The federal government has given RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki new marching orders to boost recruitment, review the Mounties' use-of-force techniques and ask officers to move quickly to remove firearms from potentially dangerous situations of intimate partner violence.
In a new mandate letter sent by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino Friday morning, the top Mountie is being asked to "accelerate RCMP reform over the next two years."
Mendicino told CBC News the new priorities come amid a changing threat landscape.
"What are those disconcerting trends? I would say, one, the rise of ideological extremism that can lead to violence. Two, the ongoing alarming trends around the rise of gun violence and in connection with it the rise of gender-based violence," he said.
"And so, publishing an updated mandate letter is about ensuring that there is the appropriate focus and accountability in meeting those priorities as they relate to public safety."
One of the top-line goals listed in the letter is to improve RCMP recruitment "to better reflect the communities it serves, in particular Indigenous and Black communities," and to recruit "more members with the skills necessary to combat sophisticated crimes."
According to the RCMP's own statistics, about 8.1 per cent of regular members identified as Indigenous in 2014. That dropped to seven per cent in 2021.
Mendicino said he's had "constructive conversations" with Lucki about the need to boost those numbers.
"I think this goes right to the core of the relationship between the RCMP and the communities that they police, because if the RCMP reflects the diversity of that community in which they are working, then it will foster, I think, a relationship that is based on trust, on integrity," he said.
Opportunity for 'RCMP to lead': Mendicino
The minister said he believes the distrust that has built up between the RCMP and some Indigenous communities can be overcome "but I believe that it will take a lot of work."
"I think that work begins with an acknowledgement of the very tragic and difficult and painful history around the RCMP's role in residential schools," he added.
The minister is also asking Lucki to help develop new national standards on how officers should intervene in a crisis situation, and to conduct an external review of de-escalation techniques.
As part of that effort, the government is asking the RCMP to ban the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and neck restraints.
News of the ban has already attracted some concern about limiting options for officers in high-stress situations.
The government's request comes two years after the murder of George Floyd in police custody in the U.S. His death spurred mass protests against police brutality across North America.
"There is an opportunity for the RCMP to lead by creating a set of a new national set of standards around use of force," Mendicino said.
He also said the RCMP "can show leadership" in "looking to create and modernize policies to eliminate systemic racism and inequities that has seen the over-representation of racialized Canadians and Indigenous peoples within our justice system."
Minister asks Mounties to move faster on guns
Mendicino is also asking Lucki's officers to remove firearms from potentially dangerous situations of intimate partner violence.
"I think it's making sure that there is the appropriate focus on resourcing, on the RCMP and local law enforcement, to respond quickly to reports where intimate partner violence or gender-based violence is playing a role in where a gun is present," he said.
The letter also asks Lucki to finish setting up the Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution. The centre emerged in response to the RCMP's internal sexual harassment crisis and is meant to act as an external body to deal with allegations.
The minister also instructed the commissioner to work with Indigenous communities to address the legacy of residential schools by, among other things, disclosing documents and helping communities "seek justice at their own pace."
Mendicino said Lucki's success will be based on whether she meets the objectives laid out in the new letter.
"We will be able to track that progress, I think, very specifically, because the language itself is specific," he said.
Lucki last received a mandate letter from then-public safety minister Ralph Goodale in 2018. That letter primarily focused on reforming the RCMP's culture and making sure members were protected from harassment and violence in the workplace.
"I would say that the RCMP has made progress, but there is a need to advance that progress and to accelerate the actions that are taken to reform the RCMP," said Mendicino.
Other mandate letters
The minister's office also issued updated mandate letters to the heads of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
The letters task each agency with addressing a number of priorities. The CBSA has been asked to:
Create a body to review complaints and recommendations to maintain public confidence and combat systemic racism.
Maintain the integrity of Canada's borders in a way that is compassionate in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Continue modernizing Canada's ports of entry.
Address irregular migration by increasing the efficiency of asylum claims and the removal of people deemed inadmissible to Canada.
The CSIS mandate letter instructs the intelligence agency to:
Improve risk assessment and mitigation programs, including national security reviews under the Investment Canada Act, to safeguard the country's economic security and intellectual property.
Work with the minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, post-secondary institutions and private industry to ensure individuals and organizations working in sensitive fields are aware of economic security threats.
Ensure Canada's export control regime remains effective as hostile actors try to acquire sensitive Canadian goods and technologies.
Assist in developing a national cyber security action plan.
And CSC has been directed to:
Create a new position — Deputy Commissioner for Indigenous Corrections — to ensure accountability on Indigenous issues and address the overrepresentation of Indigenous offenders in the prison system.
Improve access to post-secondary education and vocational programming for offenders.
Reduce the use of Structured Intervention Units for offenders with mental health challenges through the provision of more mental health services.
Expand promotion, participation and resourcing for the mother-child program in women's facilities.