RCMP is often compared with the FBI. It is not a very enlightening
comparison. All great police forces resemble one another, but each
is also unique. Like nations, each has its individual character
arising out of its situation.
The Canadian people are curiously situated. A
few big modern cities are strung like beads on the lines of two
east-west railroads. Between the cities, the towns and farms are
scattered over a very long but narrow fertile belt. A few hours
south of this populated strip, across a border so loosely guarded
that criminals flit back and forth like ghosts, is the world's
greatest industrial civilization. A few hours north lies the
frontier, as wide and wild as ever.
It is a situation that calls for four kinds of
police: federal, provincial (rural), municipal and frontier. The
Mounties are all four. Right across the country they enforce some
fifty-five laws that concern chiefly the federal government
(narcotics, smuggling, counterfeiting). They have contracts with
every province except Ontario and Quebec to act as provincial
police. By request, they police one hundred and twenty-five small
cities and towns. And across the vast and lonely North they are the
only law. No other police force has such scope. Out of it comes
their unparalled range of duties.
The Mounties are the Secret Service, the G men,
the T men, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Texas Rangers and Scotland Yard
rolled into one. Like the Secret Service, the FBI and the U.S.
Treasury agents, they track down counterfeiters, spies and drug
peddlers. Like the Coast Guard, their converted minesweepers chase
smugglers and aid disabled vessels. On the prairies, where rustling
still goes on, they've a role like the Texas Rangers. And like
Scotland Yard in London, they walk a city beat.
These far-flung operations have their nerve
center in a building designed as a Catholic seminary, a five-story
gray stone structure in a quiet suburb of Ottawa. The Mounties
bought it in 1954 and, oddly enough, it makes an appropriate
headquarters with its clean square lines, its solid austerity.
Within this honeycomb of offices some 380
uniformed bureaucrats try to keep the great machine running
smoothly. They are aided by 500-odd civilians — mathematicians,
doctors, engineers, chemists, handwriting experts, linguists,
tailors, telephone operators, dieticians, cooks, stewards,
stenographers and clerks.
On the first floor, the Number 1 Mountie,
Commissioner Leonard Nicholson, compact, graying, keen, forthright,
a man with few affectations, consults with his top brass on policy
and strategy. In the basement, the records section patrols long
corridors of green filing cabinets. The supply branch sees that the
men are fed, clothed, sheltered and mobile (at last count, 29 ships,
11 aircraft, 1185 motor cars, 92 trucks, 76 motorcycles, 6
snowmobiles and 199 horses — for basic training only). The
fingerprint bureau, the section that registers firearms, the
crime-index section (which classifies criminals by traits) and the
Gazette, which publishes pictures of
Canada's most-wanted crooks, are quietly busy servicing police
forces all across the country.
On the second floor, readers of the Criminal
Investigation Branch are studying reports on arson, murder, robbery
and fraud. One floor up, Superintendent Henry Larsen of Northwest
Passage fame manages affairs in the North. The very hush-hush
Special (counterespionage) Branch trades reports of enemy aliens
with other intelligence services, translates the published news from
behind the Iron Curtain, and relates it to the findings of their
undercover men. The atmosphere throughout the building is
semi-military. All men stand a little more erect when they speak to
superiors, even though they may be arguing the merits of their
favorite hockey teams.
Linked to this governing center by teletype
lines are the lesser hierarchies: fourteen divisional headquarters,
each with its task force of specialists in crime and administration.
Then the lines fan out to thirty-two subdivisions, each the hub for
a network of detachments — combination police stations, jails and
barracks. In the cities, a detachment may quarter several dozen
field men; at some country crossroads, a solitary Mountie.
It is in these one-man detachments that we most
clearly see the fundamental quality of the Mountie. In British
Columbia, the Maritimes and the prairie provinces, he's a game
warden, fisheries inspector, shipping registrar and census taker. In
the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where public officials are
few and far apart, he's a magistrate, postmaster, coroner and
sheriff, customs collector, measuring surveyor, immigration
inspector and tax collector. He issues licenses for dogs, cars,
game, furs, timber and mining claims. He reports on the weather,
pays Family Allowance checks and performs marriages.
The small-detachment Mountie stretches the word
"police" to its limits. When a farmer committed suicide near
Wetaskiwin, Alberta, a Mountie had to inventory the dead man's
holdings — three sections of wheatland, sixty head of cattle,
ninety-two hogs and fourteen horses — hire three men to thresh the
grain, haul it in to the elevator, fatten the stock, sell it as it
became marketable and turn the money over to the public
administrator, meanwhile investigating the death and locating a
brother in Norway. When a lion escaped from a traveling circus in
Rycroft, Alberta, and began to prowl the main street, the Spirit
River detachment had to stalk it and shoot it down. When the
Mounties evacuated some families during the Red River flood and
babies were howling with hunger, a sergeant invaded a cattle car
stalled on a nearby track and returned with the wherewithal in hand.
And when a Saskatchewan citizen, arrested for carnal knowledge of a
girl under fourteen years of age, wanted to make the young mother a
bride, his two RCMP custodians arranged for a baby sitter, loaned
him a ring, and, while one Mountie stood up as best man, the other
acted as bridesmaid.
Obviously, the Mountie is a man of parts and, as
such, a slightly old-fashioned figure. For the modern trend, as
knowledge advances and work grows more complex, is toward
specialization. True, the Mounties have their specialists, good ones
and indispensable, but they do not elevate them. They resist the
trend; the small-detachment man is their standard model.
It is a standard rooted in necessity. The
Mounties have only 5370-odd men — far less than some large European
and United States cities — to police 3,600,000 square miles. They
are forced to hold to a precept formed in the infancy of the force:
never send ten men when one will do. And this one man must be
versatile, for you cannot police a frontier, a land of far horizons,
with a group of specialists. Out of this central fact, out of their
past, their unique scope, their gamut of duties, an archtype has
evolved — the all-around man, self-reliant, complete in himself, an
individual, in essence an aristocrat, a man who can act on his own
authority. Yet, paradoxically, from the moment a man joins the
force, he is pressured to conform, to obey, to submit to authority.
WHEREVER one sees a Mountie — on the street, in
his patrol car — he seldom stands out as an individual. He resembles
the figure in a current advertisement, wherein a great world banking
house suggests its reliability by the picture of a uniformed man
standing as if rooted to his background of rugged country. The
figure, unmistakably a Mountie, is faceless. And it is a curious
feature of most RCMP tales that the heroes seem interchangeable,
peculiarly alike. They all seem typical.
This is something more than impression. The
Mounties do run to type. They're usually trim, seldom huge, never
small. Sitting, standing or walking, they hold themselves so erect
they appear stiff. Their uniforms are immaculate, their speech is
direct. Their features are controlled to the point of immobility.
Their personalities seem strangely muted, overlaid — at least in
public — with reserve.
How do they get that way? How does the RCMP take
men from farms and cities four thousand miles apart and stamp them
with characteristics in common?
