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Alberta no longer pursuing plan to dump RCMP for provincial police force

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is no longer formally pursuing its plan to dump the RCMP in favour of a new provincial police force.
The Alberta government is no longer formally pursuing its plan to dump the RCMP in favour of a new provincial police force. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Justice Mickey Amery stand together during the swearing in of her cabinet, in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is no longer formally pursuing its plan to dump the RCMP in favour of a new provincial police force.

However, Justice Minister Mickey Amery said Tuesday the idea is not dead and his department will continue to consult with Albertans on where they want to go with policing.

Earlier Tuesday, Premier Danielle Smith delivered her mandate letter to Amery, outlining his goals and priorities as the new justice minister.

A day earlier, she sent a mandate letter to the other minister in charge of law-and-order issues, Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis.

Neither letter directed them to create a provincial police force, a move that would replace the Mounties in communities that don’t already have their own officers.

Alberta’s two major cities — Edmonton and Calgary — and other municipalities already have their own police forces.

Instead, Smith directs Ellis to continue his work “with local communities to support them with the community policing options they believe will best serve their populations.”

The Alberta police force option has been studied and touted by the United Conservative Party government for years, but it has faced opposition — including from municipalities — over concerns on cost, implementation and staffing. Public opinion polls have consistently suggested a majority of Albertans do not support a new provincewide force.

As recently as last November, the plan was a priority when Smith sent mandate letters to her first cabinet. 

On Nov. 9, 2022, Smith directed then-justice minister Tyler Shandro to work with Ellis to “finalize a decision on establishing an Alberta Police Service.”

That same day, she went further in a mandate letter to Ellis, directing him to work with the Justice Ministry to “launch an Alberta Police Service.”

But in May, Smith declined to campaign on the provincial police plan during the provincial election, saying the issue would be revisited after polling day while adding, "Our sheriffs, for instance, are doing a great job."

Amery was asked twice Tuesday in an interview to clarify the status of the provincial police force, explain why it was no longer in the mandate letters and state if it was reasonable to conclude the plan was shelved.

“I would simply say to you that we are going to continue to listen to Albertans, to learn about their needs and their challenges and their concerns, and then bring that back to (cabinet) and to caucus for further contemplation," he responded. 

However, new mandate letters place a renewed emphasis on more front-line resources to interdict gang activity, battle border smuggling and reduce crime rates.

Amery’s letter directs him to “implement a strategy to ensure violent criminals and gang members are detained and effectively prosecuted.”

His office is also to work with Ellis to create “a specialized prosecution unit to address deteriorating safety in Alberta’s major urban centres.”

Monday’s mandate letter to Ellis directed him to add 100 more patrol officers to Edmonton and Calgary, and create specialized sheriff-led teams to fight drug and gun smuggling, particularly along the border with the United States in Alberta. 

Ellis has also been told to expand using sheriffs in street-level law enforcement, develop more units to fight gang crime, and implement an ankle bracelet monitoring program and around-the-clock bail monitoring of violent and sexual offenders.

The Opposition NDP said the United Conservative government is fighting the symptoms of crime but not doing enough to fight the underlying problem, including housing, harm reduction, mental health supports and addiction treatment.

Another part of Amery's mandate letter flows from an earlier request from Smith to have him provide her with advice on how to deal with the justice system. 

This request came after the ethics commissioner ruled in May that Smith broke ethics rules and threatened to undermine the rule of law in Alberta when, in January, she contacted her former justice minister to seek to have a specific criminal case against a COVID-19 protester not proceed.

Smith was not successful and the court case went ahead. She has since apologized publicly for her actions. 

Her mandate letter to Amery broadens her original direction to now include advice on how all cabinet ministers -- not just Smith -- should interact with the Justice Department.

Asked why it was being broadened to all cabinet ministers, Amery said, “Because I think it's important that all cabinet ministers and government caucus members understand that transparency and accountability is of fundamental importance to this government and to myself.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2023. 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press