Galloping off in all directions: An analysis of the new federal– provincial agreement for RCMP contract police services and some implications for the future of Canadian policing

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CANADIAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION / ADMINISTRATION PUBLIQUE DU CANADA VOLUME 55, NO. 3 (SEPTEMBER/SEPTEMBRE 2012), PP. 433–450 © The Institute of Public Administration of Canada/L’Institut d’administration publique du Canada 2012

By Robert F. Lunney – Toronto Division Secretary

abstract: In 1874, the original 275-officer contingent of North-West Mounted Police left Manitoba for what is now Alberta, to bring law and order to a frontier suffering the depredations of American whiskey traders preying on Aboriginal people. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, now 28,000 strong, has since become world renowned. It deals with organized crime, terrorism, illicit drugs, economic crimes and offences threatening the integrity of Canada’s national borders. It also protects VIPs, supports other Canadian law enforcement agencies through its National Police Services, and carries out provincial and municipal policing under contract in eight provinces and three territories. This article reviews the history, outlines the benefits, and examines some of the implications of these policing contracts, using the 2012 Alberta agreement as the template.

Sommaire : En 1874, le premier contingent de 275 agents du corps de la police montée du Nord-Ouest quittait le Manitoba pour se rendre là où se trouve aujourd’hui l’Alberta afin d’instaurer l’ordre public à une frontière où les négociants en whisky faisaient des ravages en s’attaquant aux Autochtones. La Gendarmerie royale du Canada, qui compte actuellement plus de 28 000 personnes, a acquis depuis lors une renommée internationale. Elle lutte contre le crime organisé, le terrorisme, les drogues illicites, les infractions et crimes économiques qui menacent l’intégrité des frontières nationales du Canada. Elle protège également les dignitaires, soutient d’autres organismes canadiens d’application de la loi par le biais de ses Services nationaux de police, et accomplit sous contrat le travail de police provincial et municipal dans huit provinces et trois territoires. Cet article passe en revue l’historique, souligne les avantages et examine certaines des implications de ces contrats de police, en se servant de l’entente 2012 avec l’Alberta comme modèle.

The author is an internationally recognized expert on police and public safety. A former RCMP superintendent, he also served as chief of police in Edmonton, Alberta, from 1974 to 1987 and in Peel Region, Ontario, from 1990 to 1997. He would like to thank long-time colleague Paul McKenna for his encouragement during the writing of this critique and his assistance with annotation; William J. Brown, for his contribution to the analysis of the provincial contract; and retired RCMP Assistant Commissioner Robert Head, for background on policing in Alberta.

CANADIAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION / ADMINISTRATION PUBLIQUE DU CANADA VOLUME 55, NO. 3 (SEPTEMBER/SEPTEMBRE 2012), PP. 433–450 © The Institute of Public Administration of Canada/L’Institut d’administration publique du Canada 2012

In July 1874, two hundred and seventy-five mounted police officers comprising the original contingent of the North-West Mounted Police left Fort Dufferin in Manitoba bound for the territory that is now Alberta. Their mandate was to bring law and order to a frontier suffering the depredations of American whiskey traders preying on Aboriginal people. During the 138 years to follow the organization that is now the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) survived two distinct threats to its survival and blossomed enormously in mandate and numbers to become a world-renowned organization of more than 28,000 people. The RCMP’s scope of operations includes organized crime, terrorism, illicit drugs, economic crimes and offences that threaten the integrity of Canada’s national borders. The RCMP also protects VIPs, carries out provincial and municipal policing duties in eight provinces and three territories and, through its National Police Services, offers resources to other Canadian law enforcement agencies. Given the impact of this monolithic institution on so many facets of Canadian life, any major changes to the role or responsibilities of the RCMP must demand the attention of the nation.

Historically, the agreements committing the federal government to contract RCMP services to the provinces have been twenty years in length. The latest contracts expired on 31 March 2012. The negotiation process for the renewal of these contracts raised a number of important issues for both parties, particularly in light of several controversial issues and highly publicized events involving the RCMP.

