Imagine a former high-ranking RCMP officer who made his career working drug trafficking cases, money laundering cases, organized crime cases, now viewed as an expert on trans-national crime, proclaim that Canada was the staging ground for trans-national organized crime. Then imagine that same expert saying what was uncovered in B.C. with organized crime and money laundering existed across other provinces and was worse in Ontario. Well, there is no need to imagine this nightmare scenario because Gary Clement is the former RCMP officer and expert on trans-national crime who said these very things and wrote about just how pervasive the issues of organized crime and trans-national crime are across Canada.
If my own experiences were not enough to tell me that we had democracy-threatening issues with the integrity of our institutions: with the inability for law makers to acknowledge the seriousness of issues like high-level drug trafficking and money laundering, organized crime, and transnational crime, not to mention bringing forward the necessary legislation to counter these harms, then hearing Garry Clement speak on the matter was all that I needed to hear.
Having connected with Supreme Court judges, Privacy Commissioners, academic experts, and Ministerial offices in B.C. for the purposes of this series, these issues mattered to these stakeholders, but it did not seem to be a top priority for the many other provincial parliaments across Canada, nor did it seem that bringing forth new legislation around these issues was a top legislative priority for members of parliament. That is why it makes sense to highlight Clement’s words, because a knowledgeable person speaking from experience is not the same as a person speaking from expertise.
Under Cover by Gary Clement will change how you feel when you hear “organized crime”.
Listening to Garry Clement speak on the most serious forms of crime and the impact they are having on Canadians is enough to grab anyone’s attention, but the details in his recently published book, Under Cover: Inside the Shady World of Organized Crime and the RCMP, will deliver the biggest shock. The book paints a picture of a government and policing agency that are disconnected from one another, with a breakdown in information exchange contributing to elected officials not receiving appropriate briefings on how their decisions affect the RCMP’s investigative capacity on these issues. Then, there are also stories that will make the reader question the world that is, especially if they are unfamiliar with the world of policing.
There is reference to the most serious case of corruption that the RCMP has ever had to deal with, with former RCMP officer, Claude Savoie, who was a high-ranking senior officer working organized crime cases in Montreal and who would end up being exposed for being a co-conspirator, bribed by an organized crime group. What makes the Savoie case particularly significant is that the fallout of the scandal, where Savoie ended up committing suicide minutes before he was supposed to be interrogated at RCMP headquarters, was attributed as being the incident that shattered the thought of the RCMP as being an incorruptible police force.
Where the Savoie story takes an even bigger twist was that Savoie was a police officer who also spent time overseas with embassy work and who worked on special police operations with other international police forces, and he had been appointed to assistant Director at Criminal Intelligence Service Canada months prior to his death. Who knows if the full extent of the damage caused by Savoie’s actions will ever be realized, such as how many other officers may have been recruited to provide information to drug smugglers or sabotage investigations, and, if those moles are still in place, how many informants were affected by his actions. Or how he had unlimited access to important files. But what is for sure is that the U.S.’ Drug Enforcement Agency routinely refused to share any information with him despite his senior role.
For Clement, Savoie was not just a promising agent, Clement described Savoie as someone he never could have imagined would operate in conjunction with organized crime, but the betrayal shocked foundational beliefs, and it left Clement with the realization that anyone can be co-opted. Clement also suggested that one of the reasons that the leader of the organized crime group that managed to flip Savoie, Allan Ross, was prosecuted in the U.S. instead of Canada had to do with the belief that Ross had high-placed informants within Canadian police departments.
Then there was reference to an arrest in 1996 of a bar owner in Hull, Quebec, who was notorious for drug trafficking, and how long-time allegations of senior police officers within the Ottawa Police Services associating with him turned out to be true. Even though a police officer was also charged with this individual, the charged police officer had their charge dismissed following the retraction of another agent’s testimony, which only occurred after the officer’s lawyer had been permitted by the Crown to meet alone with the agent. When Clement raised his concerns and spoke out about what transpired after the one-on-one meeting and the agent making retractions, the Minister of Justice came down on the RCMP Commissioner at the time about Clement’s actions, and Clement would also feel the wrath. Clement should not have been the sole individual; this was a stance that all policing agencies should have taken: that there was a need for an independent body to undertake corruption investigations involving public officials, including police officers, but he was.
