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Op-ed: Should Alberta ditch the RCMP?

Peter Shokeir | editor@fitzhugh.ca

Alberta will soon be at a significant crossroads when it comes to the future of provincial policing as the UCP proposes to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force, similar to what Ontario and Quebec have.

Last week, the UCP released a proposed deployment model for a provincial police service, which would add 275 front-line police officers to the smallest 42 detachments in the process.

The pushback from the opposition and several rural mayors has been strong – there are worries about increased costs and discarding a classic Canadian icon.

Some also accuse the UCP of being more interested in distancing Alberta from Ottawa rather than public safety or fiscal responsibility.

And would a provincial police force be a professional law enforcement agency or just a bunch of yahoos playing sheriff?

These questions are worth pondering over, but let us not pretend that there are not valid questions on the other side of the equation.

For starters, contract policing is an odd, antiquated model that got started during the depression era when provinces had trouble paying for their police, and so the federal government offered to loan out the Mounties and even subsidize the cost.

To borrow from Canadian author Paul Palango, imagine if the FBI were handing out traffic tickets in Oklahoma – that’s the system Canada has.

Smaller municipalities like this model, of course, because they don’t have to use as much of their limited budgets on policing.

But at what cost? In 2018, The Globe and Mail reported how “RCMP forces grapple with disproportionately low staffing, while carrying significantly higher caseloads.”

Vancouver, for instance, had one police officer for every 494 people, whereas North Vancouver (which the RCMP handles) only had one officer for every 952 people.

As we speak, Surrey is now switching policing from the RCMP to a municipal force, and with the unionization of the Mounties, other municipalities may begin to consider this option.

The RCMP itself has been marred by a number of controversies – the Nova Scotia attacks, allegations of sexual misconduct and its handling of MMIWG.

It should be noted that I have strong respect for many individual RCMP officers, and criticism of the RCMP shouldn’t be conflated with any individual member or the local detachment.

Police officers also have a dangerous and demanding job, and they should be adequately compensated and given the proper respect.

However, they are public servants with a monopoly on violence, and it is the duty of the public to look at the RCMP objectively and not be dazzled by the Red Serge.

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