Background

Section 20 of the RCMP Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. R-10) authorizes the federally responsible minister to enter into arrangements with the provinces for the employment of the RCMP in the administration of justice in the provinces and their municipalities. The history of this federal–provincial relationship dates back to 1896 when Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier concluded that the original North-West Mounted Police had served its purpose and should be disbanded. The meritorious performance of the force in curbing lawless behaviour during the Klondike gold rush of 1898 fended off this threat. Between 1905 and 1906, the now Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP) was contracted to police the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. With the advent of the First World War in 1914, however, RNWMP resources were depleted and differences emerged about priorities. This was the era of strict governmental control over liquor, with Prince Edward Island being the first to introduce prohibition in 1901. Alberta and Ontario passed prohibition laws in 1916. The provincial constabularies were expected to set a higher priority on enforcement of provincial anti-liquor laws, which conflicted with the wartime need of the federal government to focus on national security and border control (Cooper and Koop 2003).

As a result of these conflicting priorities, the provincial contracts with the RNWMP ended in 1916–17. In western Canada, the federal force was replaced by the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) and the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP), while British Columbia and Manitoba, whose original “Mounted Constabulary Force” was established in 1870, maintained their own version of constabularies. During this period, the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island also maintained small provincial forces. Indeed, the 1920s were the golden age of provincial policing.

In the years following the First World War, the future of the RNWMP was again in doubt. This uncertainty was overcome in 1919 when Parliament voted to merge the RNWMP with the Dominion Police, a federal police force with jurisdiction primarily in eastern Canada. The legislation took effect on 1 February 1920, and the RNWMP became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; its headquarters were moved to Ottawa from Regina.

By 1928, the situation in the prairie provinces had changed again when concerns on the part of the government of Saskatchewan about the cost of three tiers of policing (municipal, provincial and federal) and the likelihood of overlapping responsibilities led to a new provincial policing agreement with the RCMP. As had occurred in the previous transition, members of the provincial force were absorbed into the RCMP. With the advent of the Great Depression, all governments were increasingly worried about expenditures, and the federal government promised to carry out provincial policing duties at a lesser cost. The Saskatchewan solution, known as the “subsidy model,” became the template for other provinces. In 1932, both the Alberta Provincial Police and the Manitoba Provincial Police, formerly the Mounted Constabulary Force, were disbanded, and enforcement duties were assumed by the RCMP.

In 1932, the RCMP also took over the provincial police in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Following confederation with Canada in 1949, Newfoundland entered into a provincial contract in 1950 that merged the existing Ranger force into the RCMP. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary maintained its organizational integrity and status as a provincial force, although its responsibility today is limited to the larger urban areas, providing policing to the communities of St. John’s, the Northeast Avalon Peninsula, Corner Brook, Churchill Falls and Labrador City.

The British Columbia Provincial Police (BCPP) was organized in 1858 and remained in place, in various configurations, until August 1950 when the RCMP was contracted to provide provincial policing and serving officers were offered continuance of service. Since 1950, these provincial contracts have remained in place, with changes in the number and configuration of ancillary contracts with municipalities.

 

Benefits of contract policing

Supporters of contract policing argue that the provision of provincial policing services by the RCMP is an effective national model to address the cross-jurisdictional (i.e., municipal, provincial, territorial, national and international) and evolving nature of crime. Canada and the provinces benefit from this contractual arrangement in the following ways:

– RCMP members involved in contract policing maintain a federal policing presence across the country. They are deployable across jurisdictions, as required, and are called upon to assist in major investigations, emergencies and national events that are beyond the policing capacity of a province, territory or municipality.

– Under the terms of the contract policing model, the RCMP is able to provide top-level security drawn from across the country for international events such as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the G8/G20 Summits in Ontario.

– Contract policing allows for the seamless sharing of intelligence and high-level cooperation among all levels of policing.

– As Canada’s national police force, the RCMP maintains national standards and policies across contract policing jurisdictions.

– The RCMP contributes to Canadian sovereignty, as contract policing members are often the federal government’s sole representative(s) in many remote and isolated areas (Canada, RCMP 2011a).

