Thousands of Mounties sign union cards and remove the yellow stripes from their pants

The federal government doesn't appear to be willing to be budge on RCMP wages, despite a growing protest among the ranks. Mounties are ripping the yellow stripes off their pants to protest pay, staffing levels and working conditions.

Mounties are protesting wages, staffing levels and working conditions

These protest ribbons are made out of the yellow stripes off an old RCMP uniform. Mounties across the country are ripping the yellow stripes off their pants to protest wages, staffing levels and working conditions. (Lisa Stuart)

The federal government doesn't appear to be willing to budge on RCMP wages, despite Mounties ripping the yellow stripes off their pants in increasing numbers to protest pay, staffing levels and working conditions.

The movement started late last week in North Vancouver after the federal government announced a new pay package with a 4.8 per cent increase, which fell far below expectations. 

Mounties have since started removing or covering up their stripes in detachments across Canada. 

Sgt. Scott Fefchak is the detachment commander in Moosomin, Sask., where Mounties are no longer sporting yellow-striped pants.

"What's going on is absolutely unprecedented and I think for the first time in history we're seeing members from coast to coast to coast collectively showing displeasure toward a number of issues before us," he told CBC News.

Those issues go beyond pay, Fefchak said. 

"It's not uncommon for members to be having 300 or 400 hours a month on-call," he said, "It's cumulative stress that comes from always being on and not having the work-life balance that we're being told we have to try and achieve, but under the circumstances it's really difficult to achieve due to the lack of manpower."

Talking to a reporter without prior approval from management is punishable under the RCMP Act, as is altering the police uniform. But Fefchak joked that the RCMP can't afford to send anyone home because detachments are already so poorly staffed.

In Halifax, where Staff Sgt. Lisa Stuart doesn't wear a uniform to work, she got creative about supporting the protest by crafting yellow label ribbons.

It's disappointing not to hear something from one of our leaders that is meaningful and that tells us, 'Guys we get it.'- RCMP Sgt. Scott Fefchak

"My 10-year-old daughter and I spent about two hours yesterday making ribbons using the yellow stripes from the [old] pair of pants — and I made about 20 for RCMP members in my unit," she explained. 

Stuart said it gives her goose bumps that Mounties have come up with a collective way to express themselves about training, equipment, harassment, pay and benefits. She loves the RCMP but is worried about its future.

"We are falling way behind other police forces. We can't even attract new applicants into the force. They had a recruiting session a couple months ago and only two people showed up," she said.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Lisa Stuart doesn't wear a uniform. But she has joined the protest by turning the stripes from her old trousers into lapel ribbons for herself and other plainclothes officers. (CBC)

Both Fefchak and Stuart said they were inspired to speak out after Sgt. Chris Backus, with B.C.'s Sunshine Coast detachment in, first spoke up late last week.

Senior management warned him not to do any more interviews, but he talked to CBC News again on Monday.

"We're here now to tell Canadians, and most importantly [Public Safety Minister] Ralph Goodale, the Treasury Board and the federal government of Canada respectfully now, go back into that room that you just came out of last week and re-crunch those numbers to come up with a pay package that is not completely insulting," Backus said.

The pay issue

When asked about the protest, Goodale said people have every right to express their points of view.

"From my perspective, the critical thing is to make sure that the communities that the RCMP police are safe, and that the RCMP themselves are safe. They will take the action that they think is appropriate to express their perspective. And RCMP management, I'm sure, will respond in a measured way," he said.

As for the pay package announced last week, Goodale stands behind it.

Mounties protesting unfair working conditions pose in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa with the yellow stripe on their trousers noticeably absent. (Facebook photo)

"The increase is significant. It's retroactive over a two-year period, which means there will be very substantial back pay that will be paid going back to, in some cases, 2015," he told reporters after question period Monday.

As has been routine over the last four months, no one from RCMP headquarters responded to an interview request. 

Fefchak said that's disappointing.

"I'll just speak for myself here. It's disappointing not to hear something from one of our leaders that is meaningful and that tells us, 'Guys we get it.' "

Surge of interest in unionization

As for a long-standing rivalry between two groups of Mounties that have been working separately to each certify their own union, it appears to be over.

The Supreme Court of Canada recognized the Mounties' right to join an association more than two years ago. Since then, the government has introduced Bill C-7, which sets a collective bargaining framework for the RCMP. But movement on the unpopular bill has stalled since the Senate gave it a major overhaul last June.

Over the last 72 hours, thousands of Mounties have signed up with the National Police Federation. At last count, almost 9,000 people had joined, which means the group has more than enough members to file an application for certification with the Public Service Labour Relations Board. 

But co-chair Brian Sauvé said the federation is holding back to see what the Senate does this week with Bill C-4, proposed legislation that would restore union certification procedures axed in 2015 that make it significantly easier to certify a new public service union. 

Sunshine Coast RCMP officers in B.C. can be seen here covering the yellow stripe with pink duct tape in protest of wage discrepancies across the country. (Chris Backus)

Bill C-4 has been stuck at the third and final reading in the Senate, where Conservative senators have repeatedly adjourned debate on the proposed legislation.

"If they do get that through, then we wait for that bill to have royal assent and we file once that's in place, which eliminates the need for a mandatory vote because we're going to be over 50-per-cent support," Sauvé explained.

According to Sauvé, proceeding once C-4 becomes law would permit the federation to get up and running much quicker.

As for the other group hoping to certify, the Mounted Police Professional Association, a spokesperson indicated the group supports the protest and the solidarity.

"MPPAC's objective has always been for RCMP members to have the right of choice for their collective bargaining agent, as soon as possible. Whether it is NPF or MPPAC, for RCMP members to have a recognized representation is our goal."


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.