The process begins with the kind of men they
select. The RCMP is easy to get out of but hard to get into. Before
World War II the force wouldn't even advertise for recruits. But the
armed services stripped them of men and after the war, reluctantly,
they placed with local newspapers these few lines of terse,
WEAR THIS BADGE AND UPHOLD TRADITIONS OF RCMP
If you are 5'8" in height, unmarried, between 18
and 30, and are interested in a career in the RCMP you may apply for
These ads attracted some 2500 applicants a year,
but the force rejected more than 90 per cent. The figures do not
include casual inquiries, or such off-beat applications as this:
Dear Sir: I would like a job at detective work.
I have plans that are my own in the line of detective plans. ... I
couldn't tell you how I will work but ... I have some plans that has
never been done before. I can pick out the guilty one every time, no
This sort of an applicant, as a rule, hastily
screens himself after reading a pamphlet the RCMP sends him. It is
Career In Scarlet and it informs the
would-be Mountie that he must sign on for five years and that during
this period he can't marry (to keep part of the force mobile), can't
take up a spare-time trade, can't publicly smoke or drink in
uniform. It warns him bluntly of hardship, risk and hard work before
it mentions starting pay ($203 a month, with free uniforms, medical
and dental service), leave (21 days a year — if a man can be
spared), chances for travel and special training.
The first serious hurdle is a medical
examination. If the applicant passes, he's cleared for character. A
Mountie visits the applicant's home town or neighborhood, talks to
his schoolteachers, former employers, minister or priest, and two
references which the applicant must supply. A fingerprint check is
made. Sometimes it turns up a criminal record that automatically
washes the applicant out.
The next obstacle is an educational test on such
subjects as mathematics, history and current affairs. It excludes
applicants who answer like this:
Q. What is your reason for joining the Force?
A. I like to travel around the country from
place to place.
Q. Who is the Chief Justice of Canada?
A. Don't know him, never had the opportunity of
being in court.
Q. What is the difference between prorogation
and dissolution of Parliament?
A. It's all the same to me . . .
This is a Grade 10 test but an applicant can get
by with a Grade 8 certificate. The reason, explains Superintendent
Frank Spalding, who served several years as chief personnel officer,
is that "In certain areas there may be good potential policemen who
don't have the chance to finish their education for many reasons —
poverty, sickness in the family, they're needed to help at home or
on the farm. We don't want to exclude them, but they have to be
exceptional." The educational test is judged together with an
intelligence test that weeds out the so-called "educated fools."
Wrong motives for joining eliminate others. The
RCMP isn't interested in the glamour-seekers who write in saying: "I
saw the movie
Saskatchewan last week. I sure go for
those red coats and black horses." They don't want the exhibitionist
who proclaims: "I would like to devote my life to fighting crime."
One man wanted to join "because I look good in uniform." The force
does consider how a man would look in uniform, but it's scarcely a
The motive the Mounties are looking for is the
wish to be of service. Says Superintendent Spalding, "You'd be
surprised at the number of letters that begin, 'I'd like the chance
to serve Canada . . .'The desire for adventure and romance is fine,
but it has to be balanced by maturity."
After the written tests comes the crucial trial:
a soul-searching interview with the personnel officer at the nearest
RCMP divisional headquarters. This man was promoted after years in
the field. He's been schooled in the latest personnel techniques. He
sets the applicant at his ease and encourages him to talk, noting
perhaps, that his shoes have not been polished, that his hands show
too much tension, while his manner is too casual.
The applicant states his ambitions. "How about
pay?" he asks. "If I went to work in the factory at home I could
make sixty a week. How's that stack up with the Mounted Police?"
The officer decides that the applicant thinks
too well of himself. The cause might be frustration. "Got any
hobbies?" he asks.
The applicant has collected stamps for six
months. Then his interest veered to photography. Now he's taking a
fling at the trumpet. The officer suspects he may lack persistence.
"Any girl friends?" he asks.
"But you like to go out with girls?"
"No, not much." Another danger signal. Girls
should be a major preoccupation at this man's age. Perhaps he
doesn't like to compete.
"Sports?" the officer prods.
The applicant mentions a few sports, none of
which involve bodily contact.
"No hockey?" asks the officer. "No football?" He
is bearing down now to extract an essential point: the applicant
dislikes physical violence. The policeman takes over the
conversation. He tells the applicant about men who get roaring drunk
on Saturday night and try to beat up the Mountie, about the times
policemen have been shot at. The applicant agrees another profession
might be more suitable.
"Quite a few back out when they find what police
work really is," says Superintendent Spalding. "Some have taken a
correspondence course in detection. They thought they'd be natty
white-collar detectives. A big bruiser in uniform would handle
anything nasty. They'd just work with their brains."
Some of the men the personnel officer turns down
seem, on the surface, likely prospects. One applicant, for example,
was a highly intelligent youth. He had been a cadet, an outstanding
Boy Scout, and captain of his town's baseball team. But when he
clashed with the coach over how the team should be run he had quit.
"In my opinion, this man is a risk," the personnel officer reported.
"He resents discipline."
The personnel officer's conclusions cap a month
or more of checking for honesty, knowledge, common sense and
intelligence. His recommendation amounts to a seal of approval. He
selects a man that he thinks is ambitious, proud and aggressive. But
these qualities are balanced by what the officer calls "maturity," a
stability vaguely defined in a sense of service.
Now the applicant must pass a final medical
inspection that probes for every hidden defect. He is told to pack a
suitcase and report to a training center. He has one more gauntlet
to run: one of the world's toughest training courses.
UPPERMOST in the mind of the man who reports to
the training base is the knowledge that he is not yet a Mountie.
Every day for the next nine months he will have to prove himself.
Serious injury, illness, lack of coordination or nerve can wash him
He's called a "recruit" now. He signs on at one
of three training centers: Ottawa, Regina or Vancouver. His first
days are spent collecting his kit: brown knee-high riding boots, low
black boots, duty uniform (slacks and tunic of RCMP brown), a
Stetson hat for summer wear, a blue peaked forage cap with a yellow
crown band for patrols, a "Klondike pattern" muskrat hat for
below-zero temperatures, and two pairs of blue overalls. He picks a
bed in the barrack room and prepares to earn the right to wear the
famous scarlet and gold, the dress uniform with which he has not yet
The training routine follows the army pattern —
with extras. The recruit is assigned to a thirty-man squad. From
reveille at 6
a.m. to parade at five in the evening,
he's marched in and out of barracks, drill hall, classrooms and gym.
He spends many hours on the shooting range, lying on his stomach,
squinting along the barrel of a .303 rifle. Standing erect, he
raises a .38 service revolver eye level and blazes away at a body
target. "Group your shots," the instructor shouts. "Don't stiffen
up." The recruit's clumsy draw smooths out, his fire becomes
In the gym, he practices backflips over the
vaulting horse. He punches another recruit in the boxing ring. He
learns judo, more commonly called "police holds." "Hit me!" the
instructor calls. "Hit me as hard as you can." The big recruit takes
a hefty swing, feels a sudden yank on his arm and finds himself
lying flat on his back. Slowly, he gets to his feet. His face is
pale. It's a tough grind for an older man. A recruit is typically
young, eighteen or nineteen.