 

 

Contract renewal: the issues

Prior to a decision on contract renewal, the parties representing the various interests consult in advance on desired changes or adjustments. Public Safety Canada negotiates on behalf of the federal government. Uncertainty is not in the interests of any of the participants, but negotiating points can consume significant time. Before the settlement of the 2012 contracts for RCMP policing services, the provinces consulted each other and formed a common front for discussions with federal government representatives. In turn, the federal government stipulated a one-size-fits-all solution, in which the costing formula would be the same for all provinces. Because some provinces expressed reservations over issues such as cost control, policing priorities and administrative details, the negotiations dragged on. Eventually, the federal government threatened the withdrawal of services in 2014 if agreement was not reached by 30 November 2011 (Drews 2011).

Alberta had signed and renewed twenty-year contracts in 1952, 1972 and 1992. With the federal deadline approaching, the province entered into a new twenty-year contract (1 April 2012 to 31 March 2032) with the Government of Canada on 31 August 2011. Alberta’s lead was the followed shortly thereafter by Saskatchewan (Canada, Department of Public Safety 2011; O’Neil 2011: A5).

Since Alberta was the first province to renew its contract with the federal government for RCMP services, the background and detail of that agreement provide a useful template for a discussion of the implications for the provinces, their municipalities, and for Canada (Alberta 2012). In the preamble to the new agreement, the Alberta contract affirms the advantages to Canada and the provinces:

Clause B

The police service agreements provide a professional, cost effective policing model that; is responsible to the Province, Territory or Municipality with which it operates; fosters seamless cooperation between all levels of policing; facilities, the sharing of intelligence; and promotes innovation. The police service agreements afford Canada the benefit of maintaining a federal policing presence across the country; a presence that is deployable and has the capacity to respond to national events that are beyond the policing capacity of provinces, territories, municipalities or Canada to address alone.

 

Clause C

The RCMP, built on a foundation of well-trained police officers and non-police personnel, using proven policing techniques, is well placed to aid in the administration of justice in the Provinces and Territories and in carrying into effect the laws in force therein (Alberta 2012).

Crucial to the foundation of this agreement were the cost sharing arrangements, which stipulate that the provinces and territories will pay 70 per cent of RCMP costs while the federal government will pay 30 per cent. There are three types of cost-share ratios for municipalities:

– A 70 per cent municipal and 30 per cent federal government cost-share ratio for municipalities with a population of less than 15,000;

– A 90 per cent municipal and 10 per cent federal government cost-share ratio for municipalities with a population greater than 15,000; and,

– Since 1991, municipalities never before policed by the RCMP must pay 100 per cent of contract policing costs.

 

The Alberta contract also includes provisions for financial planning and reporting, directed reviews, staffing levels, responsibility for property and equipment, and consultation on key issues. The first year of the contract incorporates a 3 per cent cost increase over the previous year, with similar increases expected annually for the next five years.

Despite the one-size-fits-all negotiating position of the federal government, Article 1.3 provides that, if Canada enters into a similar agreement with any other province after the execution of the Alberta agreement, Canada will provide notice to Alberta of any differences or additional provisions. Alberta and Saskatchewan could then elect to have their agreements amended to reflect the intent of the differing provision, provided that the request for amendment is made within six months of notification and no later than 1 October 2013.

Considerable attention is devoted in the Alberta contract to termination of the agreement before the twenty-year end date. Article 3.3 of the agreement states that it may be terminated on March 31 in any year by either party. Parties must give notice of termination twenty-four months prior to the date of the intended termination. In the event of termination, during the period following notice, the parties agree to cooperate and assist each other to effect an orderly transition of service from the RCMP to a provincial force or such other police service that is authorized by the province to carry out those powers and duties. There is provision in Articles 13 and 15 for a settlement of accounts over buildings and equipment in the event of termination. These provisions are a veritable road map for parties desiring to end a contract during its term.

Accountability

Article 6.1 of the Alberta Provincial Policing Agreement states that the provincial minister of public safety will set the objectives, priorities and goals of the provincial police service and that the commanding officer will implement those objectives, priorities and goals, deploying personnel and equipment to reflect provincial priorities. Alberta agrees to consult with the RCMP commissioner prior to establishing professional police standards or procedures.

