RCMP complaint against BC psychologist dropped

A complaint made by the RCMP that a B.C. psychologist was acting inappropriately by advocating for change within the force while treating officers, and when he publicly criticized the force, has been dropped by the College of Psychologists of British Columbia.

The College’s inquiry committee report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, said the body would take no further action against Michael Webster, a psychologist who had provided treatment to RCMP members for more than 20 years. Dr. Webster has consulted for police agencies, both national and international, during numerous high-profile crises.

“When you win, nothing hurts,” said Dr. Webster, quoting football legend Joe Namath. “They [The RCMP] cannot tell me how to practise psychology, nor keep me from practising. Those are two things I take as significant wins.”

The complaint against Dr. Webster was made in August, 2012, by Brad Hartl, the RCMP’s human resources officer in B.C.

According to the College’s report, Mr. Hartl’s complaint said that Dr. Webster, during treatment with RCMP members, had “adopt[ed] a strong advocacy stance in favour of organizational change rather than focusing on individual client treatment.” This is “detrimental to his clinical effectiveness.” The complaint went on to say that Dr. Webster’s “progress reports commonly contain statements which indicate a member will return to work when organizational changes occur.”

Mr. Hartl also alleged that Dr. Webster’s public commentary about the RCMP “lacks objectivity” and the statements could be confusing and disturbing to his RCMP patients.

Dr. Webster was practising outside his area of competence and expertise, the complaint also alleged, by offering opinions on both RCMP organization and structure.

The College disagreed with Mr. Hartl, and concluded Dr. Webster’s conduct with patients fell within the realm of reasonable professional discretion and judgment. It also said his public statements criticizing the force did not raise concerns about his behaviour. The College added that nothing substantiated the claim that he was practising outside his area of competence and expertise.

Dr. Webster, who no longer works with RCMP members, acknowledges that he publicly criticized the RCMP in the media and during public inquiries. He said, however, that he never advocated for organizational change during treatments with members.

Dr. Webster has been long sought after by police agencies as a consultant, particularly in crisis management. He consulted police during hostage takings at the former B.C. Penitentiary and during the Waco crisis in Texas. The RCMP turned to him during the Gustafsen Lake standoff between the force and a militant aboriginal group in the summer of 1995.

He says his relationship with the force soured after he criticized the RCMP during the Braidwood Inquiry into the use of tasers in B.C. after the death of Robert Dziekanski. During Braidwood, Dr. Webster said that RCMP officers involved in the incident panicked and abandoned their basic training. In a highly publicized letter to Mr. Dziekanski’s mother, Dr. Webster wrote a scathing indictment of RCMP leadership, saying “an inept, insular and archaic group of RCMP executives has let the force fall out of step with 21st century policing.”

After that, Dr. Webster said his work with the force slowly dried up.

The RCMP declined an interview, but said in a statement that “We can confirm that we have received notice from the College of Psychologists of B.C. that they have concluded an investigation into one of their own and dismissed our complaint.”

Dr. Webster is still adamant that something urgently needs to change within the RCMP, including the introduction of an officer’s union that would give members confidence and security when making a complaints against their employer.

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