He is taught how to handle himself in dozens of
dangerous situations; he learns how to empty water out of a capsized
canoe, how thick ice should be before he can safely drive his car on
it (four inches). He learns to swim — the odds are good it will save
his life and possibly someone else's. He learns to type — he'll have
to report in quintuplicate on every case he investigates. He learns
to use a camera, read a map, survey land and give first aid.
He takes short courses (from one to fifty-five
hours) in more than a hundred subjects. He sits with his squad in a
classroom for a lecture on observation. The instructor addresses
them bluntly: "You think that seeing's believing? I say you don't
know what you see! What do you say to that?"
A couple of cocksure recruits give him an
argument. As they talk a workman walks in and proceeds to scrub out
"You can't clean here now," the instructor
protests. "Take your mop and pail and scoot. There's a lecture going
"I got orders to mop here," the man says
Another workman walks in. "Hey, Joe!" he says to
the scrubber, "you got the wrong room." He pulls at Joe. Joe
resists. The two men fight. The recruits join in. The classroom is a
The instructor watches, amused, then sharply he
shouts, "Break it up! Break it up!" The class sits down again. The
two workmen — members of the training staff — have vanished.
"Now tell me," the instructor asks a recruit,
"exactly what happened? How did the fight start? What did the men
Describe them." The thirty-man squad gives him
thirty different versions of the incident.
"This will teach you two things," the instructor
tells the squad. "First — you can have six witnesses to a crime and
get six different stories. Few people know what they see. They
witness an accident and come away with a general impression. When
you pin them down, their imagination fills in the blank spots, facts
that never existed. Second — keep your wits about you. Stay calm.
A lecture on questioning witnesses gets
decorously underway. Suddenly a man runs in shouting, "Fire in the
auditorium!" The recruits half-rise, jabbering excitedly: ". . .
Weren't we in there last? . . . Do you think a cigarette could have
started it? . . ." Only gradually do they become aware that the
instructor is questioning the man. "Who discovered the fire?" he is
asking him calmly.
"I did," the man says. The class falls silent.
"Is it still burning?"
"No, I put it out."
"Where was it?"
"In the wastepaper basket."
The recruits emit an embarrassed laugh.
"I hope this will teach you not to go off half
cocked," the instructor tells them. "Get the facts. And remember how
confused you felt just now. A lot of the people you question are
going to feel just that way."
The entire squad takes part in realistic games
of cops and robbers. An outbuilding that simulates a general store
is robbed. A recruit playing a Mountie collars another recruit whom
he suspects of being the thief. He takes the thiefs fingerprints. He
compares them with the prints found on a car the thief has escaped
in (a bit of improvisation not in the script) and then abandoned.
The fingerprints match.
The thief is taken before the magistrate, played
by the training officer. A recruit is detailed to be the prosecutor,
another to handle the defense. The fingerprints are the main
"When did you take these fingerprints?" the
defense lawyer asks the Mountie.
The Mountie tells him.
"Was there any charge against the accused at the
time? Was he under arrest?"
"No, sir. I couldn't be sure he was guilty until
I compared the fingerprints."
The defense lawyer turns to the magistrate.
"Your Honor, I submit that these prints are not admissible evidence.
According to the Identification of Criminals Act, fingerprints may
not be taken unless a suspect is under arrest."
The magistrate upholds the "defense lawyer." He
explains the circumstances under which fingerprints may be taken.
The "thief' goes free though the "mountie" is morally certain he had
the right man. "Everyone makes mistakes when they start," the
instructor explains. "This is the proper place to make them." He
turns to the "thief." "That car you swiped belongs to the sergeant
major and if I were you I'd get it back before he misses it."
The recruit is drilled in the Criminal Code,
customs and excise laws, banking procedures and Indians' rights.
He's harangued on the causes of juvenile delinquency. He's taught to
classify different types of grain, wood and cattle brands.
He's instructed in the intricacies of
counterfeiting and handwriting. His tutors enlighten him in the
science of cultivating informers, shadowing suspects, organizing a
search party, throwing a gas bomb and using a mine detector (for
finding such things as hidden weapons). He comes fresh from a
lecture on public relations and is detailed off to scrub out the
barrack block on his hands and knees.
Every week, the officer commanding the
spick-and-span training school inspects the quarters of his
trainees. Once, in Regina, a recruit finished scrubbing out for
inspection and decided he had time to take a shower. He was in the
middle of it when the OC stalked in. A thorough man, he pulled back
the shower curtains. The naked recruit snapped to attention and
presented the startled OC with the smartest, wettest, soapiest
salute in RCMP memory.
If the OC spots one bed unmade he may confine
the entire squad to barracks for a month. "Right from the start,"
says Leonard Nicholson, the one-time farm hand who made the climb
from constable to commissioner, "the young man learns it's a
disciplined force he's in."
This lesson is driven home over and over in the
drill hall. The drill sergeant soon becomes an ogre with
supernatural powers. He brings his squad to rigid attention, then
turns his back upon them, apparently to dash tears of disgust from
his eyes. Moments pass — a recruit decides to ease his aching back.
With infallible timing the drill sergeant wheels and withers the lad
with a blast from his highly colored vocabulary.
In between learning the lore of bloodstains,
poisons and burglary techniques, it's drill, drill, drill. The
recruit is shouted at until he's dazed. He's told to stand up
straight, to say "Sir," to salute. His first plunge into RCMP life
is so confusing that a new recruit once summed it up in a now
classic remark: "Everything that moves is saluted. Everything that
stands still is painted white." *
In addition to six months of this the recruit
gets three months of equitation. Horses are part of the RCMP
tradition. A placard at Regina barracks quotes Winston Churchill:
Don't give your son money. Give him horses. No
man ever came to grief — except honorable grief — through riding.
If the recruit graduates, the odds are against
his riding anything more lively than a motorcycle. The Mounties now
keep only as many horses as they need for basic training (about
200). If the recruit lacks fortitude, the horse will bring it out.
"They're good hardening," says Commissioner Nicholson. "They knock a
man about in a way that's hard to duplicate unless we go to an
The recruits ride about four hours a day. The
rest of the time, from dawn to dusk, they're cleaning the stables,
polishing their saddles, feeding and watering the horses. There's a
saying that a man who grooms his horse properly needs no other
exercise. Three times a day the recruits groom their mounts. "Lean
on that currycomb," the sergeant shouts. "You won't push him over."
A recruit rakes the tin comb too harshly across his horse's tender
belly. The animal's long neck swivels and its yellow teeth raise an
ugly welt on his * Abo claimed by Army and Navy arm. The irate
sergeant's reaction (according to recruits): "Get that clumsy clown
out of here and check that poor horse for injuries."