The minister of public safety, reporting to Parliament on the RCMP Report on Plans and Priorities for the fiscal year 2011–12, laid out a program activity structure listing the following strategic outcomes (Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat 2011):

– the reduction of criminal activity affecting Canadians;

– the provision of international collaboration and assistance by Canada’s police while maintaining a rich police heritage nationally; and

– income security for RCMP members and their survivors affected by disability or death.

 

The strategic priorities for the RCMP are serious and organized crime; national security; and economic integrity. The published report includes linkages to outcomes. The key performance measures, however, are aspirational in form and do not meet the criteria of SMART indicators, which are generally accepted as the superior form of measurement in democratic policing (i.e., Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Timed.)

In contrast, the contractual process for the setting of objectives, priorities and goals for the Alberta provincial police service is described in a business plan developed collaboratively by the local RCMP command and the Alberta solicitor general. The current three-year business plan (2011–14), which may be found on the RCMP’s website (http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ ab/prior-eng.htm), sets out the following policing priorities for Alberta (Canada, RCMP 2011b):

Deliver innovative, coordinated, visible and accountable policing.

Create opportunities for prevention, partnerships and enforcement initiatives to address crime in Aboriginal communities.

Provide enhanced response to serious, violent and organized crime.

Ensure use of police-based victim services units.

 

The lack of integration between federal and provincial priorities is remarkable. It appears that neither government took notice of the major concerns of the other during negotiations.

Before appointing a commanding officer, criminal operations officers or deputy criminal operations officers, the RCMP commissioner will consult with the provincial minister of public safety. Accountability of the commanding officer to the provincial minister is detailed in Article 7 of the agreement. The RCMP commissioner is committed to serious consideration of any request from the provincial minister for the replacement of any persons in the designated command roles based on sufficient cause. A detachment commander may be replaced by the commanding officer on request of the minister, again with sufficient cause. By virtue of Article 9 of the agreement, the RCMP may withdraw up to 10 per cent of the provincial policing complement to deal with an emergency as defined as an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature (Alberta 2012).

While public surveys conducted in Alberta and reported by the RCMP reflect relatively high levels of satisfaction with the force, confidence in the RCMP in British Columbia is the lowest in Canada

In the run up to decisions on contract renewal, reservations were voiced by provincial sources, notably in Alberta and British Columbia. In 2001, a manifesto entitled the “Alberta Agenda” was issued by a group of prominent Albertans, including Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan.1 This manifesto proposed the establishment of an Alberta Provincial Police Force, citing advantages such as avoiding the substantial overhead cost of federal bilingualism and better reflecting Western values and priorities (Alberts 2001). The agenda reasoned that an Alberta Provincial Police Force would provide better police services because it would be more responsive to local needs, culture and financial concerns than the federally controlled RCMP. The agenda also advanced the position that, if a comprehensive costing analysis were carried out, the RCMP detachments in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia would be found to be more expensive to run than equivalent detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police, thus shoring up the case for establishing a provincial police service.

In 2007, an independent review conducted by the consulting firm KPMG assured Alberta that the RCMP was delivering cost-effective policing, but recommended more robust measures to ensure that the force met its obligations. The KPMG study examined the RCMP between 2003 and 2006 and estimated that the average annual cost for an RCMP officer in Alberta was $155,800. While that figure was in line with RCMP data in other provinces, the study quoted by Van Rassel (2007) noted that the Ontario Provincial Police and the Sûreté du Québec had lower costs per officer: $148,200 and $138,000, respectively. The difference appeared largely attributable to higher non-salary costs, consisting of transportation and communication, supplies and equipment, and services. All such comparisons should be viewed with caution, however, because there are as many criticisms of the methodology as there are estimates. When Alberta Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety Frank Oberle announced a tentative agreement for the renewal of RCMP contract policing in 2011, he said it included many of the concessions recommended by the KPMG study (Van Rassel 2007).

