deceive those outside the force who have some sort of constitutional authority or jurisdiction over them or their activities."