On Monday morning, after a week-end's rest, the
horses are at their best, or — from a recruit's view — their worst.
A mare kicks the boards of the riding hall and the others follow
suit till the hall reverberates like a giant drum. The recruits'
nerves tighten. The instructor, a hard-bitten sergeant, walks them
around the hall in single file. A horse clamps the bit in his teeth
and bolts. "Hold him!" shouts the instructor. It is useless. Rising
in his stirrups, the instructor calls, "Send me a postcard when you
Sometimes the willful mood of one horse sweeps
contagiously over the others. They sunfish and they crowhop;
trainees fly in all directions. Around the hall in a pall of dust
the riderless horses gallop while the frightened bruised recruits
scramble for safety. Following one such melee in Regina the riding
instructor lined up his squad and found that he had one empty
saddle. After a prolonged search the missing recruit was found
perched on a stanchion high overhead, most reluctant to come down. A
sorely tried instructor once came back to his office, laid down his
riding crop, took off his cap and sank to his knees. "O Lord," he
cried, "how long? How long?"
The order "Cross stirrups" will bring the most
recalcitrant class to heel. The stirrups are folded over the horse's
withers; the recruit can no longer "post" — lift in his stirrups
with the movement of his mount. Half an hour of trotting without
stirrups and his leg muscles are screaming. It's especially rough on
the stocky, bulky, round-legged man.
One trainee, after two and a half hours, toppled
off his horse in a dead faint. "It's like having a bad case of
arthritis in both legs," says one recruit. "As far as I'm concerned
it's the toughest training you can get." Few recruits disagree.
When the budding Mounties have got the feel of
their horses, the instructor takes them outside to a worn path
called "Suicide Lane." Here, five or six poles have been set up on
trestles some thirty feet apart. "Put a knot in your reins," the
instructor orders. "Cross stirrups, fold your arms, and line up to
Single file, holding on only with knees and
thighs, the recruits go thundering down the lane. A horse balks. The
unlucky recruit goes on over his head. In a recent class there were
two broken collarbones, a broken arm, two ruptured appendixes and
numerous sprains. No one was washed out. "They have to learn to
forget about being hurt," an instructor explains. "A good man enjoys
All this time the recruit is watched for flaws.
His alertness, temper, tact, patience and perseverance is noted.
Later, he may be tapped for the crime lab or the Special
(counterespionage) Branch. He may be marked as a likely type for the
CIB, the Criminal Investigation Branch. He may make a seaman-Mountie
on a Marine Division coastal craft, or his temperament may seem
suited to a lonely arctic post. He may display the patience of a
dogmaster. He may even be sent to a university, for the force has
usually four or five men working for degrees in chemistry, physics,
commerce and law. By the time sixteen instructors have appraised a
recruit, the RCMP has a fairly shrewd opinion as to what kind of
policeman he will make.
And all the while he is toughening up. His
intellect is sharpening. He's absorbing the history of the force.
Above all, he is learning obedience.
Three out of the thirty-man squad, on an
average, will flunk the course, and for them there'll be no second
chance. The others will don, for the first time, the famous red
serge tunic and "pass out" on parade before the Officer Commanding,
while the RCMP band plays and the flag snaps in the breeze, and
parents try to pick out their sons from a row of facsimiles.
young Mountie begins his career "on detachment." It may be a big
city detachment. It may, more typically, be some rural center. Now
that he has been hammered into a cog in a great machine, an obedient
automaton, the recruit, now a "rookie," will be posted to an area
that demands of its policemen the utmost flexibility.
Rural detachment work is tough and exacting. The
telephone jangles incessantly with minor complaints: thefts,
assaults, accidents, drunkenness, juvenile delinquency. The rookie
is broken in gradually. For a few weeks he is coupled with an
experienced corporal or sergeant. The rookie watches him issue gun
permits, check on amusement taxes, interview people who want to
adopt a child, prosecute a case in court, hand out relief, and
inoculate dogs for rabies. He learns to handle a drunk, a mental
patient, a traffic offender, even, perhaps, a safe blower carrying a
package of nitroglycerine. If the rookie is impressed by the older
policeman he may copy not only his methods but his manner.
The rookie's first job alone will be routine:
desk clerk or telephone orderly. Or he may start out on night
highway patrol, by escorting prisoners, or by accompanying a social
service worker. Nevertheless, from the moment he walks alone in
uniform, this very young man assumes responsibility.
One Saturday night in Lloydminster, Alberta,
young Constable Joseph McCarthy had just completed one of the
dullest of RCMP chores — "polishing doorknobs" on a town beat — and
was having a bedtime snack in the National Cafe when a man hurried
in to tell him there was trouble up at the pool hall.
The pool hall was locked but some men were
"What's the trouble?" McCarthy asked.
No one answered. He did not learn until
afterward that the pool hall had been robbed, but he could sense
that the men were frightened. They would not meet his gaze. Looking
them over sharply he recognized an ex-convict, a man called Donald
Graves evaded his questions, grew belligerent.
The Mountie started to search him. Graves suddenly whipped out a
knife with an open blade. McCarthy managed to knock it out of his
hand. Graves jumped back, reached under his coat, pulled out a
stockless rifle, leveled it at the constable's belt and swore he'd
"fill him full of lead."
The men looking on were too frightened to come
to the young Mountie's aid. McCarthy, talking calmly, placat-ingly,
edged closer to Graves. But the ex-convict, backing away, went on
mouthing threats, nerving himself to shoot. Suddenly the Mountie
lunged, knocking the gun barrel upward.
Then the ex-con reached in his pocket, snarling,
"A thirty-eight will do as well." McCarthy spun him around, twisting
his left arm behind him. The walking arsenal pulled another
open-bladed knife and began to slash at McCarthy over his shoulder.
By the time the other detachment men had been summoned by a
spectator Graves's knife was cutting vicious but impotent arcs in
the air as the Mountie dragged him slowly off to cells.
In all communities men such as Graves are a
threat to every citizen — to his property, his rights and his
safety. These are the policeman's responsibilities. To fulfill them
he may be called on to risk his life.
The call came one week before Christmas to
Constables Bill Pooler and Douglas Winn at Quesnel, British
Columbia. At twenty minutes past midnight the detachment telephone
rang. Pooler's sleepiness vanished as he listened. The Bank of
Commerce at Williams Lake had been robbed. The robber, a big,
heavy-set, scarfaced man in a gray suit, had shot the manager and
Pooler phoned ahead for a roadblock, roused
Constables Winn and George Mohr. They piled in a deputy sheriff's
car and sped down the Cariboo Trail, stopping every car they met to
check it. It was 4
a.m. by the time they reached Williams
Lake, and they had been joined by Constable Jack Groves.