The design of the review process raises obvious concerns about the potential for bias and lack of objectivity when the RCMP conducts reviews and audits of its own services, programs and delivery systems

The Province of British Columbia employs about 6,000 RCMP officers for provincial policing and for the policing of 60 municipalities. Only 13 municipalities maintain their own police services. Provincial and municipal authorities in B.C. have complained about a lack of control over the cost of their contracts and questioned why they should be paying for the training of RCMP officers. They railed against the federal government for lack of transparency and the alleged failure to discuss these concerns. In most smaller municipalities, policing is the largest single program cost (Mickleburgh 2011). While public surveys conducted in Alberta and reported by the RCMP reflect relatively high levels of satisfaction with the force, confidence in the RCMP in British Columbia is the lowest in Canada. Nationally, 84 per cent of 5,800 Canadians surveyed express “trust and confidence” in the RCMP, but that number drops to 73 per cent in B.C. (Baziuk 2011). This result may be attributable to recent events in British Columbia which have reflected adversely on the RCMP in that province.

Directed reviews

The new contract between Alberta and the federal government provides for directed reviews of the RCMP provincial police service. Article 19 calls for a joint contract management committee to support the delivery of professional, efficient and effective police services and to meet the evolving needs of each party. This committee may provide in writing to the RCMP matters to be considered for inclusion in the RCMP’s departmental audit plan for activities undertaken for the provincial service. In turn, the RCMP will provide the contract management committee with a description of the matters relating to the provincial service that are included in the RCMP’s departmental audit plan for each fiscal year. The commanding officer will consult the provincial minister when developing the division’s plans for conducting directed reviews of the service. While one would not expect any explicit description of the background, skill and experience of the RCMP conducting the reviews and audits, the design of the review process raises obvious concerns about the potential for bias and lack of objectivity when the RCMP conducts reviews and audits of its own services, programs and delivery systems. One would have expected instead an external audit advisory committee composed of representatives of the RCMP, the provincial ministry and external and independent resources with requisite program evaluation and audit expertise.

There is little information about audit methodology and development of audit criteria consistent with the concept of value for money in the Alberta agreement. A proper suite of metrics would serve as benchmarks for various elements of the service and other methods for determining if the RCMP is meeting performance requirements and standards. Article 19.2b of the Alberta contract suggests that, while the provincial minister may request specific direct reviews and the service will, to the extent possible, participate in any direct review, there is no obligation on the part of the RCMP to conduct or engage in a province-initiated review which might, for example, examine deficiencies in the delivery of RCMP services and programs. In summary, it appears that the direction of program reviews is slanted towards whatever the RCMP deems important, irrespective of provincial needs or demands.

Article 2.1.c fixes the upper limit on resources that the RCMP is obliged to commit under terms of the contract, but there is little or no discussion about the minimum number required to ensure adequate service for meeting prescribed performance standards. Similarly, Article 18.1.c leaves uncertainty about how the RCMP or the provincial minister will determine the “number of positions required.” There is no indication if this figure will be based on the number of officers per 100,000 population, an input measure, or output or outcome measurements, such as police response times, crime reduction measures or citizen satisfaction with police service delivery.

Moreover, Article 6.2 leaves little room for provincial input on the actual management and operations of the provincial police force. While the provincial minister sets the tone, the document is clear that the RCMP reserves the right to operate and manage as it sees fit. This raises a question as to RCMP responsiveness or accountability to provincial requirements. Last but not least, Article 22.1.3 states that, in the event that the average value of total compensation by individual RCMP constables exceeds that of constables from other comparable police services, the committee may initiate a review. Yet when an individual constable’s total average is less than the average value of total compensation, a review will not be triggered, an omission that might pique the interest of RCMP members.

Another concern for provincial control is the efficacy of the accountability framework when the issue involves a national security matter or other integrated operations. The history of the RCMP is replete with charges of misconduct ranging from “dirty tricks” to the force’s involvement with the rendition of Maher Arar (Canada, Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar 2006). Under the provisions of the now expired Bill C-38 (Ensuring the Effective Review of RCMP Civilian Complaints Act, 40th Parliament, 3rd session, 2010), the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) would be obliged to seek the approval of the minister before initiating a review (Canada, Parliament, House of Commons 2010). When such complaints come to light, they present the government of the day with an embarrassing scandal to be managed or, preferably, avoided altogether – particularly when the activities in question have involved political direction or cooperation with foreign partners.

