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'I did my best': Brenda Lucki retiring as RCMP commissioner

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Embattled RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is stepping down, saying that she is leaving knowing she did her best.

In a statement announcing what she called a "personal decision," Lucki said she has decided to retire ahead of reaching five years in the role. Her last day will be March 17, 2023.

“This was not an easy decision as I love the RCMP and have loved being the 24th Commissioner," Lucki said. "I am so incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to lead this historic organization and witness first hand the tremendous work being done each and every day."

Lucki's departure comes after a rocky tenure as Canada's top Mountie and amid uncertainty over whether her five-year term would be renewed.

As Commissioner, Lucki has been in the hot seat on a few occasions in recent years, and this move comes just ahead of the release of the Public Order Emergency Commission's report into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act. That report is set to be made public in days, and not far behind it will be the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission's final report into the 2020 mass killing in the province, expected by the end of March.

During testimony from Lucki and others during the federal Emergencies Act Commission as well as through documentation made public as part of the massive inquiry, it came to light that Lucki felt that officials hadn't used "all available tools" to dismantle the "Freedom Convoy" protests but did not adequately speak up to express this during a key meeting prior to the invocation. 

This prompted Alberta's justice minister to call for her resignation, to which Lucki responded by asserting she remained "fully committed to leading the RCMP." 

She was also challenged repeatedly over how the RCMP handled the 2020 killing rampage in Nova Scotia that involved a gunman using a replica RCMP vehicle, and numerous times denied related accusations of political interference in the case. 

In 2020, amid conversations around defunding the police, Lucki faced calls to resign after saying that she struggled with "five or six" definitions of systemic racism. She quickly acknowledged the national police service's history of racial discrimination. 

In an interview on CTV News Channel's Power Play with Vassy Kapelos, Brian Sauve of the National Police Federation—the union that represents RCMP officers—said this move didn't surprise him, nor did the amount of attention her missteps received.

"That's the role, right? You know, as the Commissioner of the RCMP, responsible for the largest policing agency in Canada, and second one in North America, there is going to be a lot of scrutiny," said Sauve.

He said no one could have predicted the series of events that Lucki faced as commissioner, suggesting it can't be known how someone else in her shoes would have handled a mass casualty incident as seen in Atlantic Canada or the groundswell of attention cast on police in light of the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S..

Conservative MP and former police officer Glen Motz—who knew Lucki from going on policing courses together years ago— said he thinks she was "well intended" but "became probably overly yanked around" by the government.

"That's unfortunate," he said. "I wish her well in retirement and I thank her for her service."  

In a series of tweets reacting to the news of her coming departure, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino thanked Lucki for her service.

"From training new recruits at Depot to becoming the Mounties' first woman Commissioner, she has dedicated her life to keeping Canadians safe," Mendicino said. "Commissioner Lucki has led the Force for nearly five years, navigating through the pandemic and beyond. I want to thank her for her partnership and dedication."

LUCKI PROMISED TO IMPROVE THE FORCE 

Lucki, who joined the RCMP in 1986, was its first permanent female commissioner. Prior to taking the helm, she worked as the commanding officer of the RCMP depot division in Saskatchewan. 

Appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Lucki took on the commissioner role in April 2018 after the RCMP went nearly a year without a permanent commissioner upon Bob Paulson's retirement in June 2017.

Trudeau tweeted his thanks to Lucki for her years of service and "work to keep Canadians across the country safe."

"As you head into your next chapter, I’m wishing you and your family the very best," said the prime minister. 

Lucki came into the job pledging to build a more diverse RCMP after the national police force had been for years mired in controversy and lawsuits and as a result was facing a staffing crisis as members grappled with issues of discrimination, workplace bullying, sexual harassment and misconduct.

Under her leadership, the organization ratified the RCMP's first collective union agreement, Sauve noted.

"I think a lot of our membership appreciated the fact that she's a people person … I've seen it firsthand," he said. 

During her first appearance as commissioner at a House of Commons committee, Lucki was swift to respond after a male Quebec Liberal MP wanted to know how "a lady" would "tell the guys how to behave," a remark he later apologized for. 

In her Wednesday statement, Lucki said she thinks the RCMP has made "some great progress" when it comes to modernizing the force and addressing "internal challenges."

"I'm so proud of the steps we’ve taken to modernize—to increase accountability, address systemic racism, ensure a safe and equitable workplace and advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples," Lucki said. "I leave knowing I did my best and take comfort that the RCMP is well-placed to shine in its 150th year."

Though, former RCMP major crime investigator Bruce Pitt-Payne said during a panel discussion on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Wednesday that as an ex-member he is happy to see Lucki leaving, citing a lack of leadership.

"I think the force has gone downhill in the public eye, not just because of her. It's been even before that with the previous commissioners. But, for people like me, it was really depressing to watch the force as an organization hurt itself over and over and over again with commissioner Lucki at the helm. And she has to take responsibility for that," he said.

During the panel segment, retired RCMP officer Sherry Benson-Podolchuk shared a different view, saying that Lucki came into the job with more systemic issues to address than any one commissioner could fix alone, and that work was compounded by the series of events that transpired over her tenure.

"I think she did a the best job she could considering the monumental task," said Benson-Podolchuk. "She's made some positive changes; I see those positive changes. And I'm hoping that, you know, her legacy is showing that it's possible for women now to achieve the ultimate goal—if that is their goal to be commissioner in the RCMP—and I wish her the very, very best in her retirement."

SEARCH BEGINS FOR LUCKI'S REPLACEMENT

Mendicino said that the federal government will now begin the process of appointing the RCMP's next commissioner.

"We will be searching for an exceptional new leader who will keep our communities safe while advancing the reforms necessary to maintain the confidence of all Canadians," the minister said.

As the search begins, the NDP are calling on the Liberals to ensure the next commissioner can adequately tackle the issues that persist within the federal police force.

"Issues of systemic racism that have been raised around the RCMP. The accountability and the transparency of the RCMP to the Canadian public is something the next commissioner must deal with. And, we have seen most egregiously a number of incidences with Indigenous people ... These are issues as well that the next commissioner of the RCMP must deal with," said NDP MP Peter Julian, who added it's "clear" that over Lucki's time as commissioner these issues were not adequately addressed.

"It's vitally important that the federal government choose somebody who is going to show the leadership to actually resolve these fundamental issues," Julian said.

Similarly, former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil said Canadians should demand answers from Ottawa on what the future of the federal police force is.

"Some of the challenges of this institution don't lay at the feet of this commissioner … I think we need to have a full conversation about what is the role of the RCMP as we go forward, and what does a modern RCMP look like that reflects the Canadian values of today," he said on CTV News Channel's Power Play. 

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