A search party was waiting. Snow had begun to
fall, obscuring the robber's tracks. They led east, on and off the
highway as the night traffic forced him to hide. He was trying to
lose his pursuers; they could see where he had backtracked, and in
places he had walked along fence rails. The Mounties had no way of
knowing that this was Ziggy Seguin, a murderer wanted in Ontario, an
ex-soldier who boasted that he never missed with a gun. But they
knew he was an outdoorsman, experienced and armed.
Working together, the four Mounties trailed the
robber into timbered uplands. Mohr went back to inform the main
search party. Pooler, Winn and Groves tracked for another five
miles. At 9:40
a.m. the trail led them out on the rim of
a creekbed. Scrambling down the gravel bank, Pooler, in the lead,
glimpsed clothing below in the bush.
"This is it!" he tossed back to Winn. And even
as he said it his angle of vision shifted; out of the creek bottom's
tangle brush there emerged a man's face and hand. Pooler, no more
than twenty feet away, could see that hand with a startling, yet
detached, clarity. It was holding an automatic, the pistol was
cocked, and the hand was absolutely steady.
"Drop them!" the man commanded.
Pooler leaped to the right, throwing his rifle
forward, and heard the click of his trigger as it fell on the empty
breach. Behind him, as the gunman fired, Winn had fallen flat and
was sliding headfirst down the bank, firing as he slid.
The robber dropped back into the brush. There
"Drop your gun!" Pooler called.
"I'm hit," the robber said.
"Drop your gun!"
"Cover me," Pooler said to Winn. He skidded the
rest of the way down the bank and picked up the robber's gun. The
man had been shot in the breast. He was bleeding badly. While Groves
went for a doctor, Winn and Pooler built a fire, bandaged the wound
and covered the man with their pea jackets. Fifty minutes later
Groves returned with a doctor. The robber, murderer Ziggy Seguin,
survived, only to poison himself one hour before he was to hang.
A heavy responsibility rests with police in a
manhunt. The lives of the men in the posse, the civilian volunteers,
are more important than capturing the criminal, and these lives will
often depend on the Mountie's quickness of thought. But a manhunt,
though not uncommon, is scarcely routine. The hunter is supported by
a sense of urgency. He is buoyed up by the spine-tingling suspense,
the exhilaration of pitting his wits against another human. He acts
in concert with others, seldom alone. And though the crisis brings
risk of death, he has time to prepare himself for it.
It is not so much death as fear of failure that
haunts the young policeman as he strolls down his placid beat. And
perhaps less fear of failure than of the unknown, within and
without. He is dealing in human emotion — elemental, unpredictable.
It may erupt without warning as he turns a familiar corner. And the
rookie wonders how he'll react, how he will measure up.
He may be walking home for lunch like Constable
Alex Gamman one fine May day in Montreal. As he walked by a branch
of the Bank of Toronto the door burst open. A man with a gun in his
hand came rushing out. Gamman seized him, they grappled, the robber
fired three shots and left Gamman dying on the pavement. The killer,
Thomas Ross-ler, was captured months later in Montana. He hadn't
meant to kill the Mountie, he said before he was hanged. He had been
emotionally upset, he said. "I was drinking too much. Whiskey and
guns don't mix."
The Mountie never knows when some bit of
ordinary life, some petty task that he has performed a hundred
times, will twist suddenly from his grasp, charged with emotion,
magnified in an instant into a nightmare and only his instincts will
stand between him and ridicule, failure, or death.
It was, for example, a strictly routine call
that came into the Eskasoni detachment in Nova Scotia one chilly
March day. Two Indian brothers, John and Stephen Marshall, were
drunkenly abusing some of the local citizenry. Constable Arthur
Walsh sighed and drove out to the Indian reserve. As he pulled up at
Stephen's house, the Indian came reeling down the road. The Mountie
waited, opened the car door and told Stephen to get in.
The Indian said he wanted to get his hat and
coat first. His mood seemed reasonable. The Mountie agreed. He
followed Stephen into the house. John Marshall was slumped on a
couch, drunk, a jug of home brew beside him.
Together, the brothers turned quarrelsome.
Stephen seized Constable Walsh by the tunic. "No goddammed Mountie,"
he said, "is taking me off the reserve."
The constable talked him out of it.
"To hell with this," John said, "I'm going
home." He put on his coat and went outside. The Mountie took his arm
and led him toward the police car.
A stunning blow suddenly knocked him down.
Stephen had crept up behind him. Now the brothers began to kick him
into unconsciousness. Through a red fog the constable heard Stephen
tell his brother to get an ax and finish him off. Dimly he saw John
Marshall hand Stephen a double-bladed ax. He felt its cold steel on
his Adam's apple as Stephen, straddling him, prepared to cut his
throat. With a desperate effort he knocked the ax away, struggled
upright, and staggered toward the police car. John Marshall grabbed
him. The Mountie fought him off and managed to get inside the car.
With Stephen battering the car door, Walsh got the engine started
and zigzagged away. Reinforced by some local residents, he came back
and subdued the Indians.
A Mountie's life has many emergencies. He seldom
has opportunity or time to ask for instructions. Every day his
responsibilities force him to act on his own. Before long he is
confident of his ability to meet most situations.
There's a danger, of course, that he may have
too much luck. If he never comes up against anything too big for him
to handle he may begin to think himself superior. Pride may delude
him. Confidence may become cockiness. His aggressiveness, unchecked,
may lead him into arrogance and finally into brutality. But a
small-detachment Mountie has three chastening influences: the law,
the public and his force.
LAW gives a Mounted Policeman almost unlimited responsibility, but
it places some sharp restraints on his authority. A Mountie sees a
man running down the street. The man may be a thief escaping. He may
be running to keep a date with his wife. If the Mountie, by passing
him up, lets a thief escape, he'll be reprimanded. But if he arrests
he — not the force, not the Crown — is
liable. Any damages for false arrest will come out of the Mountie's
The rookie must learn to add facts fast.
Impressions are meaningless. He cannot bring a man before a
magistrate and say, "I arrested this man because he was drunk." The
magistrate will rebuke him for presenting opinion, not fact. The
facts might be that the man had been uttering loud indecent language
while walking unsteadily. The policeman has a duty to observe and
present these facts, clearly, concisely, accurately and impartially.
The man may be drunk or he may have been hit by a car; the policeman
has no right to judge.
In truth, the policeman has little more power
than any other citizen. According to the Criminal Code of Canada,
may arrest without warrant any one who is found committing any of
the offences mentioned . . ." And the list of offenses that follows
is not a great deal shorter than those for which a policeman may
make an arrest.
The Mountie, then, has authority as an ordinary
citizen to perform most of the duties for which he is paid as a
policeman. He is, in fact, as Commissioner Leonard Nicholson points
out, "a citizen acting on behalf of fellow citizens."
It is not an easy role. He has little more right
than anyone else to use force. Specifically, the code states:
"Everyone authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible
for any excess . . ." The Mountie, as a policeman, is impeded by the
same law that safeguards his privileges as a citizen: that everyone
is innocent until proven guilty.
