Provincial police force in Sask. may not be best option to address rural law enforcement issues: criminologist

·3 min read
The provincial government voiced its intention to look into creating a provincial police force in last week’s throne speech. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)
The provincial government voiced its intention to look into creating a provincial police force in last week’s throne speech. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)

There may be better ways to address law enforcement issues in rural Saskatchewan other than creating a provincial police force, according to criminologist Laura Huey.

The provincial government voiced its intention to look into creating a provincial police force in last week's throne speech.

The government said that during the new legislative session it will "consider other measures to build provincial autonomy," which includes taking back administration of corporate income taxes from Ottawa and "the creation of a provincial police force to complement municipal police forces and the RCMP."

Christine Tell, the province's minister of corrections, policing and public safety, told reporters last week that the government is "paying attention" to what is happening in Alberta and Nova Scotia, both of which have openly discussed creating a provincial police force due to rising RCMP costs and service delivery issues.

Tell said her ministry has been hearing the same concerns from residents for years.

"It is indeed a challenging time for policing in the province of Saskatchewan and across Canada. And you know, the future of policing is somewhat questionable with respect to the RCMP. And we want to ensure that we're part of these conversations, whether they be through the federal government or our communities," said Tell.

Huey, who's also a sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario with expertise in policing, said it usually comes down to "accountability and money" when provinces want to stray away from RCMP services in rural areas.

Huey acknowledged that many rural communities are underserved by RCMP, often because of budgetary issues, but the province can address that directly with RCMP.

As a result, she said, "rural remote communities don't get the services that they might necessarily want, but they don't get it because your government doesn't pay for it."

Provincial governments negotiate service agreements with the RCMP, according to Huey, so if Saskatchewan's government isn't happy with the service it's receiving then it can renegotiate the service agreement with the RCMP's bargaining unit.

"This idea that you're somehow being underserved and that the RCMP is doing it to Saskatchewan is not exactly how it goes," she said.

Provincial police forces have fair share of issues

Provincial police forces aren't free from service issues or scandals, either, said Huey.

"There's a misperception that just because you have a provincial police service, that somehow you're going to have greater control and greater local level accountability. That's not necessarily the case."

The Ontario Provincial Police, for example, has been in the middle of multiple scandals and budget discrepancies, she said.

In order to help avoid that with a provincial police police force in Saskatchewan, Huey said there would need to be strong independent civilian oversight — which has been an issue in Saskatchewan.

As for saving money, provinces pay 70 per cent of RCMP costs while the federal government covers the other 30, so Huey said the province would have to provide a strong and transparent explanation — along with an independent review — of how it would save money by creating a provincial police force.

Tell said last week that there aren't any formal plans for a review or study into the costs and effectiveness of having a provincial police force in Saskatchewan at this time.

When asked if talking about creating a provincial police force could be a political move, Huey said, "Possibly. It would hardly be the first time I've seen this type of announcement," noting that the discussion often dies down once the dust settles.

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