What Is to Be Done with the RCMP?

AuthorKent Roach
144 |
What Is to Be Done with the RCMP?
As discussed in Chapter , the RCMP has its origins as a colonial and paramil-
itary force that helped open up the West to settlers and would subsequently
play a role in enforcing attendance of Indigenous children in residential
schools. It was an RCMP boat that was the rst to traverse the Northwest
Passage as a means of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the North.
Under its federal mandate, the RCMP today is charged with enforcing
Canadian sovereignty over the increasingly transnational nature of crime,
including national security crimes, organized crime, and cybercrime. Spe-
cialized skills are needed to investigate these sophisticated forms of crime.
In many ways, however, the RCMP remains like the military given the boot-
camp nature of the training that all recruits receive at Depot in Regina and
its temporary postings of ocers from coast to coast to coast. e RCMP is
important for Canada, but it is not t for purpose with respect to its federal
policing mandate.
To complicate matters, the RCMP also acts as the local police outside
major cities in eight provinces and all three northern territories. Such local
contract policing is no small matter. It takes about  percent of the RCMP’s
-billion budget and  percent of its about , ocers. It also involves
the federal government subsidizing local policing by paying  percent of
policing costs in areas with a population of less than , people and per-
cent in more populous areas. e total cost of such subsidization is about
 million. Reduced costs seems to be the main selling point for RCMP
contract policing.
What Is to Be Done with the RCMP? | 145
Debates over contract policing have become louder with the increased
costs of RCMP policing that came with its rst collective agreement, ratied
in . Following Albert Hirschman’s typology, there is growing interest
in exiting from contract policing. e large city of Surrey in British Colum-
bia and the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near e Pas, Manitoba, have already
exercised that option. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick are all
exploring exiting from RCMP contract policing and creating their own prov-
incial forces. ese debates about exit have triggered competing demands
that provinces and territories remain loyal to the RCMP. Indeed, the debate
about contract policing shows some signs of polarization, with the RCMP’s
new union taking the lead in defending the contract policing that employs
most of its members.
Despite the loyalty the RCMP commands from many Canadians (includ-
ing my childhood self, who dreamed of being a Mountie dressed in red serge),
criticism and frustration with the RCMP are growing with scandal aer
In June , a House of Commons committee examining systemic racism
in policing recommended that the RCMP “be transitioned away from a para-
military force into a police service model with civilian oversight through a
new national oversight board.” It also recommended that the government
“explore the possibility of ending contract policing . . . and . . . work with the
provinces, territories and municipalities to help those interested establish
their own provincial and territorial police services.
Exit is a legitimate option. Complete exit from all contract policing, how-
ever, is probably unrealistic, at least in the short term. It would cut the RCMP
more than in half. It would impose signicant start-up costs on provinces and
localities that are struggling with increased expenses because of the pandemic
and decreased revenues.
ere is a more pragmatic third option. More attention should be given
to voice and improved governance. e Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act
should be amended to provide for national, provincial, territorial, and local
police boards. e only thing that the responsible minister should not be able
to do is direct whom the RCMP should and should not investigate and charge.
e RCMP should also be taken out of the large federal public safety
ministry and given to a minister with a mandate and exclusive responsibil-
ities to transform the RCMP into a better police service. As retired Supreme
Court Justice Bastarache has concluded, “change cannot come from within the
RC MP.” e RCMP should no longer be allowed to govern itself.

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