RCMP's recruitment plight could threaten its ability to do its job, advisory board warns
Catharine Tunney | CBC News | Posted: Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023 8:00 AM | Last Updated: May 2nd
Management Advisory Board says cadet training program needs an overhaul
The RCMP's recruitment situation can be described accurately as a crisis, says the force's independent advisory board — one that could threaten its ability to serve as Canada's national police force.
That's the conclusion of a report by the Management Advisory Board, an oversight body that advises the RCMP commissioner, following a review of the RCMP's cadet training program. The report was written by a board task force focused on the issue of training.
The report, shared with CBC News, recommends an overhaul of what cadets are taught at the RCMP's depot in Regina to keep pace with modern policing.
"More than once, the task force heard the recruitment situation described as a 'crisis,' a descriptor that did not strike the task force as exaggerated," the board members wrote.
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"If these [regular members] are not replaced by new cadets from diverse backgrounds and with capacity to serve, the RCMP will be even more challenged to meet its service delivery commitments under the provincial, territorial and municipal police service agreements, and to maintain federal policing capacity."
"It is a very, very significant challenge," said Angela Campbell, a professor of law at McGill University and a member of the advisory board's task force.
"So we recommended some concrete measures that we hope the RCMP will take to boost recruitment generally, but specifically, the recruitment of Indigenous members."
The RCMP's federal policing mandate covers some of its highest-profile cases, including investigations into foreign interference and espionage.
The force's struggle to lay charges related to allegations of foreign interference was thrust into the spotlight by claims that Beijing meddled in the past two Canadian federal elections. RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme has said publicly he'd like to see more charges laid on the foreign interference file.
Through provincial, territorial and municipal policing contracts, the RCMP also serves as the police of jurisdiction in most provinces and about 150 municipalities.
Nadine Huggins, the RCMP's chief human resources officer, said recruitment is a concern but insisted the force won't have to drop any of its responsibilities.
"There is no question that recruitment is the top priority within the organization at this time, and we have been building and flying at the same time," she said.
"I think that policing writ large is going through a reckoning. The RCMP is no different."
Part of the RCMP's problem is that repeated reports of systemic racism and harassment in the ranks are depressing recruitment.
"We're equally subject to the society that we live in and policing is not the most popular profession," said Huggins.
"Do I like to think that the changes that we're making [are] making us more appealing? I do believe that it is."
Concerns about the 'quantity and quality' of cadets
The advisory board's report also pointed to a "deep concern and preoccupation about both the quantity and quality of cadet recruits."
"The process for recruitment remains too administratively heavy and burdensome, lengthy and inaccessible for many prospective cadets, especially from remote and/or Indigenous communities," said the report.
Campbell said failing to address the recruitment shortfall would only increase the risk of burnout among serving members.
"It means that there's going to be consequences potentially for those people in terms of strain and being subjected to demands that just maybe are impossible to meet," she said.
"It also stands to have impacts on communities where the RCMP is providing police and safety services."
Huggins said that for years, the RCMP's recruitment process was about keeping people out. The new recruitment strategy, spurred on by the task force's report, is about bringing in "the right people," she said.
"We're not compromising standards in any way, shape or form just to get more bodies in the door," she said.
One change the force has introduced is an update to psychological assessments.
"Were really looking at how suited is an individual to a policing career, do they have the resilience, the emotional intelligence, the capacity to actually manage people. All of those things are now being assessed as part of our process," Huggins said.
"So once folks get to our academy now, they're coming in with much more of the grounding, the culture that we're aspiring to build in the organization. They're coming with those attributes already."
Brian Sauvé, head of the RCMP union, said recruitment is improving — slightly. He said the number of applications is slowly increasing.
"It's a near-crisis now," said Sauvé. "We've moving in a positive direction."
He said his union's fight for a substantial salary increase and its funding of recruitment campaigns may be helping to turn things around.
Sauvé said he doesn't think the RCMP will have trouble fulfilling its mandate if the federal government keeps its "foot on the gas."