The trouble with troubles

The modern RCMP is beset by troubles. Criticism of the actions of the RCMP in relation to the deportation of Canadian Maher Arar to Syria by the United States government in 2002 damaged the reputation of the force as an effective agent for protecting Canadian citizens from arbitrary acts while travelling abroad (Canada, Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in relation to Maher Arar 2006). The sponsorship scandal of 2004–06 tainted the RCMP with allegations of collusion in the distribution of public funds set aside to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the force (Canada, Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities 2005). From testimony given by former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and several high-ranking officers, issues pertaining to contacts with private sector agents and the allocation of funds contrary to government rules were apparently not recognized as an ethical concern (Cooper 2006: 10–39). The death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007 and the subsequent revelations of subterfuge on the part of involved officers during the inquiry that followed were injurious to the reputation of the force (British Columbia, Ministry of Justice 2010).

In addition, the right of RCMP members to collective bargaining is still before the courts and a source of internal conflict, contributing to uncertainty about future costs and the labour relations climate. The outgoing commissioner, William Elliott, was on record as complaining of the inadequacy of administrative instruments for dealing expeditiously with discipline and discharge for cause (LeBlanc 2011). And, in the latter months of 2011, the RCMP was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment leveled by serving and former members. Newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson committed himself to rooting out this behaviour, but in the short term it remains a distracting feature of organizational culture that should concern the provinces contracting with the RCMP. Vestiges of a paramilitary past continue to haunt the organization.

The provinces and municipalities recognized that they had to accept the whole package in any contract renewal: structure, multijurisdictional issues and internal culture

Finally, a freedom of information probe into the protocol between the federal government and the RCMP for managing the content and release of information to the public revealed the possibility of political control of information relating to public safety and the law enforcement responsibilities of the RCMP (MacCharles 2011). LeBlanc and Freeze (2011) outlined allegations that the number of employees at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa had doubled over the previous decade, growing twice as fast as frontline services. While there are plausible explanations for at least some of this apparent imbalance in human resources, the RCMP declined to present an official clarification.

From the perspective of the provincial governments, these stories were politically charged, arousing misgivings about the force in the minds of the Canadian public at a time when the contracts for RCMP policing services were under negotiation. The provinces and municipalities recognized that they had to accept the whole package in any contract renewal: structure, multijurisdictional issues and internal culture.

Management of public complaints against police is another contentious issue. The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) is an independent agency created by Parliament to ensure that public complaints made about the conduct of RCMP members are examined fairly and impartially. This includes complaints against members of the RCMP who are employed under provincial and municipal contracts. The mission of CPC, which reports annually to Parliament via the minister of public safety, is to provide civilian oversight of RCMP members’ conduct in performing their policing duties in order to hold the RCMP accountable to the public. The ultimate goal is to promote excellence in policing through accountability. Timeliness in clearing cases is a recurrent problem for CPC, however, with the office stating it has waited up to one year in some instances for a response from the RCMP commissioner (Canada, Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP 2011).

Slow processing threatens the integrity of the public complaint process. In September 2010, the federal government introduced a bill in Parliament to respond to some of these concerns. As outlined in the draft legislation (Bill C-38 amending the RCMP Act), the new RCMP Review and Complaints Commission would be a civilian body with a range of review powers and jurisdiction over the RCMP’s federal and contract policing activities, although it would defer to provincial or regional special investigation bodies or commissions where such exist. Anticipating this change, in February 2010, the RCMP adopted a provisional policy applying to such cases. The bill also stated that, when the actions of a member of the RCMP led to the death of a person or to “serious injury,” a body other than the RCMP must investigate.

A fuller understanding of the impact of this provision will be available once the minister assigns a definition of “serious injury” in the regulations to the Act. For all other “serious incidents” (i.e., other than those resulting in death and those falling within the future definition of “serious injury”), the federal minister, the commissioner of the RCMP or the provincial minister will determine, in the public interest, whether a body other than the RCMP must investigate. Bill C-38 died on the order paper at first reading with the expiration of the third session of 40th Parliament on 26 March 2011.

