RCMP too slow in arming officers with rifles, experts say
Force insists it is better armed and better trained than ever, but experts insist change has been too slow
A decade after four RCMP constables were gunned down on a farm near Mayerthorpe, questions remain about whether Canada’s national police force has enough high-powered weapons to deal with the dangers officers routinely face.
The RCMP insists the force is better armed and better trained than ever before.
But some experts insist change has been too slow in coming.
The March 2011 fatality report into the Mayerthorpe shootings concluded the Mounties were “heavily outgunned” by the man who ambushed them, James Roszko.
In 2006, a year after the murders, the RCMP began to study the idea of adopting new weapons for general duty officers.
There were several steps along the way, including the commission of an independent report by Carleton criminology professor Darryl Davies.
“My recommendation called for the fact that every uniformed officer, regardless of where they're policing, should have a patrol carbine,” Davies said this week.
“So that in high-risk situations they're able to deploy that weapon when they need it.”
Davies said after a survey of more than 100 officers across the country, it was “considered a joke in some places” that many small police departments already had carbines but the national police force did not.
For its part, the RCMP said Davies’ report did not meet its requirements and failed to provide sufficient analysis to proceed with implementation of patrol carbines.
But Davies insists the RCMP approved his methodology and signed off on his work.
Colt C8 patrol carbine approved
In September 2011, the RCMP's senior executive committee approved adding the Colt C8 patrol carbine for general duty use across Canada.
In October 2012, the force signed a contract with Colt Canada for an initial order of 527 patrol carbines, a high-powered, mid-sized rifle much like an M-16.
By May 2013, all 527 of those carbines had been received by the RCMP.
But less than two years later, three Moncton RCMP members were gunned down by Justin Bourque, who roamed the streets for several hours armed with a .308 semi-automatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. The three officers who died, and two others who were wounded, did not have patrol carbines. Instead, they had 9-mm handguns.
Bourque, 24, was later sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.
In January, retired RCMP assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil released his report into the Moncton shootings, and urged the RCMP to expedite the deployment of patrol carbines and improve training in their use.
On the night of the Moncton shootings, none of the detachment members were trained in the use of carbines and no carbines were available to them, because the weapons were at CFB Gagetown, where other members were training to use them.
"Many … members stated … had the patrol carbine been available, it would have made a positive difference in this incident," MacNeil said in his report.
The carbine, MacNeil said, “has more capability at distance, so you wouldn't have to get as close to a suspect with a carbine as you would with a pistol.”
Marianne Ryan, commanding officer of the RCMP in Alberta, attended Tuesday's 10th anniversary memorial in Mayerthorpe.
"You can't categorize danger," she told reporters after the event. "It can come at you at any time, and any form, from anyone. I will say that I feel we are much better trained, much better equipped and much better prepared than we were many years ago.
"We learned a lot from this incident. But no matter what evil is out there, and no matter how well we train, sometimes — and a good example was St. Albert — no matter how well-prepared we are, sometimes we can't prevent tragedy. And that's the reality."
The RCMP say they now have more than 2,200 patrol carbines and 6,000 sets of body armour across the country.
Though the force won’t give out exact numbers, it does say there are about 12,000 regular members providing policing services across the country. That number includes general duty officers, police dog services, traffic services, school liaison officers and other specialized units that aren't necessarily patrolling the streets.
But Rob Creasser with the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada said he thinks equipment changes are taking too long.
“The response has clearly been inadequate,” he said. “In fact, I think Alphonse MacNeil in his most recent report acknowledged the fact that specifically to the C8 carbine rollout it has taken far too long.”
Creasser said the force also needs to ensure the hard-shell body armour is readily available to all officers.
“We can look at Moncton. And what had to happen there is, Ottawa had to ship out a whole bunch of those hard body armour vests with the ceramic plates, because there wasn't enough for the members to deal in the manhunt with Mr Bourque.”
Yet the RCMP say hard body armour has been available at the Moncton detachment since 2011.
“Any extra equipment that was brought in from outside Greater Moncton during the search for the shooter was due to the extra police officers brought in,” the RCMP said in a news release last year. “When more police officers are needed, so is more equipment.”