"We have seen the shrinkage of federal policing positions to subsidize contract policing. But those positions end up getting frozen or they get cut or they get cancelled," he said.
"So we definitely need to fund, fund, fund, so that the RCMP can meet its demand. And they haven't."
Report calls for sweeping changes to cadet training
The Management Advisory Board review also called for major changes to what is taught to cadets once they are recruited.
Campbell called the cadet training program — the 26-week basic training course all Mounties take at the RCMP academy — "ground zero" for RCMP culture.
"It's the academy that shapes not only the content of what it is that these officers will be doing, but also ... the values and commitments that they will hold," she said.
"I personally can't weigh in on things like tactical techniques, defence training, driving, things relating to ballistics, and that was really outside of my area of expertise. But on things that go to engaging with civilians, and questions of safety and interaction, we thought it was really important to look at what cadets were learning."
The RCMP serves diverse communities throughout Canada, says the task force report, and it "must provide the training necessary to equip [regular members] to deliver effective policing services to all Canadians, including communities that have traditionally been underserved by law enforcement and/or 'over‐policed' as a result of implicit bias and ill‐advised social policies."
The report pushes for more cultural awareness in the training program, noting that while the curriculum already integrates some cultural and diversity elements, they get only brief mentions.
"Notably, training about Indigenous histories and reconciliation, cultural diversity, and bias is limited and exists in discrete modules of the CTP course material," says the report.
The task force said cadets would be better prepared for a career as a Mountie if they were better trained on issues such as "hate crimes, cultural awareness/humility, culturally‐appropriate responses, unconscious bias, racism, and Canadian commitments to reconciliation.
"The task force further observed that it was very difficult to ascertain where and how cadets learned about issues such as unconscious bias, social and racial profiling, carding, and street checks, all of which are known problematic practices within modern‐day policing, giving rise to disproportionate arrests and charging of Indigenous and racialized — especially Black — Canadians," the report said.
"These elements must be tied to the fundamental, day‐to‐day work of policing."
Patrick Watson, an adjunct professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the advisory board's report is just another call for RCMP to reform.
"The report really does seem to indicate that you need sort of a root-and-branch revisiting of what it means to be a police officer in this country," he said.
Some drills lead to cadet injuries: report
The task force did applaud some changes made at the depot facilities in recent years — including the addition of a Spirit Room to honour Indigenous presence, the development of specialized headgear for men who wear beards for religious reasons, and updated menus to respect faith‐based diets.
The Management Advisory Board also found the training program sometimes leads to injuries and burnout.
"For example, the practice of 'doubling', which refers to marching at double the regular pace in between classrooms and breaks, was reported as leading to cadet injuries," said the report.
"What's more, interviews with facilitators and cadets revealed that the current curriculum does not allow for sufficient time management and cadets are required to keep training on the weekends to manage their workload. The end result is exhaustion for some, and the disadvantages of the added workload appear to outweigh any potential benefits."
Huggins said the RCMP has embraced all of the elements of the advisory board's recommendations.
"We've started to make progress on a number of them. Where we're still sort of gaining momentum is around the wholesale review of the curriculum," she said.
The report comes on the heels of the final report of the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, which recommends the RCMP phase out the depot model of RCMP training by 2032 and that governments instead establish a three-year degree-based model.
"I appreciated the fact that the Management Advisory Board called the RCMP depot basically a world-class facility that trains law enforcement from all across the world and all across Canada. It's a good feather in their cap," Sauvé said.
"Could they refresh it? I think for sure."
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and other politicians in the province have come out against that recommendation, arguing the depot represents economic benefits and historic pride for Regina.
The Mass Casualty Commission called for a fundamental change within the RCMP and made 130 recommendations.
While Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has yet to formally commit to any of the Mass Casualty Commission report's findings, Watson said he feels "quietly optimistic" that change is coming.
"I just don't see how the taxpayer continues to be asked to fund these services unless we start to see these reforms," he said.
"Is the government going to enact them? I really hope so."
Mendicino's office did not respond to CBC's request for comment.