A tasteless, jingoistic, paramilitary embarrassment…

Lord what’s become of the RCMP Musical Ride?

The title of this post is a quote from former CBC journalist Frank Koller; you can read his blog post here.

The paramilitary demonstration in question, according to the RCMP, has been a part of the Musical Ride for roughly a decade (or roughly as long as Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister, but that’s just a coincidence… right?).

Koller’s reaction echoed that of many in attendance who were shocked to see this military display at a Canadian institution that’s been described in the past as ‘ballet with horses’.

The RCMP in turn responded by down-playing the demonstration, arguing that it’s only a part of the Ottawa-based sunset ceremony and not the touring Musical Ride. They also mentioned it was just a few minutes in a two-hour presentation, and re-iterated the supposed longevity of the display to make it seem as though it’s a perfectly normal component of the Musical Ride (the Emergency Response Team or ERT has existed since 1977, and the Musical Ride has been going on since the late 19th century, but it’s only in the last decade that these ‘long-standing’ displays have popped up).

Also – mass citizenship oath? When did that become part of the ceremony? One of the benefits of living in a liberal democracy is not being compelled to demonstrate your citizenship in mass recitations. That’s more of a North Korea type of thing…

Some took issue with Koller’s use of the term ‘paramilitary’, as the RCMP was, in a sense, a paramilitary organization. I’d argue this hasn’t been the case for much of the organization’s recent history, as the 19th century need for a paramilitary police force has disappeared. The RCMP are not tasked with defending Canadian territorial sovereignty, this is the job of the military. The ERT is indeed the paramilitary component of the RCMP, intended to be used as an aid to the civil power in extreme circumstances warranting the use of military-grade equipment and tactics.

My question is what precisely they’re trying to demonstrate. I know the ERT exists, I have an idea about what it would be used for, but I just can’t fathom what this has to do with the Musical Ride, or why this component of the RCMP should be demonstrated at any public event in the first place.

Think about it: wouldn’t it be odd for Montreal’s SWAT team to put on public displays during Jazz Fest?

What are they trying to show us? A forceful traffic stop? This isn’t what an RCMP take-down of suspected terrorists would look like at all… it’s unrealistic to the point of being comedic, and if this is in any way comparable to an actual RCMP training operation we should all be very worried.

And this is aside from the fact that we still haven’t produced ‘home grown’ terrorists since the October Crisis, and even then the FLQ was really little more than a loose association of politically-motivated bank robbers. Zehaf-Bibeault was a habitual offender with mental problems who somehow got himself an old winchester dual action. He was only ‘radicalized’ by his own sick mind, not a Canadian based Islamic fundamentalist terrorism network. On a day to day basis the RCMP spends a lot more time and effort responding to domestic disputes and highway code violations than combating domestic terrorism.

So again, what is this idiotic spectacle supposed to demonstrate?

When are RCMP tactical units going to be cruising around the neighbourhood searching for slow-moving pickups with shirtless terrorist drivers?

Furthermore… as a patriot I feel compelled to explain that the Tragically Hip song Three Pistols references the community of Trois-Pistoles, Quebec (pistoles were an old French currency, not a gun), and that the song itself is a kind of interpretive biography of the Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson.

So there’s that… on top of this being nearly Monty Python-esque in its asinine absurdity, this demonstration was set to an inappropriate musical choice, one that indicates a superficiality and lack of general awareness again, I would hope is not actually indicative of the RCMP.

A display like this doesn’t make me feel any safer, and knowing that I’d be subjected to this kind of tastelessness gives me every reason to avoid paying money to see the Musical Ride. This spectacle reminds me of the evident Americanization of Canadian police and this in turn is of no benefit to anyone but chiefly American arms dealers. The fact is crime has been falling for decades not as a result of this recent trend, but rather the result of sound public policy enacted by democratically elected responsible governments. Buying armoured trucks and flash bangs for the RCMP is of no particular strategic advantage, and it would be in our strategic security interest not to demonstrate how the ERT actually operates at public functions. If anything, we should treat the ERT much like JTF2, keeping them out of the public eye until absolutely necessary.

This demonstration is a farce we should be embarrassed of.

Montreal’s Central Business District in Evolution

The latest additions to Montreal's skyline taking shape - June 17th 2015
The latest additions to Montreal’s skyline taking shape – June 17th 2015
Overdale, we hardly knew ye...
Overdale, we hardly knew ye…
Lafontaine House, a still uncertain future...
Lafontaine House, a still uncertain future…
The new urban chasm
The new urban chasm
Tour des Canadiens de Montréal taking shape in background, with L'Avenue immediately in front of it and Rockabella in foreground at left
Tour des Canadiens de Montréal taking shape in background, with L’Avenue immediately in front of it and Rockabella in foreground at left
Icone Tower I with base of Rockabella II in foreground at right
Icone Tower I with base of Rockabella II in foreground at right
The west side of 1250 René Lévesque framed by new construction
The west side of 1250 René Lévesque framed by new construction

Panorama of new downtown towers - June 17 2015

The Tragic Mayorality of Jean Doré

Jean Doré and Nelson Mandela - July, 1990
Jean Dor̩ and Nelson Mandela РJuly, 1990

Former mayor Jean Doré passed away on Monday, June 15th, after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer.

