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In Nova Scotia, the year 2022 was marked by the important commission of inquiry which looked into the April 2020 massacre which killed 22 people in the province. The revelations that emerged during the public hearings continued to fuel public mistrust of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) which some experts say has been growing for years.
This year alone, an Indigenous group in Newfoundland and Labrador and a government committee on systemic racism in British Columbia have both called on their province to divest itself of the RCMP, while the United Conservative Party government of Alberta is working on a plan to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force.
In Cumberland County, where some of the murders took place during the Nova Scotia shooting, the city council recently voted to seek proposals to establish local police departments, including from other police forces than the RCMP.
A poll commissioned by the national police force earlier this year showed that only 51% of Canadians believe the RCMP is honest, down five percentage points from the previous year. Only one-third of Canadians believe the RCMP treats visible minorities and First Nations fairly.
“The RCMP must be held to account. It really needs to rethink what it does as a police force,” said criminology professor at Saint Thomas University in New Brunswick, Michael Boudreau.
Now that the missteps of the police have been exposed to the public during the commission of inquiry into the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, Mr. Boudreau points out that it would be a missed opportunity if the recommendations of the commission did not result in drastic changes.
However, it is not very optimistic to see such a change of direction taking place.
“Unfortunately, politicians are going to have to get involved if we want to have a serious discussion about the future of the police, he nuances. The police cannot be left to reform themselves. »
A decisive moment
Historically, the RCMP has been able to keep its problems out of the public eye, recalls the professor.
That all changed a decade ago, however, when several women said they had been victims of discrimination, harassment, bullying and sexual assault at the hands of their colleagues. A class action that resulted from these denunciations ultimately paid approximately $125 million to more than 2,300 women.
Janet Merlo was one of those women who denounced the actions of their colleagues. She was also the main plaintiff in the class action.
During the Nova Scotia shooting hearings, she was able to draw many parallels to the situation she experienced herself, including a chronic understaffing, friction with local police, and a “police first,” which delayed issuing a public warning about the shooter driving a replica police cruiser.
“Everything is starting to fall apart,” says Ms. Merlo bluntly. But I feel bad for those who are on the ground and doing their job. »
She is now leading a campaign to establish independent external oversight of the RCMP, which she hopes will ensure greater accountability and help spark cultural change.
“They should no longer be allowed to control themselves or investigate themselves,” argues Ms. Merlo. That’s why public trust is crumbling: they’re always investigating themselves, they come back and say it’s okay. »
Two years ago, when the final report on the class action was released, Merlo hoped Commissioner Brenda Lucki would turn things around.
But now, still seeing little change, Ms. Merlo has given up hope.
“I lost all confidence in Brenda Lucki,” she says. I don’t believe she will do anything to right the ship. »
Professor Boudreau thinks that Ms. Lucki should be replaced — preferably by a civilian who has never been a police officer.
The RCMP started out as a national police force, and Mr. Boudreau argues that it should go back to its roots rather than spread across the country.
“They should be looking at corporate crimes, national security and that sort of thing, not responding to 911 calls when an ATV has been stolen,” he said.
And while creating municipal or provincial police forces is expensive and demanding, Boudreau says any significant change with the RCMP should involve a “fundamental, if not radical” review of policing as a whole, both nationally than at the provincial level.
In an emailed statement from RCMP National Headquarters, Corporal Kim Chamberland says reforming culture and addressing harassment and discrimination is a priority for Ms. Lucki.
“We know that ending harassment and improving the culture are essential to achieving operational excellence and to our success as a modern organization,” writes Ms. Chamberland.
The RCMP has already identified five key priorities to achieve this goal, including addressing systemic racism and improving accountability, Chamberland said.
However, Professor Boudreau remains convinced that the police force has failed to learn from its failures.
“I’m starting to think maybe it’s time for the federal government to step in to really strip this police force down and rebuild it from the ground up, because it’s a broken police force,” concludes -he.
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Public confidence in the RCMP is eroding
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