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SEN. COLIN KENNY: Stick to policing, not politics

Sgt. Leanne Butler and East Prince RCMP Const. Gabe Letourneau show off one of the Twitter pages that Island RCMP use to keep Islanders informed.
(Journal-Pioneer File Photo)
Sgt. Leanne Butler and East Prince RCMP Const. Gabe Letourneau show off one of the Twitter pages that Island RCMP use to keep Islanders informed.(Journal-Pioneer File Photo) - FILE

Next commissioner of our national police force will have the toughest job in Ottawa

(SPECIAL TO THE GUARDIAN)

As the government’s deadline to find a new RCMP commissioner draws near, here are a few thoughts for whoever is selected to lead the national force - including the 200 regular members on Prince Edward Island.

The first is the increasing politicization of the RCMP. Here are a few notable examples:

In December 2005, at the height of the federal election, the Mounties took the highly unusual step of announcing that then Minister of Finance, Ralph Goodale, was the subject of a criminal investigation, only to announce his exoneration in 2007.

David Brown’s 2007 report on the RCMP called for a civilian board to bring the force in line with every other police service in Canada. Under this proposal, the Commissioner would focus on the operational side of policing and the civilian board would focus on the administrative side.

Even after a 4.8 per cent raise in 2017, first class constables in the RCMP are paid $13,000 less than the top police services in the country. The Minister claims that members are better off than virtually all police services because of the benefits and pensions they receive, however, he hasn’t provided any credible information to support his claim.

If we want our national police force to be the best in Canada, why are we paying them so poorly?

Understaffing is also a challenge. According to the Brown Report and the position paper “Towards a Red Serge Revival,” the RCMP is lacking between 4,000 and 7,000 regular members. Last year, there were 1,300 funded positions that the Mounties simply could not fill and nearly 1,000 positions that sat vacant due to long term sick-leave, parental leave or professional training.

There's a number of problems. New recruits, whose average age is 28, are paid below minimum wage ($500 a week) during their 26 weeks of basic training. These folks have student loans, families, and mortgages to manage. Who wants to start a career by going into debt? Also, the long documented history of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying has made the RCMP unattractive to prospective candidates.

The burnout caused by understaffing means many are leaving the RCMP to join other police services with better pay and working conditions. This leaves the force with no swing capacity to deal with pressing threats or shifting priorities. Following the terrorist attack on Parliament Hill in 2014, Commissioner Bob Paulson was forced to move 500 members from organized crime to counter terrorism. As a result, some 300 investigations into organized crime have been put on hold.

The RCMP is a mess, and the next commissioner will have to take on the task of fixing it. Regular members are attempting to unionize, and that may provide some help addressing their grievances. But given the glacial pace of change in Ottawa, it could easily be years until the union is established. Before accepting the position, a prospective commissioner will need assurance from the prime minister that political support will be there.

Otherwise, we’ll all just be looking at more of the same.

- Sen. Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca

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