RCMP’s ability to defend national security is eroding, report warns

The RCMP’s federal wing is at a “critical juncture” and its ability to police key files like foreign interference, terrorism and financial crime is on the line, says a recent report from the Mounties’ independent advisory board.

After studying the sustainability of federal policing for more than a year, a task force set up by the external Management Advisory Board drafted a report that says the RCMP must change to survive — and the federal government needs to step up to protect Canadians’ safety.

“Federal policing has now arrived at a critical juncture of its sustainability, which present risks for the national security and safety of Canada, its people, and its interests,” says the report, shared with CBC News this week.

It’s just the latest report to offer dire warnings for the federal government about the direction of the national police organization.

“There is, I think, a real call for political leadership in this report,” said Christian Leuprecht, a professor of political science at the Royal Military College and of intergovernmental relations at Queen’s University.

“Without that dedicated attention, the rest is simply going to be moving deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Federal policing is the section of the RCMP that investigates some of the most complex criminal files, those involving national security, organized crime, money laundering, cyber attacks and war crimes.

The RCMP is also responsible for boots-on-the-ground policing in large parts of the country, including many rural and remote areas.

The Management Advisory Board, created in 2019 by the federal government to provide external advice to the RCMP commissioner, set up a task force in the fall of 2022 to study the federal policing program.

“Canada and its people have already begun to see the repercussions of the federal policing program being stretched thin,” says the task force’s report, completed at the end of last year.

The report says budget and personnel shortfalls have left the RCMP “operationally limited,” restricting the number of cases it can take on annually. 

That problem “is further exacerbated by other competing urgent criminal priorities (e.g. national security),” the report adds.

The report points to the 2022 Cullen Commission, the money laundering inquiry launched by British Columbia. It concluded that the primary cause of poor law enforcement results on money laundering files in that province was a lack of police resources.

Canada’s credibility on the global stage at risk

The task force warns that there are global implications to the weakness of federal policing, since the RCMP represents Canada in global security bodies such as the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and INTERPOL.

“Federal policing’s overall eroding capacity may have implications for the credibility of Canada’s federal police force and its investigations on the international stage,” says the report.

“Ultimately, this may influence Canada’s overall approach and standing in international politics, including its ability to advance global priorities.”

Interpol logo.
The entrance hall of Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, central France, on Oct.16, 2007. (Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press)

The report links the slow collapse of federal policing to government cost-cutting, starting with the $150 million trimmed from the RCMP in 2008 by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

That reduced funding “significantly impacted [the RCMP’s] investigative capabilities,” it says.

The RCMP has struggled in recent years to recruit and retain regular members, a problem that’s particularly acute in federal policing, the report says.

The highly‐skilled people the RCMP needs to advance complex investigations are in short supply and in high demand.

The force also has to compete for experts in cyber crime with the private sector — which can hire people faster and pay them more — and with other security agencies, such as the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says the report.

The task force suggests that the RCMP obtain “special allowances” from the Treasury Board of Canada to offer higher salaries to people with specialized skill sets.

Feds’ priorities come at the expense of core operations 

Another factor acting as a drag on RCMP federal policing is the effect of the force’s contractual obligations, the report says. Regular members are routinely pulled from federal policing to work in regional contract policing and are not replaced.

The task force says federal policing has lost about 1,000 regular members in a 10-year period — about 24 per cent of its officer workforce. It also says the federal policing unit is being pulled in multiple directions by federal government policing priorities, such as “protective services for political figures and dignitaries” and “ideologically‐motivated violent extremism.”

Regular members are also generalists, the report notes. All Mounties get the same initial training as cadets at the depot in Regina, whether they’re being tasked with patrol work in New Minas, N.S., or with taking on a mob boss.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits with cadets at RCMP Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan on Thursday January 26, 2017.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits with cadets at RCMP Depot in Regina on Thursday, January 26, 2017. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)

The advisory board recommends the RCMP focus on training would-be investigators with specialized skills.

Some of the report’s 10 recommendations suggest an alternative training structure that would allow recruits with specialized skills to join the federal policing unit directly, without going through depot training — a concept the RCMP was piloting before it was paused by a union complaint.

While the Management Advisory Board was set up to provide the RCMP commissioner with guidance, its latest report saves its most pointed language for the federal government.

“After all, the remit of federal policing is at the very core of the mandate of the RCMP, Public Safety Canada and the government of Canada,” the task force concludes.

The advisory board’s report echoes recommendations made by one of Parliament’s intelligence and security watchdogs, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP).

NSICOP’s November report said federal policing is not “as effective, efficient, flexible or accountable as it needs to be to protect Canada and Canadians from the most significant national security and criminal threats.”

The public inquiry that investigated the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history raised concerns about the RCMP’s structure and called for a review of how it operates.

The Mass Casualty Commission, launched in response to the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people, suggested that review should “specifically examine the RCMP’s approach to contract policing.”

A memorial remembering Lillian Hyslop is seen along the road in Wentworth, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. 22 people are dead after a man went on a murderous rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities.
A memorial for Lillian Hyslop, one of 22 victims of Canada’s worst-ever mass shooting, sits along the road in Wentworth, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. (Liam Hennessey/The Canadian Press)

The task force’s conclusions come as no shock to Garry Clement, who spent 30 years with RCMP, starting as a uniformed officer before eventually moving to the money laundering investigations unit.

He said he constantly saw investigators leave federal policing to fill gaps on the contract policing side.

“You were only keeping competent investigators for maybe three years and that’s just an insufficient amount of time,” he said.

“It takes about five years [for a] competent investigator … to be effective in this arena, especially in transnational organized crime and money laundering.”

Clement, now the chief anti-money laundering officer at VersaBank, said he believes the heart of the problem is the long-standing tension between the RCMP’s contract and federal policing responsibilities.

“It’s time that … we take a look at an organization and ask ourselves as a country, can we really afford to have a group trying to be all things to all people?” he said. “And the reality of it is it won’t work in this complex world we’re in today.

“Let’s quit talking about it. Let the federal government pull their head out of the sand, realize they have to do something, and let’s get on with it.”

Despite the growing list of critical reports, Leuprecht said he isn’t convinced change is on the horizon.

“I think this government is not particularly seized with anything to do with defence, security or intelligence,” he said. 

“This government also has electoral constituencies that are not particularly favourable to issues of intelligence, defence and security. And as a minority government, I think this is rather not the bunfight that they would like to pick with their own electoral constituencies, possibly further alienating their shrinking electoral base.”

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the department agrees with the Management Advisory Board “on the critical importance of the RCMP’s federal policing functions to the security of Canada.”

“We will work collaboratively at every step of the way with the RCMP to ensure that they have the resources necessary to carry out those functions,” said Jean-Sébastien Comeau.

The head of the federal policing, Deputy Commissioner Mark Flynn, said he welcomes the board’s findings and will have more to say about how he plans to shake up the unit.

“But of respect to our employees who have not seen the report yet, I will not go into great detail with respect to specific items in the report until they have access to it,” he said in a statement.

“However, I will tell you that I believe the report will be well received by our employees who are working hard keeping Canadians safe, as it will help us make our organization stronger and to build on the amazing work they do in a complex and demanding environment.”


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