There are a lot of analogies that would seem to fit the current state of bedlam in Surrey, that bastion of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police efforts in municipal policing, their veritable flagship of contract policing. Mary Mapes Dodge in her story of “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates” wrote about the little Dutch boy who saved his country from disaster, by plugging a finger in the dike until help arrived the next day. It seems to be a fitting description of Surrey and the RCMP– in light of the back and forth bureaucratic political maelstrom now taking place in that fair city while also reflecting the current overall state of Canada’s national police force.
Of course in this metaphorical dike there is more than a single hole, there are many, all of which are being plugged by the fingers of the likes of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, and Chief Superintendent Sean Gill. Playing the Dutch Queen, is the the illustrious and apparent policing expert Brenda Locke who is of course, now the mayor of Surrey with her 28% of the popular vote versus 27.3% of the popular vote for Doug McCallum.
Her lacklustre .7% win did not deter her from giving the speech about the “people have spoken”. Brenda Locke to keep her promise is willing to pay out over $100 million of taxpayer dollars to go back to the status quo of keeping the Mounties. (Did we mention that she used to be a party supporter of McCallum when he originally made it an election issue for a separate police force). She fell out of McCallum’s favour though and then switched her position. This all seems to be more about political revenge than thought out policy. In any event it has come about that on November 29th, Locke and her new group of councillors voting 5-4, have now endorsed the “framework for a development of a plan” to undo what has been done. This was after a presentation by A/Comm Edwards to the City council wherein he talked about what a great job the Mounties are doing and will continue to do when they get rid of those nasty Surrey Police Service upstarts, which by the way are now a few hundred members strong. A “Project Team” will oversee a development of this plan, that will need to be submitted to city council by December 12, 2022– which in turn would need to be forwarded to the BC Solicitor General and the Public Safety Minister for approval. Of course new Premier Eby will have a final say, one way or another.
One must keep in mind that the transition to a City Police Service has already been approved by all three levels of government.
For the BC Police Services and the Ministers to reverse that original McCallum majority government led initiative, one would think will take some real persuasion. Locke must realize that it is a high hill to climb so she has tried to stack her Project Team by hiring Dr. Peter German (clearly someone who has the ear of Premier Eby who had hired German when he was looking into money laundering and the casinos) and Tonia Enger (a self-declared “contract policing expert”). Both of course are former RCMP officers of lengthy service, and one would have to assume that their report will now have to be supportive of a return to the RCMP, and somehow also make it seem logical. Expect to see the money issue down-played.
The RCMP and their union, the National Police Federation, have been strident and vocal supporters of Locke to oppose McCallum, the Darth Vader of Surrey politics. I have been told on good authority that at the election headquarters for Locke on the night of the vote, Edwards, Mann and Gill were there in full glory, exhorting and cheering on their new mayoral hero. So much for police being politically impartial.
Then there was the curious case of public mischief brought against the Mayor, of which he was acquitted, much to the Mountie chagrin. What was curious about the case was that McCallum made a complaint of assault, and within a few days, he himself was charged with public mischief. The whole case should never have gone forward, but that aside, there is something highly suspicious about the Mounties bringing charges against McCallum in the first place, and in such a quick turnaround. Now, with little doubt, the City will also have to pick up McCallum’s very pricey legal bills.
There is also a ground level war going on between the Mounties and those that wish to replace them. The Mountie union for their part, will also be sending a report to the government with their view of the situation. The NPF spokesman, Ryan Buhrig, made an interesting comment to the press, in that he stated that seven of the fourteen “shifts” were currently “below minimum staffing levels”. Is this to blame on the transition, or is he admitting that the RCMP is currently not able to meet the contract needs? There is little doubt that these shifts were “below minimum” long before the Surrey Police Service came into existence.
I have by now heard from uniform officers from both sides. The RCMP officers I have spoken with make no bones about the fact that they don’t like the SPS officers, and the SPS officers in turn have complained about the brutal way they have been treated. Safe to say, the situation, morale wise is not good. I heard on high authority that the government at one time seriously considered making a formal complaint to the Public Complaints commission about the actions of some of the RCMP top management in their efforts to block the SPS. Their brief consideration was that the level of obstruction amounted to a form of “corruption”. They did not follow up for obvious political reasons.
