In the Mind of a Mountie
November 4, 2013
Review By Bonnie Schmidt
T.M. “Scotty” Gardiner’s memoir, In the Mind of a Mountie, fits nicely into the genre of heroic Mountie literature that has enjoyed a popular readership since the late nineteenth century. Gardiner, who served with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at a number of postings across Canada between 1952 and 1983, offers a highly readable account of his career as a Mountie, as members of the RCMP are colloquially known. This lengthy memoir (660 pages) is based on events culled from his diaries and police notebooks. The material is organized into 131 short chapters, each featuring a specific theme, event, character, or crime. The narrative is supported by a number of photographs and crime scene sketches to illustrate that Mounties, as the popular saying goes, always get their man.
Gardiner’s recollections as a rookie police officer at his first posting in Manitoba, where general duty officers handled all types of investigations, provides the most engaging reading. These stories range from murder investigations, bank robberies, and cockfights, to seizing stills, transporting prisoners, and investigating the theft of gold bars from the Winnipeg airport. They are peopled with colourful characters from small towns who taught Gardiner the value of using common sense when dealing with civilians who often aided the police in solving crime. As the years progressed, Gardiner also discovered that effective police work was sometimes the result of chance and good luck. This was the case with the Samarkanda, a ship that was carrying thirty-two tonnes of marijuana to Canada from Mexico in 1979. Gardiner, who was the commanding officer in charge of the investigation, recalled that as the ship’s crew was off-loading bales of cannabis in a deserted inlet on Vancouver Island, they failed to notice that the tide was going out. Their miscalculation of tidal changes stranded them and their cargo on the shore, resulting in the largest drug seizure in Canada at the time.
There was a darker side to life as an RCMP officer however, that Gardiner does not address, particularly the long hours of work, marriage restrictions, poor pay, alcoholism, multiple transfers, and uncompensated overtime. For example, Gardiner describes “the country shift” as a two-week period where officers often worked twenty-hour days policing rural communities with little or no sleep. He sidesteps these questionable safety hazards that the RCMP expected its men to engage in, commenting only that it was an enjoyable experience (61). In fact, it was the RCMP’s insistence on continuing these practices that sparked a great deal of labour strife over working conditions for a younger generation of Mounties. Indeed, thousands of Mounties began to organize across the country for the right to form a union in 1973 as a result of these policies, a factor Gardiner fails to acknowledge. Gardiner also omits any reference to the hiring of women (and married men) for the first time in 1974, one of the most pronounced and controversial changes to the RCMP during his service. Given his status as a commissioned officer at the time, he does not mention his interactions with female police officers under his command.
In general, Gardiner avoids commenting on the inner workings of the RCMP and the politics of police culture, with one exception. In the final chapter, he refers to a paper he wrote for the RCMP in 1974 that warned of a growing lack of self-discipline and personal integrity among the leadership, a circumstance that would ultimately lead to “a creeping lessening in our code of conduct” (654). Gardiner sees his original call for a return to self-discipline as a solution to the RCMP’s current problems, a response some readers may find to be an outdated and simplistic approach to the many complex issues the force is currently experiencing. Despite the lack of a comprehensive and balanced analysis, Gardiner never sets out to write anything more than a narrative filled with engaging stories about his time as an RCMP officer. His memoir delivers just what the title suggests: a glimpse into the mind of a Mountie.
In the Mind of a Mountie
By T.M. “Scotty” Gardiner
Victoria: Agio Publishing House, 2010. 680 pp, $29.86 paper