A noted Mountie, Assistant Commissioner Melville
F. E. Anthony, who upon retirement became chief of police in
Edmonton, illustrates the policeman's dilemma and his need to make
quick decisions with an episode that happened in Winnipeg. A bank
messenger was waylaid and robbed of several thousand dollars. The
only lead was his statement that the robbers escaped in "a large
black car." All border detachments were alerted. Shortly afterward,
two policemen, cruising the southbound highway some four miles from
the border, saw a large black car bearing down upon them at ninety
miles an hour. They flagged it but it didn't slacken speed. They had
a second or so to decide what to do. Should they use their
submachine gun? Suppose it wasn't the robbers. How much force were
they justified in using to halt the car? They decided not to open
fire, gave chase instead, and were stopped a mile from the border by
a handful of roofing nails flung from the car ahead.
In less than a minute the U.S. police were faced
with the same decision. They, too, decided to follow the speeding
car. Their gas tank was full and they figured the other car, sooner
or later, would have to stop for gas. One hour later the fleeing car
did stop. It braked abruptly to a halt, two men with machine guns
jumped out, centered the U.S. police car in a crossfire, smashed the
windshield, ripped open the radiator, and drilled holes in the
clothing of the policemen, though miraculously no one was killed.
Then the bank robbers forced the police to lie face down in the
ditch while they drove off — and they were never caught.
"The policeman," Anthony says, "must mentally
weigh the facts and act instantly. If it comes to court and he has
used too much force or made a mistake — and we all do — the defense
counsel will have had three months to prepare his case and it's easy
to blast the policeman. The judge, if he was uncertain, has looked
up the point in his law books. The policeman himself, on reflection,
can often think of a better way that the situation could have been
handled. But he can't walk away and consider what he should do."
The policeman cannot put off his decisions as
most people can. He cannot dodge a situation too big for him to
handle. The gall of frequent failure leads him to self-examination;
he discovers his limitations. Success restores his confidence, frees
him from self-concern. Between success and failure, like a guncrew
straddling a target, he defines his abilities. He begins to know and
accept himself, to know and accept the law. Its restraints become
his principles. It serves him as a guide. It protects him from his
best instincts as well as his worst.
In a typical case, an RCMP sergeant, patrolling
the bush, came across a deerskin, still green. The sergeant traced
the out-of-season slaying to an unemployed logger with a sick wife
and four small children. He was sympathetic; nevertheless he brought
in the logger and arraigned him before the justice of the peace, a
local farmer. He presented the facts, then concluded, "Your Honor,
this man can't afford a fine."
"I'll have to fine him," the j.p. said, "but
I'll give him six weeks to pay. In the meantime, I'll ask the
attorney general to let him off."
"The other way," this Mountie says, "is to close
your eyes. But that's not right. Where do you stop? The first thing
you know a drunk drives by and instead of recognizing that the man
is a bloody menace to the community, you say, That's only old Joe,
he's just had one drink too many.'"
PUBLIC has subtle curbs to a Mountie's conduct. People are quick to
take a new man's measure. If he thinks himself superior he finds
them indifferent to his problems. If he struts down the streets as
though he were on parade, a few bars of
Rose-Marie whistled behind his back will
take the edge off his pride. If they think he exceeds his authority
they complain to his superior.
In a backwoods detachment a storekeeper called
up the Mountie, a zealous, hard-working young constable, Lloyd
Bingham, and charged that a farmer had stolen his car. Bingham
investigated. The storekeeper, he found, had traded his car to the
farmer for some potatoes. The farmer had picked up the car right
away but the merchant had let a month pass before he asked the
farmer to make delivery. The farmer, busy then, had asked him to
wait another week. But during that week, potato prices had tumbled
and the storekeeper felt that he had been cheated.
The Mountie told the storekeeper that he
couldn't lay a charge. "There must be intent to steal," he said.
"This is a civil matter."
The storekeeper drove eighty miles to town, saw
a magistrate, and came back with a summons for Bingham to serve on
the farmer. Bingham served it, studied the facts, and in court
presented the case as well as he could for the prosecution. But when
he had finished he said, "Your Worship, I don't think we have a
case. It's really too bad to waste your time like this." And the
charge was dismissed.
Three weeks later, while escorting a prisoner to
jail, the Mountie stopped off at a neighboring detachment. "Ive
something to show you," the sergeant in charge said. An elderly
friend of the storekeeper, a chronic trouble-maker with a Harvard
education, had written a three-page complaint studded with long
legal terms, accusing the farmer of making home brew and claiming
that Constable Bingham, "a disgrace to the uniform," had refused to
The sergeant knew the writer's reputation.
Nevertheless, he investigated thoroughly. The charge, he reported,
was groundless. Again the man wrote to the RCMP divisional
headquarters, insisting that the sergeant had "whitewashed" Bingham.
An officer from the subdivision investigated. A third complaint
brought a third investigation by a disciplinarian patrol sergeant
from headquarters. Each time Bing-ham was cleared. But each
time-wasting investigation added fuel to his burning indignation.
On his next trip to headquarters, Bingham
requested to see the OC, the top-ranking Mountie in the province.
The veteran listened benevolently to his story. "Well, my boy," he
said, "always remember this. If there's one reason this force has a
reputation, it's because we take action on complaints. Go back and
forget it. There's never been a good Mounted Policeman that hasn't
been investigated three or four times. Incidentally, we've found out
you're doing a lot of work." The constable went on working, became
Superintendent Bingham, adjutant of the force.
The public will bully the Mountie. In a
characteristic case, a sergeant stopped a prominent businessman who
was driving his car in a manner that left no doubt he had been
"Do you know who I am?" the man demanded.
"Yes, sir," the sergeant said. "Will you come
with me, please?"
The man broke into a tirade of abuse. He had
influential friends. He would speak to his M.P. He'd break the
The sergeant listened patiently until he was
through. "If you've nothing more to say," he asked, "would you mind
coming with me?"
"This is a common occurrence," says an RCMP
officer. "You catch a man breaking the law. He's embarrassed,
humiliated. He fights against it, and you're the person he takes his
resentment out on. A policeman must understand this and not take it
personally. You can't look the other way when you see this man again
and think, 'This man doesn't like me.' You have to take the
objective view of everything."
The public will let the Mountie down. On an
isolated lake north of the railroad in Saskatchewan, a fisheries
officer caught a fisherman using nets so fine that the fish in the
lake would soon have been depleted. The fisherman chased the officer
off with a murderous-looking ice chisel and threatened a violent end
to anyone else who tried to stop him. The officer told the nearest
Mountie, who set out by dog team intending to pick up a posse
enroute. The Mountie describes the experience in his report:
At each stop sincere sympathy was extended and
many citizens regretted that urgent business prevented their
rendering personal physical aid. The reputation of the accused for
violence also grew by leaps and bounds as the patrol neared the
When the writer actually set out on foot to
cover the last few miles and effect the arrest, he was accompanied
by some five "volunteers." However, as the accused was sighted
across a bay carrying on his fishing operations, it turned out that
all but one of them had actually volunteered to be near enough to
see the arrest made. The remaining member of the "support" party
stayed with me until we were within rifle range. He then felt that
it was important to cover what he thought would be the most likely
escape route, although it seemed to me that there were quite a few
escape routes on a lake covered with three feet or more of ice.