If one wants to judge what the best course of action would be, there is a clear need to step back from the infantile actions of the politicians and senior police managers. One needs to look at this from the practical viewpoint and step away from the misinformation campaigns and the biased and often ignorant rhetoric. Let’s even forget about the monies spent, the monies about to be spent, or the monies about to be lost. The most basic decision and central question is whether or not the RCMP are even still capable of municipal and contract policing.
In the rest of the country, in academic circles, and even in the Federal RCMP rarefied air of Ottawa there is a very different dialogue going on. If contract policing is the dike then the holes in the dike, the holes in the organizational structure, are becoming increasingly apparent and they are numerous. The solution that is being discussed, proffered and debated is whether or not the time has come to let the dike break and in effect let the RCMP to get out of “contract policing”.
The most recent example is in an essay by Kevin Lynch and Jim Mitchell. Lynch is a former clerk of the Privy Council Office, and is now with BMO Financial; Mitchell is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. The paper got the attention of the Globe and Mail and is adding to the further discussion of this possibility. In the paper they argue that the problems of the RCMP are large in scope and that “they are inherently structural, requiring fundamental change to re-shape”. The Mountie “jumble of accountabilities” is supported by an “organizational model that fails them” and that they are “poorly positioned to discharge their responsibilities”.
Of course this is just the latest, in 2007 the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, stated that there was a requirement for a “much higher degree of managerial competence and sophistication than that which is currently found in the RCMP”. The Bastarache report said that the “culture is toxic, misogynistic, and homophobic”. In July 2022 an all party committee of the BC Legislature was tasked with reviewing the Police Act for the Province, stated that “we need to end contract policing”. In an associated poll, 39% of the people agreed with replacing the RCMP, 38% opposed and 23% were undecided.
Further along this year we have witnessed the Portapique inquiry, which showed that the managers of H Division, at the senior levels were in-fighting with their municipal agencies. Lynch and Mitchell also believed that the Emergencies Act inquiry in the end “portrays an indecisive federal police force”. It demonstrated that the very top of the organization is fraught with miscommunication and that they have become a fully integrated “political” police force, more interested in playing the political game than the operational game. Again, none of these latest revelations are good and the tarnish is not going to wear off soon.
On a lower level, when it comes to the more basic issues and the ability to staff their contracts, I am being told that the Federal positions in British Columbia are now almost 50% vacant, while the other Provincial units are approaching 30% vacancy rates. There is a lack of recruitment and the RCMP is now having trouble enticing anyone to a career and therefore an inability to staff positions. This is not new, this organization has been failing in this regard for many many years. As a result ideas are being floated in British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan for leaving the RCMP contracts altogether.
The Eby government has now had to provide an additional $230 million to the RCMP to assist in “fully staffing” rural policing as part of his “Safer Communities Act Plan”. This would seem to go to the very heart of the issue of not being able to fulfill the current contract.
It is also impossible to argue that the RCMP is any “cheaper” than a municipal police force, as it is a myth that the 10% discount given to the RCMP is a game changer. This is wholly swallowed up with the extra manpower demands which come about due to Federal commitments at a cost to the municipal and provincial policing needs.
There is historic irony. The British Columbia Provincial Police were disbanded on August 15, 1950, a move that was made for two primary reasons. One, was the hope that by doing so, if they brought in the RCMP they wouldn’t unionize; and secondly, they wanted to put a better fight against Communism. It would seem that on both of those issues the fight is over.
The current structure of the RCMP is damaged, in need of severe repairs. As a retired RCMP who preferred contract and the criminal work over the Federal, it is indeed bittersweet to watch the current machinations in Surrey. It is difficult to watch the demise of the RCMP in its present form, but if you don’t think it is happening you are not watching. The organization will not disappear, but I suspect we will not recognize it 20 years from now. It was good while it lasted, but policing is evolving, the past is the past and evolution is necessary to keep up with the quickly changing times. In Surrey, there is a futile attempt underway to argue that all would be good if one were to return to the RCMP. But it is a dishonest argument.
Who knows or would even dare to guess where this group of politicians will lead us. If the government gives in to the misguided sentiment of Brenda Locke and her cohorts, the only known thing for sure that the Surrey taxpayers are going to be on the hook for a rather imposing tax bill. All to return to an organization whose time is now completely taken up in plugging the holes, trying to hold back the flood waters against structural and inevitable change.