RCMP brass don't back officer protest but won't discipline Mounties

The RCMP's top cop says no Mounties will be subjected to retribution or discipline for altering their uniforms to protest their pay and working conditions, but Commissioner Bob Paulson is asking members to reflect on their actions.

"I get why some of you felt it was necessary to do that, I really do. I won't do it and I have to tell you how worried I am about the impact this will have on the citizens we serve," Paulson wrote in a force-wide email and later posted to the RCMP website. 

"There are an awful lot of people in the communities that we police who don't understand what it is about our present circumstances that is leading some of you toward altering the uniform that they recognize, rely on, and look to for support."

Late last week, Mounties started to remove or cover up the yellow stripes on the pants. The catalyst for the campaign was a long-awaited new pay package that virtually everyone at the RCMP, including Paulson, agrees is insufficient. 

"I tell you all solemnly: we went to bat and our minister went to bat, and there was no better package to be had at this time," he told members.

Paulson pointed out that the 4.8 per cent raise is retroactive and that all future pay bumps will be negotiated with the RCMP's future union.

Other top officers also wrote to members this week, explaining why they can't support the far-reaching campaign.

'Safety' an issue

Emails sent by commanding officers in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador and obtained by CBC all express the sentiment that while they understand why frontline police are upset, they can't condone covering up or ripping off the yellow strip from their pant legs. 

From there on in, though, the leaders take different positions to explain why they don't endorse the campaign.

Assistant Commissioner Larry Tremblay told Mounties in New Brunswick that removing the yellow stripes from pant legs could put them at risk.

"Your uniform is meant to be worn in its entirety to clearly identify you as a police officer," he wrote, without explaining exactly how the yellow stripe keeps people safe.

"This is an important safety consideration as you perform your duties and interact with the public (...) There can be no compromise when it comes to safety," Tremblay said.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Clark echoed that sentiment to members in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Our uniform makes us recognizable as a police officer and contributes to our safety (...) Moreover, Canadian's (sic) also hold our uniform in high regard. It is an iconic symbol which belongs to Canadian's [sic], and is recognized and respected around the world," he wrote in a division-wide email.

Yet several police agencies don't sport yellow stripes on their pants, nor do Mounties who work as dog handlers or on emergency response teams.

Not only that, the 2014 independent review of the Moncton, N.B., shooting, where three Mounties were murdered and two others were injured, specifically mentioned how the yellow stripe may have been a factor. 

"While the yellow stripe on the uniform pants may be helpful in establishing officer presence, it may also be a tactical disadvantage in some environments," wrote the report's author, retired RCMP assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil.

"Many residents, who were witnesses around the wooded area where contact was first made with the SOC, commented on the high visibility of the yellow stripes through the woods."

'Incomplete uniform undermines distinctive role'

In British Columbia, commanding officer Deputy Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr said that while she had full confidence Mounties would never compromise officer or public safety with their protest, she urged RCMP members to consider how the public might perceive them.

"I believe an incomplete uniform undermines the distinctive role we play in keeping our citizens safe and secure," she wrote.

In his memo, Paulson also took issue with a CBC report on $1.7 million in bonuses for RCMP executives.

"It was disingenuously reported that executive 'pay-at-risk' was in fact millions in bonuses but it wasn't," he wrote.

CBC stands behind the story, as the information on the bonuses was provided by the RCMP under access to information legislation and no one from the force responded to requests for comment.