The actual arrest was a great anticlimax. The
accused willingly surrendered himself and showed a great desire to
prove himself a most co-operative member of society.
Often the Mountie will put in many miles and
long hours only to have the complainant refuse to go through with
the process of law. One householder, for example, complained that
his garden hose had been stolen. But when a Mountie discovered that
a neighbor was the thief, the owner backed out of laying a charge.
In another instance, a gypsy girl from a traveling fair led a farmer
on, then picked his pockets of five hundred dollars. A Mountie
located the girl and asked the farmer to lay a charge.
"No, I just want my money back," said the
"The only way you can get your money back is to
lay a charge."
"No, no," the farmer said, "I couldn't do that.
How do I know what that girl might say about me?"
The public will pass the young policeman through
a cynical stage. It will try to bulldoze him, badger him. It will
try to seduce him with popularity, gifts, friendship, flattery. The
public is a woman with a persecution complex, a reformer who wants a
movie banned, a farmer who asks for advice in a problem of civil law
that would tax a Supreme Court judge, a lady out on the fourth
concession who isn't feeling well and would like the Mountie to drop
in a packet of pink pills on his way past.
But the Mountie cannot wash his hands of the
public. He cannot solve the most trivial case unless people answer
his questions. "That's common sense," says a sergeant who topped his
class at police college, an advanced RCMP training course for
experienced men. " 'Well, George,' you say, 'what do you know about
this case?' But if George doesn't like your looks you don't get
anywhere. You've got to learn to size up people. You've got to get
to know them. Once you know them you start to appreciate them and
that's one of the things that makes the job worthwhile."
The young Mountie looking for information learns
that a farmer in the slack season will not respond to a brisk
hurry-up approach, but at harvest time will resent wasting time on
chitchat. Writes Corporal John Mitchell in the RCMP
Quarterly, "Every policeman has something
to sell — himself. Never let a shadow of irritation show in your
face or speech because your lunch has been interrupted for the third
time — even though it was just to sell another muskrat permit." Once
an unwanted caller dropped a casual remark to Mitchell that led to a
thousand-dollar seizure of illegal furs and cleared up a
long-standing thorn in the side of the game warden.
PUBLIC and the law, though salutary disciplines, are far from
infallible. A policeman can shirk his duty and the public will think
he's a "good guy." He can get around the law — suppress facts, fake
evidence, ignore a suspect's rights. But he can seldom fool the men
he works with for long. The attitude of the force is the first and
foremost influence in almost every Mounted Policeman's career.
In a year or so most Mounties think they're as
hot as Perry Mason, a conceit which a veteran NCO knows how to
deflate before it leads the young man into arrogance. A murder
occurs which the young constable thinks only he can solve. "Here, my
lad," says the NCO, "you can handle this common assault. Constable
Brown here will take charge of the murder."
The rules and attitudes of the force, based on
law and tradition, act as a brake on a Mountie's aggressiveness. He
knows that he cannot bring in a suspect wounded or beaten up and
blandly explain that the man resisted arrest. The force would sooner
see a minor criminal get away than run the risk of killing him with
a shot. The Mountie is taught that his gun is a dangerous weapon,
not a convenient tool for subduing or capturing criminals. The RCMP
brass believe that any police policy of "playing it safe" by firing
first when the criminal is armed leads only to a similar policy
among criminals. "I really believe," Commissioner Nicholson says,
"that we'd have lost far more men in our history if we'd shot it out
at any provocation. And we might be in trouble now if we had." The
figures seem to bear him out. Of an average one hundred and seventy
thousand investigations a year — from killing a deer out of season
to breaking a counterfeit ring — gunfire is exchanged in two or
This attitude has given birth to the flattering
but foolish fiction that a Mountie must let the criminal fire first.
Standing orders state that a gun may be used against an armed man,
to defend a building, or when in grave danger. But, as Assistant
Commissioner C. W. "Slim" Harvison, a distinguished policeman,
points out, "You just can't pinpoint when you should use a gun. We
usually say, 'When you're in fear for your life.' But you can't say
you mustn't shoot a man if he's getting away. What if he's a
And it's even more wrong to say you must shoot.
Most offenses don't warrant risking a man's life. You have to judge
each case separately."
The use of the third degree — torture or threats
to extract a confession — is still in clandestine favor with many
police forces and is harder to curb because it takes place in
secret. The RCMP, for this reason, is uncompromisingly strict. A
Mountie, only a couple of years out of training, caught a man with a
cache of liquor. He took the man, an ex-convict, to his office for
questioning. The man opposed every question with insolence. The
constable lost his temper, slapped him twice on the face with his
glove. The ex-convict filed a complaint and the constable was
dismissed. He had an excellent record, an aptitude for police work,
every prospect of making a fine career in the force. Quite possibly,
some brutality slips by undetected. But such consequences do not
The force lays down a clear-cut procedure for
questioning. "You don't bluster," Assistant Commissioner Harvison
says. "You don't raise your voice. You don't raise the prisoner's
hopes. You don't say, 'You'll feel better if you tell,' or 'It'll be
smart to tell what you know.' You give the prisoner this warning:
'You need not say anything. You have nothing to hope from any
promise or favor and nothing to fear from any threat, whether or not
you say anything. Anything you
say may be used as evidence at your trial.' You say, 'Do you
understand this?' If not, you explain it. If English isn't the
prisoner's language you get an interpreter. You lean over backward
to be impartial. And after all this you still have a tough job to
get the statement into court."
Canadian courts refuse consistently to admit
evidence suspected of having been obtained by third-degree methods.
And defense lawyers try to rouse sympathy for their clients and
doubt of their guilt by seizing any pretext to accuse the police of
brutality. Indeed, it is often the only defense. This is one
practical reason why Commissioner Nicholson says, "A forced
confession is no more than a confession of poor police work. We're
more anxious to avoid brutality than the people watching us to see
we don't do it [i.e., the press]."
The most insidious police oppressions are, of
course, mental. In Vancouver, a youthful Mountie arrested a citizen
for drunken driving, a charge that carries a mandatory jail
sentence. Since the man was a first offender, a respectable citizen,
the attorney general's office suggested the charge be changed to
"driving while faculties are impaired." The young Mountie would not
agree to the change. His inspector argued with him. The constable
stubbornly stood fast. The inspector, though embarrassed, admired
this young man, who he thought was standing firm and alone on a
matter of principle. In a further conversation, however, the
constable revealed a deep-rooted aversion to alcohol. What the
inspector took for principle had been prejudice. The constable was
transferred and warned that another such incident would result in
his being discharged.
Even the appearance of oppression is avoided.
