Feds keep RCMP in communities, scuttling move to BC-wide force

Written By Rob Shaw

Rural communities that rely on the RCMP for policing will get the option of keeping the Mounties as their local force after the federal government confirmed to the province it will continue RCMP contract policing.

The announcement, which came quietly in a recent letter from federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc to B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, is not only a reassurance to interior and northern communities that the Mounties remain an option if wanted, but it also pours cold water on the idea of British Columbia being required to move to its own provincial police force.

“A letter like this really brings that certainty back that if you want the RCMP they’re going to be there, which is great, particularly because we know policing is a significantly high cost both for municipalities and the entire province — especially right now with this almost $8 billion deficit that we have,” said BC Conservative MLA Elenore Sturko, who is a former RCMP officer.

“The province should not be looking to get into a situation of increasing costs on something that’s already taking up a lot of resources.”

The letter comes after months of complaints by Premier David Eby, and other premiers, that an ongoing federal review of the RCMP’s mandate was creating uncertainty.

“I want to assure you that I, and the federal government as a whole, are committed to honour our contract policing obligations,” LeBlanc wrote to Farnworth.

“Further, I commit to work with provinces and territories on our approach to the renegotiations of the agreements and ensure we have the proper path forward to support you in your needs and priorities when it comes to policing in your jurisdiction today and beyond 2032.”

Federal RCMP will evolve to FBI-type policing

Part of the confusion around the RCMP’s future stemmed from reports that the federal Liberal government was considering turning it into an FBI-style federal policing agency, to better focus on emerging threats of cybercrime, terrorism and money-laundering.

That’s still happening, according to LeBlanc’s letter, as the RCMP undergoes “important enhancements” to its federal mandate.

“I envision an end-state for federal policing that is separate and distinct from the RCMP’s contract policing mandate,” he wrote. “This will assure dedicated resources and prioritization of policing response to the ever-changing threat environment referenced above.”

“[A distinct federal agency] will assure … prioritization of policing response to the ever-changing threat environment.”

Dominic LeBlanc

It will also address issues raised in a 2023 report that the immense requirements of front-line community policing were canabalizing the RCMP’s ability to conduct specialized federal police work.

Federal direction ‘confusing:’ Premier

“What I appreciate from the minister in this is he’s saying, I’m making a commitment to the RCMP and to Canadians to better support the RCMP and the delivery of all of its business lines — federal, specialized police services, and contract policing,” said Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation, which functions as the RCMP union.

Premier Eby, however, was less impressed by the letter, saying the direction is still “confusing.” He had mused about potentially moving to a provincial force — a recommendation of an all-party committee of MLAs who studied the issue two years ago — if the RCMP was no longer an option.

“If the federal government is continuing with this policing model, then we need to have certainty from them about how they’re going to address the vacancies,” said Eby, citing $230 million he pledged in 2022 to fill 270 RCMP vacancies, but with many more still plaguing the force.

RCMP vacancies impacting community safety

“It’s not okay that we have provincial funding ready to go to police communities and there aren’t the Mounties there to fill those jobs,” the Premier said.

“Especially in rural and remote communities, it’s particularly acute and it’s not unique to us, it’s across Canada. We really need them to step up on training if this is the direction we go.”

“We really need [the Feds] to step up on training if this is the direction we go.”

David Eby

Eby said he discussed the vacancies with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith at a western premiers’ meeting in Whitehorse on the weekend.

The issue of vacancies and unfilled RCMP positions was a persistent issue in recent feedback Ottawa gathered on contract policing.

“Many partners articulated that they view high vacancy rates as having an impact on community safety,” read the report.

“It was reported that numerous First Nations communities are in crisis and have no dedicated RCMP regular members. As a result, many First Nations communities must employ individuals to undertake “secondary policing” functions.”

Minister’s stance hopeful, says critic

Municipalities also expressed concerns about rising costs and an inability to influence how RCMP police their communities or prioritize local issues.

Sturko said the language in the new federal letter provides hope that Ottawa, and senior RCMP leadership, have heard those concerns, and that future contracts could include a whole new set of negotiated issues to address demands by local mayors and councillors.

“This letter when it’s talking about wanting to negotiate not a one-size-fits-all, but a custom agreement with provinces,” she said.

“I think that’s really interesting and opens up a lot of possibilities for getting the best of both worlds — you have this cost effective national police service able to service your communities while also being able to have more input.”