Galloping off in All Directions: An Analysis of the New Federal-Provincial Agreement for RCMP Contract Police Services and Some Implications for the Future of Canadian Policing

Article excerpt

In July 1874, two hundred and seventy-five mounted police officers comprising the original contingent of the North-West Mounted Police left Fort Dufferin in Manitoba bound for the territory that is now Alberta. Their mandate was to bring law and order to a frontier suffering the depredations of American whiskey traders preying on Aboriginal people. During the 138 years to follow the organization that is now the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) survived two distinct threats to its survival and blossomed enormously in mandate and numbers to become a world-renowned organization of more than 28,000 people. The RCMP's scope of operations includes organized crime, terrorism, illicit drugs, economic crimes and offences that threaten the integrity of Canada's national borders. The RCMP also protects VIPs, carries out provincial and municipal policing duties in eight provinces and three territories and, through its National Police Services, offers resources to other Canadian law enforcement agencies. Given the impact of this monolithic institution on so many facets of Canadian life, any major changes to the role or responsibilities of the RCMP must demand the attention of the nation.

Historically, the agreements committing the federal government to contract RCMP services to the provinces have been twenty years in length. The latest contracts expired on 31 Match 2012. The negotiation process for the renewal of these contracts raised a number of important issues for both parties, particularly in light of several controversial issues and highly publicized events involving the RCMP.


Section 20 of the RCMP Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. R-10) authorizes the federally responsible minister to enter into arrangements with the provinces for the employment of the RCMP in the administration of justice in the provinces and their municipalities. The history of this federal-provincial relationship dates back to 1896 when Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier concluded that the original North-West Mounted Police had served its purpose and should be disbanded. The meritorious performance of the force in curbing lawless behaviour during the Klondike gold rush of 1898 fended off this threat. Between 1905 and 1906, the now Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP) was contracted to police the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. With the advent of the First World War in 1914, however, RNWMP resources were depleted and differences emerged about priorities. This was the era of strict governmental control over liquor, with Prince Edward Island being the first to introduce prohibition in 1901. Alberta and Ontario passed prohibition laws in 1916. The provincial constabularies were expected to set a higher priority on enforcement of provincial anti-liquor laws, which conflicted with the wartime need of the federal government to focus on national security and border control (Cooper and Koop 2003).

As a result of these conflicting priorities, the provincial contracts with the RNWMP ended in 1916-17. In western Canada, the federal force was replaced by the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) and the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP), while British Columbia and Manitoba, whose original "Mounted Constabulary Force" was established in 1870, maintained their own version of constabularies. During this period, the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island also maintained small provincial forces. Indeed, the 1920s were the golden age of provincial policing.

In the years following the First World War, the future of the RNWMP was again in doubt. This uncertainty was overcome in 1919 when Parliament voted to merge the RNWMP with the Dominion Police, a federal police force with jurisdiction primarily in eastern Canada. The legislation took effect on 1 February 1920, and the RNWMP became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; its headquarters were moved to Ottawa from Regina.

By 1928, the situation in the prairie provinces had changed again when concerns on the part of the government of Saskatchewan about the cost of three tiers of policing (municipal, provincial and federal) and the likelihood of overlapping responsibilities led to a new provincial policing agreement with the RCMP. …