The commissioner prior to Nicholson was Stuart Taylor Wood, son of
an RCMP assistant commissioner and great-grandson of U.S. President
Zachary Taylor. When a U.S. correspondent asked him why he didn't
use bloodhounds instead of German shepherds for tracking, Wood
admitted that bloodhounds might be more efficient, "but in the eyes
of the world they are symbols of oppression. They conjure up visions
of masters tracking down slaves. We have no masters or slaves in
Canada, and I want no symbols of oppression in Canada's Mounted
The Mountie must come to terms with the rules.
He learns to bend his will to the will of his officers, not in blind
agreement but in acceptance of authority. In return he gains the
knowledge that he does not stand alone and this knowledge is a main
source of strength. If a constable is right he knows the force will
back him up.
A classic case occurred a few years ago. A
Mountie patrolling the wooded outskirts of a small town heard a shot
from the direction of the river. He hurried down and saw a man in a
motorboat holding a rifle, about to retrieve the wild duck he had
killed. The constable knew at once that his own position was
delicate. The hunter was one of the district's leading citizens.
"You know you're not supposed to shoot ducks out
of season, don't you, sir?" he asked.
The hunter said he hadn't known of any closed
season on this kind of duck. He apologized at some length.
The constable hesitated. He didn't want to
offend such a prominent man but his duty was clear cut. "I'm sorry,
sir," he said, "I'll have to prefer charges against you."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," the hunter
suggested. "I'll drop a line to the chief game warden and explain
what I've done. How's that?"
The Mountie was glad to agree. Back in his
office he typed out a full report. His commanding officer notified
the chief game warden that he could expect a letter from the hunter.
Weeks went by. The letter did not arrive.
The constable and the hunter had made a
gentleman's agreement. The hunter had broken it. The subdivision OC
had a summons issued. The hunter was charged with shooting a duck
out of season.
The prominent citizen was outraged. "Intolerable
and preposterous!" he stormed. The RCMP had no evidence, only a
constable's word against his. His attorney fought the case and won
Now the Mounties were outraged. They appealed
the case and won. The hunter was ordered to pay a $10 fine. With
righteous indignation he refused. He would carry the case right
through to the Supreme Court, he declared.
The RCMP now began to investigate the man to
find out what sort of hunter he was. Unexpectedly, the hunter
decided not to appeal. The RCMP immediately sent a Mountie to his
home to collect the $10 fine. The big house was dark. The Mountie
peered in a window. The furniture was gone. The hunter and his
family, the Mountie learned, had left town the night before.
Now the Mounties began a thorough investigation.
They found that the hunter's house was heavily mortgaged; payments
were overdue. He had lost a great deal of money in a factory that
went bankrupt. They located a widow who told of having given this
man $30,000 to invest for her. She had written him about it, she
said, but had not received an answer.
The RCMP tried to trace the hunter but he had
left the country. It was not until many months later in a distant
province that they picked him up and brought him back for trial on a
charge of fraud. Once again he was acquitted. But, at the end of the
trial, a Mountie served him a court order. It stated that he owed
the government $10. This time, the prominent citizen paid.
He paid too late. The Mounties had found fresh
evidence: another woman who claimed that she had been swindled by
this man. She said she had given him $80,000. Again he was arrested,
and now the case was airtight. The man who had thought himself too
big to be fined for shooting a duck was sentenced to five years for
No wise man pulls weight on a Mountie. Every
constable is conscious of the tradition he upholds. He may gripe
about the pay, the work, the promotion he didn't get, but he seldom
lets an outsider hear him. The unwritten law for all ranks is "Don't
let the force down."
At the ceremonial opening of the Alaska Highway,
a column of Mounties stood on parade. It was twenty degrees below
zero and General O'Connor, head of the U.S. Army engineers, told the
column they could leave their parkas on. "Wouldn't think of it,
sir," the RCMP officer in charge said, and the Mounties stood
unflinchingly at attention throughout the ceremony, clad only in
scarlet serge. A U.S. politician who had noticed the byplay
remarked: "I thought only the U.S. Marines felt that way about their
STENOGRAPHER at RCMP headquarters once com. pared her employers to
nuns. The simile is rather surprising but apt. The Mountie has the
nun's air of detachment, a somewhat austere impersonal anonymity.
The RCMP, like the Catholic Church, has
reconciled two apparent contradictions: a hierarchy and
individuality, a rigid discipline and personal initiative. The
emphasis on discipline is a military heritage. The encouragement of
initiative stems from the need for flexibility, from the scope of
their work, from the range of their duties, from all the
responsibilities of a small-detachment Mountie in a land not far
removed in time and space from the frontier.
Responsibility draws forth his strength and
weakness, draws him onward into maturity. If he has what it takes he
moves upward through the hierarchy — to corporal, sergeant, staff
sergeant; then, if he is lucky, the big jump to commissioned rank,
to the top three per cent — subinspec-tor, inspector,
superintendent, assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner,
commissioner. And, with each step, as responsibilities mount,
The Mountie must continually yield to
discipline, to the rules and authority of his force, to the public,
and to law, the abstract reason that governs free men. There is no
end to discipline, for discipline is reality and no man can resist
the nature of things. He can only resent or accept.
In the act of acceptance, as in the act of
faith, the Mountie becomes part of that which he accepts. He grows a
little impersonal, a little detached, for his pride and his loyalty
are in part given outside himself. Through service he strengthens
the feeling that he has found his place. His consciousness enlarges.
His sense of duty deepens. He sees what should be done and does it;
he does not need to be told. The obedient cog in the big machine has
become a thinking man, an individual. Compulsion is dissolved in
And this is the aim of RCMP discipline — to give
a man the stability he needs to act on his own, to free him from the
illusions, the anxieties, the aggressions, all the lonely tensions
of pride; to build character on the bedrock of reality.
An excellent example occurred one morning at
Green Lake, Saskatchewan. The young constable on detachment,
Clifford Rodriguez, was awakened just before dawn by a telephone
call from a woman resident. She was pregnant and asked to be rushed
to the nearest hospital, thirty-five miles away in Meadow Lake.
Apprehensively, the Mountie suggested a midwife;
his training course had not covered this situation. "No," the lady
insisted, "the baby's premature. I'm afraid of complications."
It was still much too early to rouse anyone else
to drive her. The Mountie dutifully dressed, got in his car and
picked up the woman. Sixteen miles out of Meadow Lake she told him
the baby was coming. He pulled off the road, examined her and found
that she was right.
She had also been right about complications. It
developed into a breech birth, which the young man had to cope with
from his knowledge of first aid and the sole aid of a razor blade.
When the situation was under control he finished the trip to the
hospital and handed over mother and child, both completely normal,
except that the baby's umbilical cord was tied with the constable's
For this impressive feat Commissioner Nicholson
himself commended Constable Rodriguez. But when the incident was
told in the RCMP
Quarterly, the constable was not
mentioned by name. The somewhat untypical story illustrates the
"typical" Mountie: steady, resourceful and slightly anonymous.