Conflicting interests

Contracting with the federal government unavoidably places the provinces in the position of being influenced or tainted by federally imposed conditions and relationships. In a National Post editorial feature it was speculated that perhaps the worst management decision the federal government ever made regarding the RCMP was to bring the national police force into Ottawa’s ordinary bureaucratic organizational structure in the early 1980s, when the commissioner became the equivalent of a deputy minister (National Post 2011). The point was that the force has since become increasingly distracted by activities other than policing, such as alleged involvement in political games, adhering to bureaucratic regulations and participating in social-justice experiments. The latter involved recruiting quotas for female and visible minority members and the encumbrances of federal policies on hiring and firing. The article went on to speculate that being in the direct chain of command to government means that the commissioner and the force can be diverted too easily from law enforcement to social policy issues. As Cooper (2006) argues,

The RCMP is above all a ‘guardian’ institution, like the Canadian Forces and the courts of law. Once the police take political direction, the rule of law is subverted. And the rule of law, it hardly needs be mentioned, is a pillar, perhaps the very foundation, of constitutional democracy (3).

It may be too optimistic, however, to believe that the RCMP can be shielded from federal political influence. If past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance, then the prospects are not rosy. The brinksmanship and bullying tactics of the federal government in driving an end to negotiations by a 30 November deadline, with threats to cancel the contracts in 2014, is not a promising portent (Meissner 2011).

RCMP policy on all major operational and administrative issues is subject to approval from Ottawa regardless of contract agreements

The RCMP in the contract provinces may strive to provide a semblance of responsiveness and accountability to the provinces, and, to a lesser extent, the municipalities. Past experience suggests, however, that when push comes to shove, the façade will splinter. The RCMP Act will prevail in the event of all differences, meaning that ultimately Ottawa makes all final decisions, when they get around to it. This still applies under the new contract provisions. In the tragic death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport, the federal government rebuffed a request by British Columbia to participate in two federal inquiries: one into the circumstances of death; a second on the use of conducted energy weapons (Canada, Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP 2011). Provincial authorities conceded that there was no clear authority for the province to require the RCMP to comply with the provincial request. Despite the creation of several provincial, independent, civilian-led units to conduct criminal investigations of all serious incidents involving police, public complaints regarding RCMP member conduct continue to be the sole purview of the CPC (3).

RCMP policy on all major operational and administrative issues is subject to approval from Ottawa regardless of contract agreements. This arrangement may have been acceptable in a less sophisticated and demanding society, but the one-size-fits-all rule and an exclusionary process cannot begin to meet differing provincial needs or demonstrate accountability and transparency to provincial governments, municipalities and aggrieved parties.

Down to the wire

In assessing the debate and the issues aired by the provinces and municipalities during negotiations for contract renewal, it is clearly apparent that the overriding concern for the provinces and municipalities is cost containment and, only in a secondary sense, local control over priorities and police accountability. Cost control was the primary factor used by Moncton City Council in assessing policing options in March 2010 (Moncton 2010) and the chief concern of spokespersons for various municipalities in British Columbia (Knox 2011).

The subsidiary issues, presumably, will be dealt with through advisory committees at the provincial level, by consultative priority setting and the new investigative tools applying to serious injuries to persons resulting from the actions of police under contract. The internal problems of the RCMP and federal enforcement challenges will be left in the hands of the central government.

At the time of writing, the contract provinces other than Alberta and Saskatchewan have all agreed to a twenty-year renewal, but the content of these late signatory agreements is not yet available. The media reported on 30 November 2011 that B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond and Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan said the agreement they will sign gives the provinces more input into RCMP decision making. Minister Bond stated, “I’m confident that we’ve gained some very new and quite strong tools that will help municipalities and help us made sure that in the future, cost won’t simply be transferred to municipalities without a pretty good explanation and a pretty good review by the different levels of government.” She went on to say that B.C. will establish a new local government advisory committee to ensure that municipalities have a voice as the agreement is implemented (Canadian Press 2011). In a related comment, a federal government spokesperson confirmed that Alberta and Saskatchewan will receive any additional benefits negotiated by the other provinces and territories. Federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, quoted by Canadian Press on 30 November 2011, said the agreement reflects the interest of all respective governments; a win-win situation for all jurisdictions. It remains to be seen what impact these changes may have on the procedural issues described earlier (Meissner and Bains 2011).

