Thursday, December 07, 2006

Commissioner Zaccardelli and Commodore Bainimarama

Two comic-opera figures are strutting about on their respective national stages at the moment. In Fiji, the treasonous head of the armed forces, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has seized control of the government in a bloodless coup, and will now try to run things through a collection of puppets and unwilling senior public servants while he begs for fuel from a French company to keep his army vehicles running. Fijians, whose economy is fragile, are facing tough times, as international sanctions are already beginning to be put in place.

Here at home, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has been caught in a's just say he misspoke himself, although we don't know precisely when. This past September he said he had been aware since 2002 that his force had passed on erroneous information to the Americans about Maher Arar; now he tells us that the whole thing came as a complete surprise to him after he read the O'Connor inquiry report released this Fall. I suspect that Arar lawyer Julian Falconer, presently pursuing civil action against the RCMP and the Commissioner in particular, nailed it this morning on the CBC news: someone, he said, must have just shown Zaccardelli Maher Arar's statement of claim.

Zaccardelli remains defiant about calls for his resignation, which means his ass will shortly be grass and he knows it. When Stephen Harper expresses "concern," you know he's in for it. It's hard to see how Commissioner Z. can keep a straight face through it all, but that appears, in fact, to be the only thing this stunningly inept man has going for him at the moment. Whether it's rummaging through the home of a newspaper reporter, or intervening improperly in a federal election, the force under his watch has run badly off the rails. And his own performance on the Arar file has been vintage Keystone Kop material.

The interesting question is how such fundamentally hollow people as the Commissioner and the Commodore rise to where they are. One has the sense, observing the ridiculous ego, arrogance, incompetence and (as though to compensate) the surrounding pomp that emerges as the hallmark of these leaders, that some key ingredient must have been missing all along. Do they keep their true selves a closely-guarded secret, to be revealed with a flourish once their ambitions have been achieved? How did Italians fail to laugh, if only up their sleeves, at the peacock performances of Il Duce? Was he always like that, as he rose through the ranks? How could anyone take the self-consciously posed Zaccardelli seriously? Or, for that matter, Bainimarama? All three of them look like they were separated at birth--but not kept very far apart. Perhaps it's just as well that none of them appears particularly hungry at the moment.

UPDATE: Commissioner Z. has quit.

UPPERDATE (December 7): A rousing chorus of newspaper editorials, columns, comments and letters to the editor has erupted, excoriating the ex-Commissioner in words that make mine seem a little tame. My favourite comment comes from the former Chair of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, Shirley Heafey: "
I would never say he was dishonest, he's just incompetent. He just never understood anything. It's shocking, somebody at that level, and I don't know whether it's because he didn't bother or because he wasn't able to . . . He just never understands and he never gets it." Note the shift to the present tense: she was clearly reliving the five years of frustration she suffered at his hands.

But where was all of this when Commissioner Z. was top horseman? Is it only safe to criticize such people once they fall from grace and power? There have been suggestions, not entirely tongue-in-cheek in my opinion, that Zaccardelli might have been a kind of J. Edgar Hoover figure, amassing incriminating information to make himself untouchable. But, whether this is the case or not, and I hasten to note that I've seen no evidence that it is, it doesn't explain the complicit silence of the media over the years. I invite discussion on this topic.

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