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Ottawa give B.C. short-term certainty on RCMP contract policing

Federal government looking at a revamp of how federal police force operates
Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc arrives to appear before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Leblanc has told the British Columbia government Ottawa will continue to back the RCMP as the province’s contract police force serving many cities and rural and remote areas amid an ongoing force transition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Ottawa will continue to back the RCMP as British Columbia’s contract police force that serves many communities even as it moves toward a national force for federal-level crimes, says federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

“As the work on the federal policing program unfolds, I want to assure you that I, and the federal government as a whole, are committed to honour our contract policing obligations,” LeBlanc said in a letter to B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

“I envision an end-state for federal policing that is separate and distinct from the RCMP’s contract policing mandate,” he said. “This will assure dedicated resources and prioritization of policing response to the ever-changing threat environment.”

The letter provides short-term certainty for contract policing in B.C., while indicating the federal government wants to reform how the Mounties operate, Premier David Eby said Thursday.

He said it describes the federal government’s plan to move the RCMP towards a federal police force “like the FBI in the United States.”

“The critical piece for us, regardless of who answers the 911 call is that there’s somebody who answers the 911 call,” said Eby. “The big challenge we have with the RCMP is filling those (officer position) vacancies we’ve funded provincially.”

B.C. budgeted $230 million in 2022 to fill 270 rural and specialized RCMP officer positions, while other positions still remain vacant.

LeBlanc’s letter said the federal government is committed to honouring its contract policing obligations.

“I also wish to acknowledge the essential role that contract policing plays in support of policing in Indigenous communities, and our continued commitment to contract policing includes the effective and responsive delivery of policing in these communities,” he said.

LeBlanc said his mandate is to transform the RCMP, which he envisions will become a federal police agency separate and distinct from the RCMP’s front-line contract policing operations.

“The prime minister gave me a mandate to transform the RCMP and ensure this organization, which is so central to Canadian identity, is well-positioned and supported to face the unique challenges of our time,” he said. “With this letter, I am writing to inform you of my efforts to strengthen policing in Canada through decisive and timely transformation of the RCMP.”

A commission of inquiry into the 2020 Nova Scotia shootings recommended last year that the public safety minister establish priorities for the RCMP, keeping the tasks that are suitable to a federal policing agency.

The Metro Vancouver city of Surrey decided recently after a lengthy process to leave the RCMP and transition to a municipal police force.

Farnworth said he’s comforted by LeBlanc’s letter, particularly since provinces, including B.C., have called for more police resources and the greater need for increased federal attention to policing issues.

“I’m pleased with the letter and I’m particularly pleased with what they are talking about in terms of federal policing,” he said. “That is something the provinces have been concerned about.”

The RCMP provides front-line policing services through contracts with all provinces and territories, except Ontario and Quebec.

The current RCMP contracts are set to expire March 31, 2032.

In April 2022, an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature examining reforming the province’s Police Act recommended transitioning to a new provincial police force.

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