The RCMP is hoping to boost recruitment numbers in marking its upcoming 150th anniversary — even as the national force’s structure and practices come under damning new scrutiny.
The Mass Casualty Commission released its final report last week into the April 2020 shooting rampage that left 22 people dead in Nova Scotia.
It named a litany of RCMP failings and issued a call for the force to “finally” undergo the fundamental changes previous probes have demanded.
That finding came less than two months ahead of the Mounties’ 150th anniversary on May 23.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under federal access-to-information laws show the Mounties have been planning to mark the event since at least last summer — and they say they are not adjusting those plans in light of recent criticisms.
Planning documents show that to celebrate, RCMP divisions have been planning to host various gatherings, and thousands of memento cards and special coins have been ordered for members.
The Mounties were also looking to have Google post a special RCMP “doodle” on its search bar, and work with sports leagues such as the CFL to promote the anniversary.
One planning package expressed hope that observing the milestone could also increase the number of cadet applications, not only this year but through to 2025.
“This is a significant moment for both the RCMP and our country, as the 156-year-old story of Canada cannot be told without the 150-year-old contribution of the RCMP,” one document read.
Spokeswoman Robin Percival says the force intends to mark the anniversary by acknowledging its past and how it continues to modernize, while still emphasizing its pride in its employees.
“Our approach to marking our 150th anniversary has always been grounded in a few key themes and objectives, which has not changed in light of the (Mass Casualty Commission) report,” she said in a written statement.
“As an organization, we will collectively learn from the findings of the … report and continue to improve for all Canadians.”
As the RCMP continues to face questions about the way it polices Indigenous Peoples, the force will also make efforts to advance reconciliation with its anniversary events, Percival said.
Jeffrey Monaghan, a Carleton University criminology professor, said the image of the RCMP will be “romanticized” for its upcoming anniversary at a time when its very existence has been called into question.
Monaghan said that attaching the RCMP to the story of Canada’s nationhood creates a barrier to enacting change in the institution.
“It entrenches certain people, and certainly aspects of the organization that are very heavily invested in this romantic … benevolent Mounties myth.”
But he said a bigger problem than how the force sees itself is the fact it has become a massive “policing bureaucracy” that manages everything from national security to ensuring that remote northern communities have access to court sittings.
One of the only solutions is to have the RCMP perform fewer tasks, he said.
Still, some leaders reacted to the recommendations in the Nova Scotia inquiry report by raising concerns about the merits of departing from the status quo, suggesting that staffing up the force should be the first priority.
The commission recommended that the RCMP do away with its model of putting recruits through a 26-week training program at its academy in Regina, and instead have provinces establish new degree-based policing programs.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he would need to see more details about that proposal, and he questioned how it would affect training in the face of staffing shortages.
The National Police Federation, the union for RCMP officers, has not yet directly responded to the recommendation to phase out training at the RCMP Depot.
Speaking to The Canadian Press about the upcoming anniversary before the report was released, the union’s president said it takes time to fix recruiting problems.
Brian Sauvé said the COVID-19 pandemic caused shutdowns at the academy, which delayed the training of new troops. Meanwhile, as members retire earlier and recruits start their careers later, officers have been left with bigger burdens, Sauvé said.
“Our members have been tasked with more and more and more and more over the last decade.”
The situation has led the union to undertaken its own campaign to increase interest in the RCMP, he added.
The RCMP’s recruiting challenges were outlined in a 2020 internal report. It found the force was having difficulty increasing its diversity, with only about four per cent of candidates self-identifying as Indigenous and fewer women applying.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said it has been a challenge for Inuit to become police officers or work in the organization more broadly, adding that the history of policing in northern communities has been “long and complicated.”
He said the upcoming anniversary should focus on the gaps that still exist. And instead of focusing only on the difficult relationship between the RCMP and Inuit communities in the past, he said the force could include in its celebrations a pledge to build a “new relationship” and end systemic racism.
Native Women’s Association of Canada CEO Lynne Groulx said she thinks the force should use the anniversary to highlight reconciliation “and what that really means to the RCMP.”
“How are they going to regain trust of Indigenous people? It took a long time to create that distrust. It might take quite some time to rebuild that,” she said.
The RCMP says planning is underway for “several reconciliation-focused events and activities.”
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press