If the parties agree that the priorities of local policing and the philosophy of community policing will be resolutely pursued, the provinces and municipalities might attempt to exert greater influence over goals and objectives and the staffing of rural detachments and municipalities. Effective local policing is enhanced through continuity of posting. It is a longstanding complaint in rural parts of the provinces and territories that RCMP officers are rotated too quickly, before they have a reasonable time to develop a good working knowledge of the population and environment. In municipalities such as Surrey, B.C., elected officials have complained that their cities are training grounds for new recruits, and expressed their desire for more direct involvement in the RCMP’s business planning at the local level (Baron 2011).

Unless provincial authorities demand more accountability from the RCMP, founded on analysis-based annual business plans with measurable targets, there are diminished prospects for improved operational outcomes

Once officers have gained their first two or three years’ experience they are rotated to smaller detachments, leaving a constant deficit of maturity and experience. Mobility of personnel to fill vacancies is a managerial requirement for the larger dispersed police services, but focussed strategic planning and the installation of tenure policies, assuring continuity of local knowledge, could result in more effective policing and public satisfaction. The one-size-fits-all attitude of the federal government exposed during contract negotiations does not build confidence in their sensitivity to local concerns, but assertive lobbying by local councils and police advisory committees coupled with a collaborative style of leadership by division commanding officers could alleviate the perception of uncaring central control, provided that the commissioner of the force is disposed to delegate that latitude of authority.

 

 

Implications for national policing

Now that all currently contracting provinces have returned to the RCMP fold with agreements extending to 2032, Canada may expect a reasonable degree of stability in the structure of its policing institutions. The formidable challenge of organizing up to eight separate provincial police services and the dislocation of financial, materiel and human resource systems are ruled out. The movement toward integration of policing systems and standards as currently conceived by the Canadian police community will be unaffected. Yet, fundamental structural problems will persist: the RCMP will remain a monolithic entity that is overly committed to a multitude of roles with no clear core mission; in the pejorative, galloping off in all directions. There is no assurance that the RCMP will shore up its vital federal policing responsibilities as the attention of management will continue to be distracted by the exigencies of provincial and municipal policing. Unless provincial authorities demand more accountability from the RCMP, founded on analysis-based annual business plans with measurable targets, there are diminished prospects for improved operational outcomes. It is patently predictable that municipalities will continue to grieve a lack of attention to local priorities and the inability to control policing costs.

Nonetheless, the unexpected and the unintended cannot be ruled out. The drivers of change are a combination of finance, political ideology and events. Among the possible alternative futures: one or more of the provinces may be provoked by some major operational or political happening to opt out of the contract and organize its own provincial police service or adopt a combination of provincial and regional policing. Should the compass swing in this direction, the federal government may be tempted to respond by divesting itself of all provincial and local responsibilities, compelling the remaining provinces to follow suit. By all indications, this would require a calamity of momentous proportions. Governments in democracies are notoriously disinclined to mix politics with policing, fearing a backlash by an electorate suspicious that a police state is in the offing.

Another possible eventuality could be a decision by the federal government to disentangle the multiple roles of the RCMP by creating a new agency to tackle organized crime, defend the nation’s borders, fight major fraud and cyber-crime, and contend with threats to national security. In 2011, the government of the United Kingdom signalled its intent to create a National Crime Agency along these lines (United Kingdom, Home Office 2011) and, since 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has served as a federal criminal investigative body and assumed responsibility for internal intelligence for the United States (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation 2012). This would be a desperate alternative, as any start-up involves loss of continuity and a lengthy process of organization building, but again, a calamitous failure in performance or another scandalous incident could trigger a risky decision.

Speculation aside, major political and institutional change in Canada is traditionally slow and measured. While reformers may fulminate in favour of change, our national history suggests that watershed events are few and far between. In that context, the renewal of the provincial policing contracts was a likely eventuality and the prototype for the future of policing in Canada. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

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