Provinces say Ottawa is leaving them in the dark about RCMP’s future

Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press) © Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Frustration is mounting in provincial and territorial governments that rely on the RCMP’s services as they wait for Ottawa to come up with a plan for the beleaguered national police service.

Outside of Ontario and Quebec, the RCMP provides front-line policing services through contract agreements with the provinces and territories. Under those agreements, which expire in 2032, provinces and territories pay 70 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services and the federal government covers the rest.

But a growing number of voices are calling for root-and-branch changes to the way the RCMP operates.

Almost exactly a year ago, the inquiry into the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history criticized the RCMP’s response to the crisis on almost every level and recommended an in-depth, external and independent review of the RCMP.

The Mass Casualty Commission’s report said that review should “specifically examine the RCMP’s approach to contract policing and work with contract partners, and also its approach to community relations.”

A few months after that report landed, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), one of Canada’s intelligence watchdogs, reported that the RCMP’s federal policing responsibilities are being hindered by resource issues — including the force’s focus on boots-on-the-ground contract policing.

The RCMP’s federal policing responsibilities include financial crime, organized crime, international investigations and threats to national security.

“We’re certainly calling on the federal government to examine the relationship between contract policing and federal policing inside the organization,” said NSICOP’s chair, Liberal MP David McGuinty.

While the federal government has said it is assessing the RCMP’s contracts with provinces and territories, there have been rumours suggesting Ottawa is open to changing the RCMP’s mandate so that it concentrates entirely on federal policing — making the RCMP more like the FBI.

The lack of clarity is causing some anxiety among the provinces and territories, said Saskatchewan’s Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman.

“Just tell us which way you’re going to go,” he said.

“We want to see a plan … We want to know with some certainty what is happening for the future of policing in Canada. The federal government has not given any direction.”

B.C. seeking an answer ‘as soon as possible’

Other provincial governments contacted by CBC shared those views.

A spokesperson for New Brunswick’s Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said the province is waiting to see how the federal government responds to the Mass Casualty Commission.

“In the meantime, Minister Austin has joined his provincial and territorial counterparts in urging the Government of Canada to bring clarity to the question of the future of contract policing,” said the spokesperson.

“The top priority is the safety of both our police officers and communities.”

In a statement sent to CBC News, B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said it continues “to seek direction from the federal government on the future of contract policing, as it will impact how policing is delivered and paid for in our communities.

“The province and local government in B.C. require the federal government to communicate its plans on the future of contract policing as soon as possible so that all parties have enough planning and implementation time to fully engage in negotiations.

“Any changes to the existing agreement could have wide-ranging implications for local governments and the Province on RCMP service delivery or cost.”

Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman said Saskatchewan wants to keep the RCMP. (CBC)© Provided by

Merriman said that while 2032 feels far away, the provinces need to know soon if they have to build their own provincial police forces and fund them fully.

“I would think that time has come,” he said,

“There would be legislative requirements on both federal and provincial [governments], there would be a lot of background work that would have to happen before that. And I think the rank and file of the RCMP, they would like to know.”

Earlier this month, the Alberta government announced legislation to lay the groundwork for a new provincial police agency made up of sheriffs.

Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis said that while the new service is not meant to replace the RCMP, the province is building out the service in case the RCMP stops providing local policing when the current contract expires in 2032.

Alberta Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis says the federal government needs to make up its mind about the future of the RCMP. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)© Provided by

“The RCMP just do not have enough human beings to police Canada, regardless of the amount of money that we give them,” Ellis told a recent news conference. “That’s a challenge, I get that. But I can’t wait for them to just continue to try to figure stuff out.”

Merriman said Saskatchewan is in favour of keeping the RCMP — if that’s still on the table.

“The RCMP has a good reputation in our rural communities. We want to keep them there,” he said.

“But the decision isn’t ours to keep them there. That’s with the federal government.”

Contract policing ‘crowding out’ other needs: briefing

The concern being felt in provincial and territorial capitals shouldn’t come as a surprise to Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

According to internal documents, LeBlanc was briefed by department officials about the “future of policing” and the RCMP in November 2023.

The documents, obtained through an access to information request, show the minister was warned the provinces and territories were concerned about “the uncertainty of the future federal role in policing.”

One of the briefing documents says the minister was warned that “insufficient federal investment commensurate with increased mandate and delivery requirements” and “contract policing requirements [are] crowding out funding and delivery in other mandate areas.”

Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)© Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

“The federal role in policing has remained largely unchanged since the introduction of Contract Policing in 1928 despite multiple reviews recommending transformation of Canada’s national policing service,” says the briefing document.

“Increased costs of policing, the rise of social disorder in a post-pandemic environment, and increasing complexity of threats to Canada’s security are also important drivers for calls to create a new vision for policing in Canada that respects jurisdictional responsibility and is responsive.”

The briefing documents are heavily redacted, so it’s not clear what LeBlanc’s department thinks a “new vision for policing” should look like.

LeBlanc’s office did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme will provide an update this morning on the national police force’s response to the Mass Casualty Commission’s recommendations.

Source: CBC News