There was also reference to how another high-ranking officer, Rod Stamler, had quit after the Mulroney government had changed the way that police interact with government after several cabinet ministers were investigated and charged. Those changes were described as having blurred the lines between policing and politics: opening the door for misuse of government and policing powers. One example of how that precedent manifested was the public inquiry into the treatment of Maher Arar and how the Commissioner found that Canadian officials had leaked confidential, sometimes inaccurate, information about the case to the media to damage Arar’s reputation or protect their or the government’s self-interests. In the end, the actions taken with respect to Arar resulted in a $10 million settlement—a highly contentious topic among Canadians. The mic drop moment in the book may have been Clement labelling the RCMP’s areas of weakness as having mushroomed resulting in integrity-related issues among senior ranking members.
Not surprisingly, Clement was realistic about the evolution of different forms of crime including terrorism, organized crime, money laundering, human smuggling, and cyber crime, and how sometimes they can evolve faster than policing agencies can keep up with them. The sophistication associated with financial crime and organized crime was identified as a cause for concern over a decade ago, and how Canadians were paying a price for what he viewed as inaction. Clement also took issue with some aspects of our courts, stating that justice was bringing itself into disrepute, noting that if these crimes ever affected a sitting judge’s family or that of a Minister then the response would be far different. Perhaps it may explain why Clement ends up taking the position that Canada should implement the U.S.’ RICO laws. What was for certain was that Clement believed that there was a need for a vibrant and effective press, because of how it kept everyone honest, despite that many law enforcement officers and politicians might disagree with him.
The faces we see, but the voices that are not heard.
As a community leader within the Serbian-Canadian community in Ottawa who has twice hosted the Serbian Festival in Ottawa, it is not uncommon for people to try to connect with me for an assortment of reasons. Yet nothing compares to being contacted by multiple members of my ethnic community, both guys and gals who I grew up with, asking me to intervene and help another member who was a childhood friend and had been groomed into the world of illegal gambling. This was something I took seriously. Sadly, I would end up finding out that another member of my ethnic community, a guy a few years older than me, was exploited in a similar manner.
Somehow all the individuals that reached out to me were staff who worked at the same ethnic Italian restaurant, six in total, including two Persian-Canadians, one of whom was high school friends with my childhood friend. Perhaps the most definitive reason as to why we need RICO laws in Canada is that the reason they reached out to me to get involved had to do with management claiming they had connections within the Ottawa’s municipal police service, but also because the Persian-Canadian girl’s fiancé, who was a federal police officer, stated that he did not want to get involved. Then seeing the structures around the institution of policing fumble with every step after I had holistically articulated my case and everything that transpired after, may have been the realization that I needed.
This connects with what I realized during the review of Garry Clement’s interviews and his newly published book: how Canada ranked at the bottom of the G20 for whistleblowing and how individuals in Canada were routinely subjected to harassment, job termination, arrest, and even physical attacks for highlighting wrongdoing. It reminded me how I have experienced harassment from some Ottawa Police Services officers and have had frivolous police reports filed against me because of how I escalated my criminal complaint about organized crime and was able to identify inconsistencies with responses I received at different levels of the process. It did not matter that I had requested to formally challenge the authenticity of these frivolous police reports, having all the documents necessary to have them purged, because I found out that there were no such systems in place – not with at the police service nor with oversight structures. However, the societal implications of those public policy failings may deserve a standalone article, but they are evidence that Canada is deserving of its position at the bottom of the G20 when it comes to the reporting of high-level wrongdoings.
Elie Wiesel’s perspective on attackers, victims, and bystanders.
Some might wonder what Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, and educator Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel might have in common with former RCMP officer and expert on transnational crime Garry Clement. That connection can be summed up with three words: “attackers”, “victims” and “bystanders”, and the speech Wiesel gave in 1999 on the perils of indifference, a synonym for much of what Clement has said about the need to do more about organized crime and trans-national crime.
The highlights of that speech begin with Wiesel describing indifference as a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. How that indifference was both tempting and seductive, because of how easy it was to look away from victims to avoid interruptions of one’s work, dreams, and hopes, and how little sense it may make to want to get involved in another person’s pain and despair. Being indifferent was also illustrated as a person seeing the lives that others lived as having no consequence—that they were meaningless—that perspective reduced the “Other” to an abstraction. Ultimately, being indifferent to the other’s suffering is what took us from human to inhuman, and that indifference was more dangerous than anger and hatred.
As vivid as the image that Wiesel paints at the end of his speech, how the young Jewish boy (himself) has accompanied the old man (also himself) throughout the years of quest and struggle, and now into the new millennium with profound fear and extraordinary hope, the passage that is a synonym for what Garry Clement said is found in the middle. That passage is, “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”