It was a mock takedown of two bad guys in a grey pickup, staged before a youth-heavy crowd of several thousand, many sitting on grass on a lovely evening.
During a brief “chase” in the horse ring, there were lights and screaming sirens, smoke bombs, possibly a stun grenade, and the appearance of a black armoured vehicle, near tank-sized. One of the fake culprits had a gun pointed at his face and was dragged through the driver’s window. He was cuffed and taken away shirtless.
The second was tracked to a small hut that three more ERT members broke into. In a haze of smoke, he too was hauled away, wearing a hood over his head. A commentary mocked them. You can view the segment here.
East-end resident Frank Koller, 66, was part of a group of nine in the crowd, including five children, one as young as three. He could scarcely believe it. He had come for the horses and red serge, not the body armour, helmets and high-powered rifles. He fired back on his blog, frankkoller.com, words blazing.
“Is there no place now where Canadians can be spared the Conservative government’s jingoistic militaristic bleating with its conjured-up images of dangers lurking around every corner, nurturing the fear that “others” are out to rob us of our freedoms?”
Noting the presence of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson in the grandstand, Koller wrote that the display of police hardware had some young children spooked and many adults bewildered.
“But Commissioner Bob Paulson, really,” he concluded the entry, “who takes their children to a horse show on a Saturday evening expecting a scene from an average day’s viewing on CNN of heavily-armed police working the streets of Ferguson, Missouri?
“The RCMP should be embarrassed.”
Koller is a musician, author and retired CBC broadcaster. He lives not far from the Musical Ride Centre on Sandridge Road and has often seen the ceremony, but not this version.
“I looked around and there were a lot of furrowed brows on parents,” Koller said on Monday of the crowd reaction. “We looked at each other thinking, ‘What the hell is this?’”
He said the youngest child in their party “cowered” in her mother’s arms. “You don’t do this in front of a bunch of little kids.”
He thought it was particularly inappropriate because it feeds into the “incessant militarization” of police responses all over North America to emergencies or crises in public order.
It was put to Koller that maybe this is the modern face of the RCMP, no longer a mounted force with lances and stetsons, but a para-military organization tasked with fighting terrorism in all its forms. The slaying of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and the attack on Parliament Hill, after all, were a mere eight months ago.
He countered with two arguments:
“Don’t start demonstrating threat-management skills in a modern society at a horse show, with that audience.”
And secondly, we don’t need to be constantly told — incorrectly — we have to be afraid or hyper-vigilant. “Barring one or two categories, every crime stat has been going down in this country for 30 years.”
In a written response, RCMP Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said the ERT demonstration is not officially part of the Musical Ride, but was added pre-ceremony about 10 years ago.
“It is to show the public an example of the RCMP’s operational response capability in its role as Canada’s national police. The ERT demonstration is not part of Musical Ride performances anywhere other than at Sunset Ceremonies in Ottawa.”
He also noted that the evening “showcases” other aspects of RCMP operations with kiosks on forensic identification, missing children, the counterfeit section, youth crime prevention and an explanation of the RCMP Honour Roll.
“The ERT demonstration takes approximately four minutes of the more than two-hour Sunset Ceremonies and pre-show,” he wrote.
“Participants and demonstrations which are part of the annual Sunset Ceremonies are reviewed on an ongoing basis.”
To be reviewed again, no doubt. We know a killer slipped by the RCMP on the Hill and, not so long ago, they Tasered a man to death. And there’s lots more.
In a show heavy on pageantry and nostalgia, why remind us, and our kids, how ugly the modern world can be?