RCMP union touring Alberta to build support, stave off provincial force

·3 min read
Members of the Mounties' union are touring Alberta to host public meetings about the potential of switching to a provincial police service. (Leah Hennel for CBC - image credit)
Members of the Mounties' union are touring Alberta to host public meetings about the potential of switching to a provincial police service. (Leah Hennel for CBC - image credit)

The union representing Mounties is touring Alberta with a series of town hall meetings aimed at convincing the public to hang on to the RCMP.

The Alberta government has dozens of its own meetings planned for early 2022 to shop around the idea of creating a provincial police force.

"It is important for us to get the message out there — the true message out there — to make the people of Alberta … fully aware of the full implications of going down this path," said Kevin Halwa, a regional director with the National Police Federation, which represents the RCMP.

The federation is concerned the provincial government is pushing the creation of a provincial police force without disclosing the potential costs or risks.

"It's a bit of a noodle-scratcher as to why the provincial government continues to go down this road," Halwa said.

The federation's in-person meetings begin today with sessions in Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan.

Public survey to come

The provincial justice ministry, meanwhile, has about 70 meetings planned early this year with municipal and Indigenous governments, law enforcement organizations and public safety groups.

A public survey is also coming within weeks, said Alex Puddifant, press secretary for Justice Minister Kaycee Madu.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study commissioned by the province and released last October says the transition cost of starting a provincial service would be at least $366 million.

Alberta would also lose about $170 million of annual funding from the federal government that covers 30 per cent of RCMP costs in the province.

Last year, Madu said there could be administrative efficiencies from adopting a provincial force, and said local communities could have more control over policing.

He said PricewaterhouseCoopers proposed innovative ideas that would help address some of the root causes of rural crime, such as pairing police with mental health professionals and nurses.

Halwa says the RCMP is already doing such crime prevention work.

Provincial police on reserves 'unacceptable': Treaty Six Nations

Tanya Thorn, the mayor of the Town of Okotoks, said Alberta doesn't need a new police force to invest in public services and affordable housing that could help prevent crime.

"I think there's still concern about policing, but I don't think it's around who's doing policing. It's how do we make policing more effective?" said Thorn, who is also vice-president of towns with Alberta Municipalities.

Submitted by Alberta Municipalities
Submitted by Alberta Municipalities

She welcomes public consultations run by both government and the police union, saying it will help increase public discussion and the transparency of the process.

The PwC report fails to answer key questions about the cost of switching to provincial police and who would pay those costs, she said.

The government is also getting resistance from some Indigenous communities.

The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations wants long-term provincial support to create their own police agencies, not a provincial police force, said Cameron Alexis, interim executive director of the confederacy.

He said it could save the province money to strike such agreements, as the federal government now pays nearly half the cost of First Nation-run police.

Question of jurisdiction

He also said First Nations have a treaty relationship with the federal government, not the province, stressing that provincial police would have no jurisdiction on their land. Imposing them on First Nations would be "unacceptable," Alexis said.

The RCMP aren't perfect, he said, but he hopes the federal service can improve.

Although the provincial government has suggested a decision will come this year, justice ministry press secretary Puddifant didn't give a timeline.

"What we hear from stakeholder engagement participants and via the public survey can help refine the policing model being proposed," he said in an email on Tuesday.

Once gathered, they'll analyze the feedback and determine their next steps, he said.

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