After a lifetime of achievement in football, wrestling and as a clinical psychologist, Mike Webster made a startling decision while the third part of this interview was being written. He went public with his application to become the new Commissioner of the RCMP, despite being blackballed by the force for speaking out at a public inquiry about takedown procedures and tactics he found utterly revolting.
“When I am done the organization will have a new face, a new business model, and a new direction; the Canadian public will have renewed confidence in their national police service and the membership will have rekindled their smouldering motivation,” he wrote in the cover letter.
Webster, who has been a teacher at the British Columbia Police Academy, the Canadian Police College, Europol, and the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia (helping train for hostage situations and providing his expertise in the most tense and dangerous conditions imaginable), promised “… by the time I am done I will have identified a new (and permanent) Commissioner and Senior Executive from within the organization who are committed to ‘turn around change.'”
The path from sports to news headlines for Dr. Michael Webster began after earning a Master’s Degree and thereafter being awarded a doctorate from Western Washington University in 1981. “I worked occasionally during both — more so during my Masters. I did guest shots, mystery wrestler, cameos, and filled in for sick and injured masked men while studying full-time — territories included: B.C., Washington, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii,” he told SLAM! Wrestling.
Webster began specializing in working with police crisis teams after being involved in negotiations during two penitentiary standoffs in B.C., and built a unique career around the world. In one of those standoffs a female prison staffer was killed by friendly fire which caused a stir across Canada.
The FBI called him to the 51-day Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, in 1993. It was arguably the first long-term incident to be driven by the television news cycle and remains controversial because of the 76 fatalities (including women and children) after the assault on the armed compound as authorities sought to arrest cult leader David Koresh. Webster believes that high cost could have been averted.
“The FBI could have withstood (perceived) public pressure and maintained the conciliatory approach they had adopted during the first week (that resulted in 30-35 people walking out of the compound). The FBI suffered from an action imperative — they needed not only to be doing something, but to be seen to be doing something. Sometimes it’s better to do stuff that’s effective but not visible.”
An armed standoff in 1995 between the Ts’Peten Sundancers and the RCMP at Gustafsen Lake, B.C., resulted in a fundamental shift in his approach, after telling the Vancouver Sun, “The greatest thing I will take away from 100 Mile House with me is the incredible knowledge I have about native spirituality and how effective that can be.”
Webster explained, “Prior to our success at Gus Lake, the police dealt with this type of situation using a linear approach. First talk, and if that doesn’t work, go right away to ‘heavy tactics.’ The strategy applied at Gus Lake and afterwards (e.g. the ‘Freemen’ at Jordan Montana) was a parallel approach. I now advise making it easy for the other party to agree while at the same time making it difficult for them to disagree.”
In one of his papers, he described his underlying philosophy:
“The less freedom, rights, or control we allow the opposition the more valuable it becomes to them and the more aggressively they will pursue it. Force now becomes counterproductive as it has driven the opposition into a defensive position where they will resist us with all they can muster. Once the strategy of force is deployed there is no turning back. The opposition will have difficulty accepting your efforts to talk it out after you have tried to take them out … To paraphrase Mahatma Ghandi, if we continue in the pursuit of an eye for an eye we all end up blind.”
One of the more shocking situations Webster worked on was the assault that ended the 1997 occupation of the Japanese Embassy by Tupac Amaru (Marxist-Leninist guerrillas) in Peru, which lasted four months before it was concluded by a surprise raid.
“The great military strategist Sun Tzu stated, ‘The best general is the one who never fights.’ Restating him to suit our purpose we might say, ‘The best crisis manager is the one who never assaults.’ … The whole thing was a ‘cock-up’ start to finish. On the surface (literally!) there was a negotiation with the subjects, while underground none of us knew President Fijimori was digging his tunnel under the ambassador’s residence. It is difficult to manage a conflict when there is a conflict within a conflict.” (It ended with the death of one hostage and all 14 revolutionaries, eight of whom were murdered by the military after being captured.)
As a result of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers using Tasers five times, which resulted in the senseless death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański at Vancouver Airport in 2007, the name of Dr. Michael Webster came to the forefront of newscasts, online, and among civil liberties groups.
After appearing at the Braidwood Inquiry and insisting the officers’ testimony was rehearsed (for which they are now facing a trial), Webster wrote an open letter to Dziekański’s mother, Zofia Cisowski. He was relentless in his criticism of use of the unproven devices and the underlying corporate culture of Canada’s national police agency, which he likened to “Putin’s Russia.”
When threatened by the brass with being blackballed, Webster exposed their corruption even more by detailing their lack of due diligence.
“The existing ‘science’ has variously been termed ‘TASER Science’ or ‘junk science.’ The weapon has never been subjected to rigorous, independent, and impartial research. And the buyers (i.e. police persons) are far from sophisticated. When questioned on the weapon they simply regurgitate Taser International’s party line … I have said it is neither humane nor logical to inflict crippling pain on someone who has lost his mental balance, as they did at YVR (airport).”
He continued: “In my continuing criticism of the RCMP’s Senior Executive I believe I have given a voice to the oppressed membership. It is uncontroversial that for many street level RCMP policepersons their job is making them sick. I have had no support from my (self-serving) psychological colleagues, and no support from other police services.”
When asked how he handled the reduction of income due to being shunned by the Mounties, after establishing such a successful practice, Webster harkened back to his college days.
“One of my heroes is the priest who was the President of Notre Dame when I attended there. His name is Father Ted Hesburgh. He once said, and I never forgot it, ‘It is easier to live your morals than it is to teach them.’ I try to implement this in my life from day to day. Losing the income was never an issue for me. It’s easy to prattle on about your ethics when there is no cost.”
After the facts about the Vancouver Airport confrontation became known, Webster was talked about as the best person to lead the RCMP and reform it. Previously he resisted the idea, saying, “The single most effective therapeutic agent for the RCMP would be the establishment of a strong union. Finally, senior managers who are presently accountable to no one would be reigned in.” Now he believes he is the man for the job, after experiencing first-hand retaliation for being an advocate for change.
From Notre Dame, to Grey Cup and pro wrestling champion, to consulting on life and death crisis negotiations, Mike Webster, a soft-spoken and gentle giant, has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Now he hears the drums beating across the planet, and foresees a fundamental change coming among those who are not part of the elite now ruling over societies under corrupt political and social systems. And he wants to lead by example, as he has always done.
“Some may be discouraged by the challenge and say, ‘but we have no forum’ for such a transformational change. I would say the people of Iran have no forum to address the corrupt activities of their government either — but look at them … Social media is only half the answer. The other half is the young people whose lives are intertwined with it. My sense is that young people are becoming more politically active (witness our last Canadian Federal election) and less tolerant of ‘corruption and willful neglect.’ And with the decline of the U.S., as a world power, and the rise of India and China young people will unite East and West in a new political landscape.”
Policing and security issues have long held a special interest for Marty, who specializes in old-school sports retrospectives and interviews, and has relaunched The Great Canadian Talk Show as a Podcast.