By Robert P. Johnston
I write further to the July 20 article, “Picking up the pieces,” written by Barb Sweet.
This article discusses the lingering effects of the abuse suffered by residents at Mount Cashel.
I am writing to address the suggestion made in your paper that similar coverup of criminal activity could occur again.
The effects of the Mount Cashel tragedy have changed this province, on many levels. The survivors, as your story points out, continue to struggle with the aftermath.
Having been a police officer for 33 years, I have seen first-hand that the effects of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse can stay with a survivor for years.
However, it is not just the survivors who have been changed by the Mount Cashel tragedy.
The laws governing the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have changed. The relationship between the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the RNC has changed.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has changed.
Civilian oversight of the RNC exists on numerous levels.
Changes in laws governing the RNC
Amendments to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Act, 1992, have formalized a process whereby citizens can air grievances against individual police officers (up to and including my own rank of chief of police) and against the policies and practices of the RNC. The public complaints process set out in the legislation imposes strict time lines and opportunities for civilian oversight through the Office of the Public Complaints Commission.
Changes for the Office of the Director of
At the time of the Mount Cashel coverup, Constabulary officers routinely sought the direction of the DPP as to whether or not charges should be laid in a wide variety of cases. As a result of the lessons learned from Mount Cashel, this process ceased.
A police officer controls the investigations; the prosecutor controls the prosecution, which does not commence until a charge is laid.
While prosecutors may be consulted by police officers for legal advice, they do not issue directives. The distinctions in the roles are clearly set out in the respective policies of the DPP’s office and the Constabulary.
Changes in the Constabulary
We are constantly training our police officers so that they are better equipped to use new technologies and understand the ever-changing face of the law. Furthermore, we have engaged in a partnership with the Department of Child Youth and Family Services in a training program entitled the Collaborative Approach to the Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse.
We have put great emphasis on encouraging women to choose policing as a career, as we know that a police service that better represents the population, better serves that population. Officers receive training in ethical
decision-making during their training at Memorial University.
Most importantly, and through the lessons learned from both Hughes and the Lamer inquiries, the RNC has had a fundamental change in our approach to investigations. Although we are a paramilitary organization, we actively encourage debate and a contrarian view. On major cases, we assign one officer whose job it is to question the steps taken in the investigation.
The Office of the Public Complaints Commissioner has a mandate enshrined in legislation to provide civilian oversight to the actions of the RNC and its officers. Further, the Public Service Commission and the Human Rights Commission can review the conduct of our police officers.
Given these changes, the RNC is subject to extensive checks and balances that significantly reduce the opportunity of a coverup. It is quite simply, a different world than it was 37 years ago.
It is unfortunate that your article did not advise the public of the existence of these safeguards.
Robert P. Johnston is chief of police with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.