A wholesale change in the way the Mounties conduct internal business may be the only thing to keep the national police force functional, says an advocate of unionization.
Earlier this month, the Mounted Police Professional Association held meetings across the Okanagan, aimed at educating RCMP members about the benefits of unionizing, a right recently made possible with a Supreme Court decision handed down in January.
“We conclude,” the Supreme Court majority wrote at that time, “that the s. 2(d) guarantee of freedom of association protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests.”
It concluded the current regime denies Mounties that choice and “imposes on them a scheme that does not permit them to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from management’s influence.”
Although the court didn’t explicitly endorse moving forward with unionization, association representative Rob Creasser said that’s the best option.
“We are light years behind every other Canadian and international police agency when it comes to having the right of collective bargaining and having a meaningful say on pay, benefits and working conditions,” said Creasser, noting officers in more than 250 police forces in Canada are already unionized.
He says the absence of that ability has made the RCMP a toxic workplace.
Creasser echoed what the local police superintendent has often said, noting that regional detachments are grossly under-staffed.
“If you took a community policed by RCMP and compare it to a community policed by the Ontario Provincial Police, the caseload per member would be 1.5 to two times higher for the RCMP,” he said, adding that a recent report on RCMP staffing calls for 5,000 new members, immediately.
Wages, he said, are also $8,000 to $10,000 less in the RCMP than they are in other police forces. “So we are working harder for less money right now,” he said.
Those conditions have created a toxicity that has spilled out onto the communities the Mounties are supposed to protect.
“I’m not trying to make excuses,” he said.
“But there are quite a few people who are off on stress related leave because they can’t handle it anymore, and that exacerbates an existing shortage, and that puts more pressure on those who are left behind.”
In this area alone, there were a series of court cases involving Kelowna Mounties and community members. Of particular note was the case with Buddy Tavares, a brain injured man who was kicked in the head by a Mountie after he had submitted to arrest.
The volume of those kinds of stories have abated, seemingly in tandem with increased police staffing.
On the national stage, the problems keep popping up as well.
The question may just be whether or not change is affordable.
“Our system of labour relations hasn’t informed the public about the challenges we face,” Creasser said. “I think if people know, they’re supportive. Now that I’m a civilian, if I think about living in a community of 80,000 people with only four RCMP members on the rad, I’d chip in more money.”
If that doesn’t happen, he said, it might be time for the RCMP to get out of community policing altogether.
“I believe that the RCMP is in trouble,” he said.
“(Experts) say you need 5,000 more bodies right now if we’re going to continue with federal policing.”
That doesn’t account for the number of bodies required for jobs that traditionally fell outside the purview of the RCMP, like policing international gangs and anti terrorism measures.
“There was a recent case here where the people graduating from depot in Regina were diverted to Ottawa to work on Parliament Hill (following the shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo ),” he said.
Those Mounties were supposed to go to detachments across the country to help fill the voids there.
“If you continue to take from Peter to pay Paul, the fabric of the RCMP is just going to rip apart,” said Creasser.