FACT OR FICTION?
A website sponsored by the Alberta government —futureofabpolicing.ca — makes a number of claims about the current contract with the RCMP that are false or misleading. Here is a look at some of the fiction the government is trying to sell, followed by some cold, hard facts.
FICTION The RCMP is not appropriate for Alberta since it is a vast and sparsely populated province.
FACT Five provinces and three territories served by the RCMP are very similar to Alberta — vast and sparsely populated.
FICTION Other provinces are also exploring the idea of ending contracts with the RCMP.
FACT British Columbia is the only other province seriously exploring the idea of creating a provincial police force, and their motivation is primarily addressing systemic racism. The Alberta government’s proposal has a different rationale based upon value for dollar and enhancing police services.
British Columbia is concerned with the human rights aspect of policing and might be willing to spend more money on a provincial police force that solves aspects of systemic racism and is more satisfactory for First Nations communities across the province.
FICTION Some provinces are looking to re-activate their provincial police force.
FACT It is true that provincial police forces existed throughout Canada during the 20th century. However, six of them were abolished by 1932 and replaced by the RCMP. British Columbia abolished its provincial police force in 1950. Any institutional continuity between these post-Confederation institutions has long ceased to exist and there is nothing left to re-activate.
What the current Government of Alberta is proposing is to create an entirely new police force. This transition has the potential to be fraught with difficulties, and risks further burdening the tax payer without providing a notably better level of service in rural and urban communities where the RCMP currently serves.
The police force of Newfoundland and Labrador is the only force with historical continuity as it was carried over from the self-governing Dominion of Newfoundland upon joining Confederation. The Sûreté du Québec and the Ontario Provincial Police have existed since the 19th century and have evolved quite a bit throughout the decades.
FICTION The RCMP is preventing the expansion of policing in Alberta to deal with increasing crime.
FACT The perceived shortcomings in the police force have to do with demographics; there is a shortage of people in the age bracket required for enrolment in police forces generally—just as there is a shortage of doctors and other professionals across Canada. Immigration has become a meaningful tool to increase the labour pool in Canada, but it will not fully address the acute labour shortages that currently exist. Severing ties with the RCMP means that Alberta will no longer be able to avail of approximately 30,000 highly trained police officers and operational personnel living and working in the Prairies and beyond.
The development of comprehensive training and extensive recruitment processes required to establish a modern provincial police force will take well over a decade, and will rely on seasoned police and public safety professionals to make this a reality in Alberta. Both Québec and Ontario have provincial police schools that have existed for many decades. Alberta would need to create and fund a police school to equip its new police force.
FICTION The Federal government is trying to reduce the budget of the RCMP.
FACT There has been no move by the Federal government to cut back funding to the RCMP. The last attempt to cut funds to the RCMP was during the Stephen Harper majority government of 2011-2015.
FICTION A provincial police force would be less expensive.
FACT A PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the Alberta government, recognized the current law enforcement landscape in Alberta is complex. A variety of police services and other agencies provide services in the province, under many different agreements, with varying responsibilities at the federal, provincial and local levels. By far, the largest police service in Alberta is the RCMP. The scope of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers study was to examine how to potentially transition from the RCMP in Alberta to a provincial police force.
Understanding that the upfront costs of a transition are in the tens of millions, many acknowledge that Alberta could have fewer trained officers at a higher cost under the proposed provincial police service.
FICTION With a provincial police force, Alberta could establish a new forensic laboratory to relieve analysis back log.
FACT Since 1966, forensic expertise in Canada has been funded by the federal government through the National Police Services and is provided by the National Forensic Laboratory Services (NFLS). Currently, there are three federal forensic laboratories in Canada, one of which is located in Edmonton.
Nothing is preventing the Government of Alberta from commissioning and financing a second forensic laboratory—there is a provincially-funded forensic lab dedicated to wildlife in Edmonton right now. Expending forensic research in Alberta has nothing to do with the current RCMP contract; more so with public funds.
FICTION The RCMP is inflexible and cannot adapt to Alberta’s needs.
FACT All the mechanisms to enact change inside the RCMP exist and are functioning. A newborn provincial police force would need years, if not decades, of experience to ensure they could meet the needs of Albertans.
Québec and Ontario’s provincial forces were created shortly after Confederation and have undergone decades of adjustment. Again, a brand-new Alberta police force is not a clear solution to enacting changes in policing in Alberta.
A brand-new Alberta police force is not a clear solution to enacting changes in policing in Alberta.