Since its creation, the RCMP has been an icon—sometimes shining, sometimes tarnished. But the objective here is not to review the force’s past but rather to look to its future role and mandate by asking if the way policing is currently set up in Canada is in the national interest. So, in looking at the future role of the RCMP, we should consider both the interests of the federal government and of the provinces and territories.
The RCMP is charged with providing three baskets of services: federal policing, provincial/territorial and municipal policing in eight provinces and three territories, and a range of technical services available to all police forces in Canada. This has been the case for some decades now and the key issue is whether this arrangement suits the policing requirements for Canada for the future. I do not believe this to be the case and suggest that what today is required of the force is beyond its capacity to effectively deliver. Delivery of the three baskets of services is immeasurably more complex than it was a few decades ago, and it is unreasonable to ask one organization to do it all.
Two other issues are relevant. The first arises from the fact that the contracts between the federal government and the provinces bind the RCMP to provide those services, while federal policing imposes no such obligation on the force. The practical result is a strong tendency on the part of the RCMP to empathize provincial policing to the detriment of federal policing.
Supporters of the current arrangement argue that the ability of the force to shift resources in emergencies should trump other considerations. This may once have been true, but it is no longer so. For example, shortly after 9/11, the RCMP shifted a significant number of personnel from contract policing to federal policing to deal with the new terrorist threat. To state the obvious, policing Red Deer is materially different than dealing with international terrorism. It is unfair to individual officers to ask them to work in areas for which they are not trained, and it is definitively not in the national interest! This argument applies across the board to all elements of federal policing, and the same is true of contract policing, which is as complex an undertaking as federal policing—just very different!
The second issue that cannot be ignored is the confusion in political and administrative accountability that results from the current arrangements. Under a contract to provide provincial policing, resources in a particular province are accountable to that province’s legislature and minister responsible for policing. Yet, those resources remain inherently federal and subject to the authority of the commissioner in Ottawa. In a quasi-military organization like the RCMP, the ultimate authority is always the commissioner, who is thus in theory accountable to the federal minister as well as to eight provincial and territorial ministers. There are of course delegations to local commanders, but it is profoundly unsound to confuse accountability for an organization so directly linked to providing for the safety and
security of Canadians.
Two related issues also require mention. Under current arrangements, provinces are unable—beyond a certain point—to adjust policing arrangement to suit their particular circumstances. The second point relates to the funding of provincial policing.
Currently, Ottawa subsidizes contract policing up to 30 percent. While perhaps of benefit to some of the recipient provinces, it inappropriately skews responsibility under the Constitution, which provides that it is the provinces which are responsible for local policing. If financial support is necessary, use should be made of the general financial transfer provisions currently in place.
The above issues all point to the need for contract provinces and the federal government to reconsider the RCMP’s role in provincial policing, both to allow for provinces to provide for their policing needs and to allow a reconstituted RCMP to focus on the ever-growing requirements of federal policing. This change will in no way affect the absolute requirement in modern policing for all forces to cooperate and, as appropriate, share technical, personnel, and financial resources. It works for Ontario and Quebec, and there is no reason to believe that it cannot work in Alberta and elsewhere.
It is in the national interest that it be made to work before the national icon that is the RCMP is put at ever greater risk of tarnishing.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.