The RCMP has an important role to play – a role that should not include the operation of a provincial police service


Across Canada, citizens’ expectations of the police continue to evolve as we witness many transformative changes. For example, the smartphone has almost single-handedly changed the way people interact with the police.

Like many other institutions in today’s changing world, policing is being re-examined, as it should be. Issues relating to areas such as civilian oversight, community policing, diversity, and the need to prioritize reconciliation with Indigenous peoples are widely discussed.

We all need to take more interest in policing. In my opinion, there is far too little critical analysis of the police on the part of governments.

I commend jurisdictions like Alberta that ask the tough but necessary questions about the best model of provincial policing for their citizens. Historically, Ottawa has run the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with little input from the provinces or municipalities.

This federal structure presents serious problems, particularly with regard to governance and oversight, one of the most important aspects of policing. Yet we must not forget that concerns about the RCMP are systemic and must not undermine the dedication and professionalism of individual officers. Communities have benefited from RCMP members who have contributed to the social fabric of the communities they police.

When discussing the future needs of a province, it is imperative to consider whether it is appropriate to have provincial police services based in Ottawa. The contract policing model used by the RCMP is highly centralized, difficult to reform and too often preoccupied with the needs of an Ottawa-based bureaucracy. We saw an example of this recently, with tax decisions made unilaterally that had negative effects on local governments. The federal government has signed a new collective agreement for RCMP officers with millions of dollars in new costs – with no contributions from provinces and municipalities.

In provinces like Alberta, the RCMP is supposed to act like a provincial police force, answerable to the provincial Solicitor General. However, federal laws state that the RCMP also reports to the federal Solicitor General. Lines of authority and responsibility are never clear.

This fundamental contradiction makes it particularly difficult for a province to change the operation of the RCMP. It is also one of the main reasons why an all-party BC committee recently recommended that BC create its own provincial police to take over from the RCMP.

I believe the RCMP will always play a role in policing our country as they continue to provide expertise in areas such as narcotics, organized crime, borders and other federal government issues. . But I also believe that it would be very beneficial to establish a provincial police service with better civilian oversight, while keeping in mind local needs and challenges.

Make no mistake: the discussions taking place in Alberta are also taking place across the country, as Canadians and governments rethink what they would like policing to look like in the 21st century.

Wally Oppal, QC is a former Attorney General of British Columbia.

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