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Comment: Without changes, RCMP is headed off a cliff

After retiring from the RCMP in 1994, I wrote a book in 2013 covering my career with the fabled force entitled No Easy Ride. In the final chapter of the book, my concerns for the future of the RCMP are summarized.

After retiring from the RCMP in 1994, I wrote a book in 2013 covering my career with the fabled force entitled No Easy Ride. In the final chapter of the book, my concerns for the future of the RCMP are summarized.

The executive of the force, since its inception, has always had difficulty saying “no.” No matter the task, no matter the burden, it was added to the mandate. Little or no concern was demonstrated by managers for extra hours that would be expended.

Before RCMP members were compensated for overtime and when our great country was less populated and less diversified, these many and varied assignments were carried out largely with success. When police managers were finally unable to throw unlimited human resources at a problem due to the need to pay overtime, this kind of service to Canadians became increasingly more difficult.

Add maternal and paternal leaves to the mix and something was going to fracture. The ongoing diagnosis within the membership of post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related issues further increased the burden on those remaining at the worksite, generating additional personnel stressors.

The plains buffalo is a symbol of the RCMP. It seemed appropriate to use it in analogy. In history, First Nations hunters would drive herds of buffalo toward the edge of a cliff. Once stampeded, the animals followed each other to their deaths at the bottom, where hunters would butcher them for the meat.

The RCMP is headed for the cliff.

The force is in a perfect storm. It is over-mandated, striving to function at three and sometimes four levels of enforcement. The voracious municipal contracts in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia demand the largest share of human resources. It is a constant struggle to maintain detachment strengths in other provinces.

In addition, the myriad assigned duties surrounding federal policing are often left wanting. With the advent of terrorist incidents, the government demanded RCMP input. Extra resources to cover this responsibility were denied. Six hundred positions for anti-terrorism had to be found from within and re-deployed within RCMP federal enforcement.

Frequently, the commissioner and senior management are blamed for shortcomings. Yet the commissioner is helpless to reduce mandates within the force without the support of his or her federal masters in Parliament.

Former commissioner Robert Simmonds years ago stated the force must rid itself of all contracts and become Canada’s federal police force. It would then be possible to focus on terrorism, organized and economic crime, and motorcycle gangs, and act as an assistance agency to the provinces when crime crosses borders.

The litany of ills that have befallen the force in recent decades can be attributed to the struggle to “do too much with too little.”

Even if an incoming commissioner approached Parliament and made a request to begin the process of vacating the contracts, politicians would not be supportive. Why? Most will fear that provincial voters would punish them at the polls for even considering the loss of their beloved redcoats.

How likely would it be that the prime minister, already “up to his waist in alligators,” would embrace an internal policing problem? The commissioner would no doubt be told to “handle it.” Is it possible that politicians might even surmise that if matters are left static, the population will eventually tire of poor service and demand policing alternatives to the RCMP?

Any transformation would take time. Perhaps a decade would pass before the force was finally relieved of municipal and provincial duties. The process must begin.

Canadians are witnessing a tragedy in the making. I did not want the last chapter of my book to be prophetic. I dread the day when my beloved force is found, broken and bleeding, at the bottom of the cliff, simply because there was no political will to make the needed changes.

Ian Parsons is a retired RCMP inspector. He lives in Courtenay.