From 1986 to 1994 he was our geeky young mayor with the Magnum P.I. moustache and something of a breath of fresh air after twenty-six uninterrupted years of Jean Drapeau. He led the the opposition Montreal Citizens’ Movement to a landslide victory in the 1986 municipal election and will be remembered for a number of modest accomplishments, many of which revolve around the 1992 celebration of the city’s 350th anniversary.

Under his administration the city got its first computers and adopted its first urban master plan. The Pointe-a-Calliere archeological museum, Place Charles de Gaulle and Place Emilie-Gamelin were all inaugurated. Major investments were made in renovating and beautifying Old Montreal, the Old Port and the park islands, not to mention turning the Champs de Mars from a parking lot into an open green space. Saint Catherine Street was renovated and beautified, McGill College was redeveloped to take its present form. Several tall buildings were completed, significantly increasing available class-A office space available in the city (this includes 1000 de la Gauchetiere Ouest, 1250 Boul. René Lévesque Ouest, the Laurentian Bank building, the Montreal Trust building, Tour de la Cathedrale etc).

Despite these significant developments and the relative success of the 350th anniversary renewal and beautification initiatives, Doré lost the 1994 municipal elections to Pierre Bourque, the guy who had previously run the Botanical Gardens and was responsible for the vastly unpopular megacity merger of 2002-2006.

In retrospect, it’s difficult to explain how Doré could lose to Bourque. Doré was the first of three recent mayors who served roughly equal amounts of time, started with a lot of promise and ended their term unpopular and considered something of a ‘do-nothing’ mayor. That said, in terms of his individual accomplishments I would still rank Doré head and shoulders above Pierre Bourque and Gerald Tremblay.

Conflicts arose within the Montreal Citizens’ Movement soon after Doré was first elected in 1986. The major scandal of his administration being the Overdale fiasco, in which a small though vibrant community was expropriated and bulldozed to make way for a massive downtown condo project that never materialized (the location is currently being developed into the ambitious YUL condo and townhouse project). This led to the MCM losing some of its more prominent Anglophone members and support from the urban Anglophone community (a fact which was compounded by Doré’s insistence of a strict interpretation of Bill 101 as it pertained to outdoor commercial signage, not to mention renaming Dorchester after René Lévesque when the former premier passed away in 1987). Later still, his administration would be criticized for not paying down the massive debt left by the Drapeau administration, and was subject to enhanced scrutiny on public spending as a result of his predecessor’s lax attitude to keeping balanced local books.

Other economic and political factors handicapped Doré. During the 1986-1994 period there was a global recession tied to the end of the Cold War and localized restructuring as a consequence of NAFTA and the privatization of numerous crown corporations, many of which had been located in Montreal. The local manufacturing and civil engineering sectors took a heavy hit, as did textiles and food processing, areas of industry that were once foundational. All of these factors were well beyond the influence of the mayor of Montreal. The national question that resurfaced at the time certainly didn’t help, as Montreal, Quebec and Canada’s future was perhaps at its most uncertain point roughly during the same time period as Doré’s mayoralty (consider the failures of the Meech Lake (1987) and Charlottetown Accords (1992), the Oka Crisis (1990) and the re-election of the Parti Quebecois (in 1994, leading to the referendum the following year).

Call it a matter of bad timing – I think Doré would have been an exceptional mayor had he come to power a decade earlier and maintained closer ties with the activist/grassroots foundation of the Montreal Citizens’ Movement. And yet, conversely, the main problem with his administration lied in a lack of political maturity. He only shone compared to Drapeau for the latter’s long political demise over the course of a decade after the Olympics, and yet would ultimately be judged as inferior to man who saddled us with billions in debt and a depopulated urban core.

Personally, I think Doré shone brightest hosting Nelson Mandela in July of 1990 (click here for Mandela’s speech), shortly after Mandela’s release from a South African prison. He wasn’t supposed to stop in Montreal on his international tour, but Doré made it happen with less than 24 hours to organize a large public ceremony at the Champs de Mars. 15,000 turned up to see Mandela thank Montreal in its efforts to combat Apartheid. He then visited Union United Church, arguably the historic epicentre of Montreal’s Black community (on a tangential note, I’m very happy to see the UUC’s congregation returned home on Sunday June 14th to their historic church on Delisle Street in Saint Henri. The congregation had been forced out in 2011 after an inspection revealed the building was in danger of structural failure and required extensive renovations, renovations which have since been completed).

Mandela’s visit was a high point in an administration consistently beset by circumstances and events well beyond the individual control of the mayor but that nonetheless contributed to an overall sense of malaise that became somewhat entrenched in the character of Montrealers at the time (and which I’d argue we’re only beginning to really emerge from). Consider six months prior to the visit the city endured the horror of the Polytechnique Massacre, and a month after the visit we’d be contending with the Oka Crisis.

All things considered, he did a good job and the city benefitted (for the most part) from his administration, though situation and circumstances being what they were, he probably did as much and as best anyone could do.