The federal government is promising to review the RCMP’s contract policing obligations as critics question the national police force’s role in communities.
In his mandate letter, new Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has been asked to “conduct an assessment of contract policing in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous partners and stakeholders.”
The promise of a review comes after years of headlines about systemic racism and excessive use of force in the RCMP, and reports of harassment in the ranks.
Mounties are assigned to contract policing in roughly 150 municipalities, all three territories and in all provinces except Ontario and Quebec. The RCMP’s current policing agreements — municipal, provincial and territorial — expire in 2032.
The force also has federal policing obligations that range from protecting the prime minister to thwarting terrorist attacks and investigating organized crime.
Robert Gordon, a former police officer and a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said the RCMP’s “balkanized system” and troublesome history in Indigenous communities warrants a review.
He said he wants to see the RCMP get out of communities and concentrate on federal policing.
“I think there have been a number of explosions that have underlined the importance of Canada coming to grips with this,” he said.
“It’s a long, arduous journey, but it’s one that I think is well worth taking. And I’m very pleased that this appeared in the mandate letter.”
Union welcomes assessment
The head of the RCMP union said he sees a review as a way to improve services.
“Almost one in four Canadians calls the RCMP for their police of jurisdiction. So I would suggest from all the data and the polling that we’ve done that the RCMP is extremely effective at contract policing,” National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé told CBC News in an interview earlier this week.
“That doesn’t mean … we can’t do it better. And I think that’s what the minister of public safety is looking at — how can we improve that service delivery?”
Last year, MPs on the standing committee on public safety and national security suggested the federal government “explore the possibility of ending contract policing,” which would fundamentally change the national police service. (Conservative MPs on the committee tabled a supplementary report disagreeing with the report’s main findings.)
The committee had been studying the issue of systemic racism in policing since June 2020 — spurred on by an international movement urging governments to rethink police budgets and use of force in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in the U.S.
“A transformative national effort is required to ensure that all Indigenous, Black and other racialized people in Canada are not subject to the discrimination and injustice that is inherent in the system as it exists today,” says the committee’s report.
Sauvé said that review also pointed to broader issues governments need to look at, including police officers’ roles in responding to mental health calls.
“You had a lot of witnesses appear before government and talk about the weaknesses in policing, not that the police are the bad guys, but that governments across this country have chosen over decades to underfund other social services and other social safety nets,” said Sauvé.
“And by de facto, the police have become the last first responders standing.”
Sauvé said he’d like to see more work done on recruitment to ease the workload for serving members.
“I think policing as a whole has to put some more shine back on their buttons as a career choice for young Canadians that want to give their life and service,” he said.
“That being said, increasing the diversity of our membership is a fantastic idea.”