Saskatchewan

Sask. government to look into creating provincial police force for the 2nd time

In the Saskatchewan government's throne speech last Wednesday, the province voiced its intention to look into creating a provincial police force.

1st Saskatchewan provincial police force operated from 1917 to 1928

The province said it will 'consider other measures to build provincial autonomy,' including 'the creation of a provincial police force to complement municipal police forces and the RCMP.' (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

In the Saskatchewan government's throne speech last Wednesday, the province voiced its intention to look into creating a provincial police force.

The government said that during the new legislative session it will "consider other measures to build provincial autonomy," including taking back administration of corporate income taxes from Ottawa and "the creation of a provincial police force to complement municipal police forces and the RCMP."

Christine Tell, the province's minister of corrections, policing and public safety, told reporters Wednesday that there are no plans for a review or study into the costs and effectiveness of having a provincial police force in Saskatchewan at this time. 

Still, Tell said the government is "paying attention," to what is happening in Alberta and Nova Scotia. Both provinces have openly discussed this option, citing rising RCMP costs and service delivery issues.

Tell said her ministry has heard these same concerns from residents consistently for years. 

"It is indeed a challenging time for policing in the province of Saskatchewan and across Canada. And you know, the future of policing is somewhat questionable with respect to the RCMP. And we want to ensure that we're part of these conversations, whether they be through the federal government or our communities," said Tell. 

Christine Tell says the Saskatchewan government is "paying attention," to what is happening in Alberta and Nova Scotia. Both provinces have openly discussed creating their own provincial police forces. (CBC)

Provinces and territories pay 70 per cent of the cost of the RCMP's operations in their jurisdictions, with the federal government contributing the remaining 30 per cent.

An internal government memo obtained by the Canadian Press in June 2020 shows those costly contract policing obligations are draining resources from the force's federal duties, including investigations of organized crime and national security operations.

"Public Safety Canada and the RCMP have confirmed there are systemic sustainability challenges impacting the whole of the RCMP," says the Public Safety department memo.

In the meantime, Tell said the provincial government respects the RCMP and will continue to work with them at this time. 

"We want to ensure that the people of Saskatchewan get the best policing service that they can, whether that's a new police service in the province of Saskatchewan or the RCMP, whatever that turns out to be," said Tell. 

Round 2?

If the province were to pursue creating its own police force, it would not be the first time. 

Bill Waiser, a Saskatchewan historian, said the first provincial police force operated from 1917 to 1928.

The province voted in favour of temperance and in late December 1916, prohibition was introduced. But the Royal North-West Mounted Police — precursor to the RCMP — did not want to enforce prohibition, according to Waiser. 

"They thought it would just be a pain to try and enforce prohibition in the province of Saskatchewan. And so the provincial government used that as an opportunity to create a separate and distinct provincial police force," said Waiser.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Police was officially created on Jan. 1, 1917. 

"They had a very distinctive uniform. They had an upturned Stetson, so they looked actually more Australian. And there were 175 members of the provincial force in about 40 detachments across the province," said Waiser.

This image, from 1920, refers to the work of the Saskatchewan Provincial Police during prohibition in Maple Creek. (South-Western Saskatchewan Oldtimers’ Association Museum and Archives/Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan )

Most of the detachments were in northern Saskatchewan, where the police also enforced game laws.

"But their primary purpose was to uphold liquor laws. And in fact, they spent half their time chasing bootleggers."

Waiser said it was very unpopular work.

"Even though prohibition was introduced toward the end of the Great War, once the war is over, people lost their so-called reform fervor and wanted to have a drink."

This led to people creating secret stills and getting alcohol into the province illegally.

"So during the 1920s these liquor laws were very unpopular, and the fact that the Saskatchewan provincial police had to enforce them made them very unpopular. It's actually a losing battle."

Near the end of the force's tenure in Saskatchewan, there were rumours of corruption. They were disbanded in 1928. 

During the provincial force's time, the RCMP — an amalgamation of the North-West Mounted Police and Dominion Police — were enforcing federal laws throughout the province. But when the provincial force was ousted, the RCMP took over all policing duties in Saskatchewan once again. 

Bill Waiser is a Saskatchewan historian. (Submitted by Bill Waiser)

The cost of a provincial police force in Alberta

Meanwhile one province over, replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force could cost Albertans hundreds of millions of dollars more each year and result in a four per cent increase in the number of police officers on the street, according to a report commissioned by the Government of Alberta. 

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report presented to the government last April and released publicly on Friday, provides no precise figure on how much more Albertans would pay for their own police force should they lose the $170 million the federal government contributes yearly for policing by the RCMP.

A report says cost savings and other initiatives would ultimately allow for more frontline officers to be hired if Alberta cut ties with the RCMP. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said a provincial police force would be more efficient and cost effective by relying on Alberta government support services.

The report says adopting a provincial police force would take up to six years — four years of planning and preparation, and up to two years of transitioning an Alberta Provincial Police Service (APPS) in, and the RCMP out.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the cost of that transition at between $366 million to $371 million.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

With files from Janet French

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