Yukon senator Dan Lang takes up cause of RCMP auxiliaries

The RCMP says it wants to reduce potential risks to the auxiliaries, but Dan Lang questions whether anyone will want to volunteer with key policing roles like ride-alongs removed.

RCMP implements steps to distance auxiliaries from regular police officers

RCMP auxiliary officers have been a big part of traffic checkstops in Whitehorse. Senator Dan Lang believes enforcement will now fall off without the auxliaries. (CBC)

RCMP auxiliary officers are too valuable to see the program waste away, according to Yukon senator Dan Lang.

The RCMP has made changes to the program that takes away the opportunity for auxiliaries to go on "ride-alongs" with regular officers. They can no longer take part in traffic checkstops — used to enforce impaired driving and other laws — and they will wear more casual clothing that doesn't resemble police uniforms.

The new guidelines were put into place by RCMP headquarters in Ottawa after a regular officer, Const. David Wynn, was shot and killed by a suspect in St. Albert, Alberta, in January 2015. An auxiliary officer with him, Const. Derek Bond, was wounded and released the same day from hospital.

The RCMP also cite the 2014 murder of Canadian Forces reservist, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was shot while on sentry duty at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Insp. Archie Thompson said RCMP auxiliaries in Whitehorse are assuming new duties after national decision made to take auxiliaries off "ride alongs" and traffic checkstops. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
Whitehorse RCMP Insp. Archie Thompson says it all means the 12 auxiliary officers in Whitehorse will assume new duties.

"We do not want to put them at risk, I mean they're not armed," he said. "Having said that, the program's changing, it's not going away."

Those duties could include search and rescue activities, Crime Stoppers and education of businesses and homeowners on how to better protect their property from criminals, Thompson said.

Program 'will go by the wayside': Lang

The changes are being criticized, however, by auxiliaries across the country in chat forums and social media.

In Yukon, Senator Dan Lang has been contacted by local auxiliaries, "who go through over 200 hours of training, are continuously upgrading their skills and are there as volunteers," he said.

Yukon Senator Dan Lang suspects the RCMP auxiliary program won't last long under new guidelines to limit the risk to the volunteer officers. (CBC)
"To take this particular program and put it in a situation and take the various authorities and recognition away from them, this particular program will go by the wayside."

Lang raised the matter with federal Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, at a Senate committee meeting in early March in Ottawa. According to the transcript, he didn't mince words.

"We can find five different reasons why not to do something. We can always use safety as reason why we can't do something, and, at the end of the day, we wind up with a program that isn't of much value," Lang said.

This week, Lang said he's following up with the public safety minister as well as Bob Paulson, the Commissioner of the RCMP.

"My hope would be that common sense would prevail and the program will be reinstated back into the terms that were there previously," he said. "If there's more risk out there, maybe there's more training required, but you don't eliminate the program."

Whitehorse checkstops could be affected

Lang says enforcement against impaired drivers is likely to suffer in the Yukon. In Whitehorse, auxiliaries often make up the majority of officers at check-stops.   

"Obviously they're not going to be able to do it to the extent that they have in the past," he said.

Thompson confirms the checkstops will look different.

"There's definitely an impact, you know, I just can't deny that," Thompson said. "We certainly valued their contribution and the fact that they're no longer going to be with us at those, certainly from the public's perspective it would look like a lot less people there and there will be."

Thompson doesn't know what the actual impact will be, but said it's possible less traffic will be checked.

Lang notes that other volunteer first responders continue to do their jobs despite the risks, including thousands of volunteer firefighters across the country. He says the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve did not shut down when Cpl. Cirillo was murdered.

Vancouver expanding similar program

Some communities also seem to be going in the opposite direction. Vancouver is hiring a new class of lower-paid police officer called Special Constable. They are in police uniforms, but are not armed. They can be called on to assist general duty officers or deal with lower risk activities on their own.

Toronto's city council is considering a similar proposal.

CBC News spoke with several RCMP auxiliaries in Whitehorse who are unhappy about the changes but reluctant to speak publicly.