‘Cavalier and indifferent’ response by RCMP unacceptable

Imagine a scenario in which a politician was the subject of death threats and a law enforcement agency was aware of the peril that individual was facing. Or imagine the target of the plot to kill was a police official or a military officer.

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Opinion

Imagine a scenario in which a politician was the subject of death threats and a law enforcement agency was aware of the peril that individual was facing. Or imagine the target of the plot to kill was a police official or a military officer.

No doubt, swift and decisive action — including a warning to the individual regarding the nature and gravity of the threats — would follow immediately.

What one absolutely would not expect law enforcement to do is nothing, or to summon up a reaction as tepid as a vague caution and advice about investing in a home alarm system.

That would be an appalling failure. It would be outrageous. It would be wholly unacceptable, and the agency in question would rightly be expected to explain the lapse and ensure no such imperilment happened in the future.

And yet, in the case of a citizen who is neither politician nor police/military personnel, but rather a journalist whose investigative work exposed him to very real danger of a deadly attack, the response of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police appears to have been nothing more than the aforementioned nonspecific warning and the suggestion that installing an alarm system might be worth considering.

In 2019, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe wrote a series of articles that exposed Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Mathews as a recruiter for the Base, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group. In the aftermath of the series, Mr. Mathews fled to the United States and was subsequently arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison for weapons offences and plotting violence.

What was not known until last week, when it was reported by the German news outlet Zeit Online, was that before fleeing south, Mr. Mathews and other Base members planned to murder Mr. Thorpe. That information was discovered by U.S. law enforcement officials on the computer of another Base member, who later told the FBI the group “got cold feet” and never followed through with the plan.

In September 2019, however, the RCMP presented Mr. Thorpe with a letter stating it was aware of a threat to his life and offering the faint warning, but containing no other information.

The Canadian Association of Journalists reacted with justifiable outrage this week, calling the response “cavalier and indifferent” and demanding the RCMP make clear exactly what it knew about the threat and explain why so little information was provided to its planned target.

“We believe (Mr.) Thorpe should have been provided with detailed, reliable information to evaluate and deal with the threat, and he should have been offered actual protection in the face of this information,” the CAJ said in a released statement. “We also would like the police to clarify whether they investigated the plot to kill the reporter, and why no charges were ever brought.”

That’s the bare minimum that should be expected from the Mounties. Perhaps something in the way of an official apology might be in order, as well.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Patrik Mathews was sentenced to nine years in prison.

As CAJ president Brent Jolly rightly pointed out, journalists who investigate hate groups such as the Base do so in an effort to inform and protect the public. Such efforts at limiting the influence and expanse of fringe elements with violent and racist ideologies should be supported, and those willing to do the dangerous work of holding them to account should not be left to fend for themselves when threats arise.

When the Free Press sought comment from the RCMP last Sunday, an immediate response was not forthcoming. The organization indicated it might provide a statement at a later date.

One can only hope it’s more thorough and transparent than what was offered to Mr. Thorpe.

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