RCMP officers created an app to rate their workplaces — now they fear HQ is watching

The makers of the Buffalo Tracks app — a sort of Yelp for RCMP detachments — say they fear candid comments left on the application will be used against them by RCMP brass.

The Buffalo Tracks app allowed serving officers to post and browse reviews about detachments

A team of Mounties created an app called Buffalo Tracks to rate and review detachments. (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC)

The makers of the now-defunct Buffalo Tracks app — a sort of Yelp for RCMP detachments — say they fear candid comments left on the application will be used against them by RCMP brass.

The app allowed serving officers to post and browse reviews about life in detachments across the country.

"Candidly review your previous postings in a secure environment and share your experiences for the next generation, using an alias or your real name," said the app's page.

"Let's face it, at least this way you know what you're missing out on when staffing tells you Fort McMurray is probably a better fit. Our goal is to help members decide where to go, or in the case you've been voluntold, what you've gotten yourself into."

Members could use the app to rate detachments on aspects like physical condition, amenities and morale. (Buffalo Tracks app)

The app's co-founder Damon Atwood said members could leave a numbered rating between 1 and 5 on things like a detachment's physical condition, amenities and morale, and how well it accommodated RCMP officers with families. They were also able to leave fuller text reviews and share photos.

Atwood said the app's founders initially received approval from the force in late 2019 to start Buffalo Tracks (the name is a nod to the RCMP's iconic emblem). Members of the RCMP require clearance from the chain of command before they take on secondary employment, a policy meant to guard against conflicts of interest.

That approval was rescinded in March of this year, Atwood said.

"The result being that continued operation of the app may have resulted in disciplinary action, so the app was forced to suspend operations," he said.

Too candid?

When the app was being shut down, he said, he and the team behind Buffalo Tracks were tipped off that someone had copied information from the site without permission or consent.

"It was disclosed to us inadvertently by the RCMP during internal processes related to the revocation of the secondary employment authorization," said Atwood.

The Buffalo Tracks team subsequently sent a notification to users — seen by CBC News — warning them that they believe an employee copied the detachment reviews at the direction of the RCMP's Employee Management and Relations Office, without the app founders' consent.

Atwood said they fear users will be reprimanded by their superiors for being candid.

"The main concern, outside of general privacy interests, is preventing any of our customers from facing negative repercussions from supervisors and/or managers for expressing their views about a particular location (in the event a review was negative, in most cases members were happy to talk about awesome posts they had served at)," he wrote in an email.

"We've requested the return of our data and information related to the scope of the breach and use of the data. We're awaiting notification from the Commissioner on who will be conducting this investigation."

A spokesperson for the RCMP said that since the app isn't supported by the service, it's not in a position to comment on it.

"Additionally, all serving RCMP employees continue to be subject to the RCMP Code of Conduct, whether on or off-duty — something that also applies to their private behaviour online," said Catherine Fortin in an email to CBC News. 

The RCMP has faced scrutiny in recent years about staff morale and its workplace culture — which some have called a toxic culture that tolerates harassment and racism.

With files from Jane Gerster

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