The RCMP divisions in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have the highest vacancy rates among the provinces and territories.
According to the RCMP, of 203 funded positions in the N.W.T., 18 are vacant, for a vacancy rate of 8.9 per cent as of April 1. Nunavut isn't far behind. Of 148 funded positions, 12 are vacant, for a vacancy rate of 8.1 per cent.
"It's alarming," said RCMP Sgt. Brian Sauvé, co-chair of the National Police Federation which is seeking to become the union for mounties.
"The impacts are on public safety. The impacts are on member safety. The impacts are on work-life balance," he said. "We're expecting members to do more with less."
Across the board, the RCMP's vacancy rate is 6.6 per cent. The only rates in the country that are higher than the N.W.T. and Nunavut are at Ottawa's national headquarters and national division, at 16.7 and 13.8, respectively. At the RCMP training academy in Regina the vacancy rate is 8.4 per cent.
The vacancies could mean more officers responding to calls alone, despite a 2007 policy directive requiring officers to have backup for any violent or potentially violent situation. That directive followed the shooting deaths of two RCMP officers in the North within a month of each other.
Sauvé thinks the two territories' vacancy rates could be even higher than the RCMP is reporting, noting that members on family leave are not backfilled.
Sauvé said in remote, northern communities, the effects of even one member on family leave are more acute — pointing to the four-person detachment in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, as an example.
"If one of those members decided to go on family-related leave, all of a sudden it's a 25 per cent vacancy rate for Cape Dorset," he said.
"Those three remaining members all of a sudden have 25 per cent more work, and in order to get relief in, you have to fly them in from other places."
Sauvé said the vacancy rate in the N.W.T. and Nunavut impacts mounties' work-life balance the most.
"There's the guilt factor," he explained.
"If I'm in a three or four or a 10-person post, you're like 'oh can I take holidays this week? No, I'm only going to leave Joe and Nancy, I should probably stick around and work through.'
"So do our members end up taking the holidays that they need to decompress, recover and come back fresh and reinvigorated? I don't think so."
Nationally, the RCMP says 3.9 per cent of regular members were on long-term sick leave, which is more than 30 days, as of April 1. Another 1.6 per cent of members were on maternity or paternity leave.
Yukon is tied with P.E.I. for the lowest vacancy rate in the country, at zero per cent. All 139 funded positions in Yukon are filled.
"Members love the Yukon," said Sauvé.
He said many regular members posted in the Yukon will spend their entire careers there. He said it's about mobility.
"Every post is accessible by car except for one, which is Old Crow. Whereas in the Northwest Territories, almost every post is a fly-in only."
Though the RCMP could potentially pluck members from detachments with more staff to even out the vacancy rates, Sauvé said that wouldn't solve the problem.
"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul. Really what you need is just more people."
N.W.T.'s G Division declined to do an interview with the CBC about its vacancy rates saying it's a "national topic."
Both G Division and Nunavut's V Division sent almost identical emailed statements to the CBC noting that the RCMP's vacancy rates are a snapshot in time.
"For security reasons, we cannot provide details on what positions are running vacant," the statements from the spokespeople read, adding that they make "every attempt to keep 'front-line' positions filled."
"The day-to-day operations keep rolling with our members performing regular duties."
Both detachments also said they have a "proactive recruiting member that attends communities, career fairs, schools etc. with the focus of recruiting Northern citizens to serve in the RCMP."
One thing Sauvé thinks the RCMP could do to retain officers, especially in the North, is to reconsider its mobility requirement, and allow members to stay in a larger geographic region.
According to the RCMP, mounties are often required to relocate during their careers in order to meet organizational needs and to give members varied experience.
Sauvé says forcing members to move affects the family unit.
"I could start my career in Old Crow, Yukon … my spouse may get a job for those two years, but then I'm forced to move. So the spouse doesn't necessarily have as fulfilling a career as someone in Toronto," he said.
"That's a challenge."
Sauvé said recruiting and retention is not only a challenge for the RCMP, but also police forces across Canada and the U.S. He said the pool of people who want a career in policing is shrinking and all the agencies are competing for the same people.
"I don't think there's an easy, overnight fix," he said.
Sauvé suggests that the RCMP develops an aggressive recruiting strategy and considers offering signing bonuses to new members.
With files from Sara Minogue