Politics

RCMP looks to redraft its entrance exam as it pushes for a more diverse police service

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is looking to rid its entrance exam of “outdated criteria” — a move that comes as the national police force confronts systemic racism in the ranks.

Old test 'potentially favours one group over another,' says recent tender

Members of Troop 17, the first all-female group of RCMP cadets, march at depot to celebrate 35 years of female uniformed members in the RCMP in 2009. On average, 10,000 applicants write the RCMP's entrance exam annually. (Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is looking to scrub its entrance exam of cultural biases and "outdated criteria" as it tries to confront what's been called its "toxic culture" and the problem of systemic racism in the ranks.

The RCMP posted a tender this week looking for a contractor to provide pre-screening exams for applicants. It's part of the RCMP's modernization plan, known as Vision 150, which also includes changes to the criteria for becoming an RCMP officer.

"A thorough review of these processes has determined that despite significant changes made to the processes and tools over the past decade, systemic challenges remain," says the tender.

"Most notably, a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) review of the current RCMP exams concluded that even when prospective applicants possess both the interest and qualifications, there is evidence that the exams themselves may create barriers to a diverse applicant pool. Outdated criteria, lacking strong supporting evidence, may result in high-potential candidates being unable, or unwilling, to apply."

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has been signalling that changes are coming to the recruitment process. She told a House of Commons committee late last year that the force needs to better reflect the communities it serves.

"We're looking at our organization as a whole, and we're looking at those systems and those processes, those policies and procedures that will eliminate systemic racism," she said in November.

"We are going to be testing for those types of behaviours that could negatively impact their interactions."

RCMP faces a decline in applicants

The move to redraft the exam comes as the RCMP struggles with a staffing crunch — particularly when it comes to attracting candidates of colour.

As of April 1, 2020 (the most recent period for which statistics are available), just under 12 per cent of the RCMP's 20,000 rank-and-file members identified as visible minority, according to figures posted online late last week. That figure hasn't changed dramatically over the past few years and remained lower than the general rate in the workforce nationwide.

Women represent about 21.7 per cent of regular members — a slight increase from 20.1 per cent in 2011.

"Further exacerbating these challenges, changes to the Canadian social and demographic context, such as the decreasing unemployment rate and increased urbanization, have contributed to a decline in applicants over recent years despite increased attempts to attract a broader candidate base," says the tender document.

"Within this context, the RCMP cannot afford to deter applicants or exclude high-potential candidates based on outdated criteria, tools and techniques."

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has been signalling that changes are coming to the recruitment process. She told a House of Commons committee late last year that the force needs to better reflect the communities it serves. (CBC)

To be accepted into the RCMP's training program, applicants must complete two testing components. The first is a six-factor personality questionnaire, which evaluates applicants on the basis of their agreeableness, independence, industriousness, methodicalness, openness to experiences and the degree to which they are extroverts.

The second is the RCMP aptitude test. That exam — which the RCMP says about 10,000 applicants write annually — tests seven skills that are considered essential to being a Mountie: memory, composition, logic, judgment, comprehension, computation and observation.

Tensions with Indigenous communities 

But as the RCMP's own tender call admits, the pre-training testing has served as a barrier to some applicants.

"Individuals from different groups have an unequal probability of obtaining the same score on a particular item, and [the test] potentially favours one group over another," said the document.

"Secondly, applicants' perception of the types of questions and supporting materials can affect their likelihood of completing the test. Finally, the test demonstrates inherent cultural biases that suggest the existing choice of vocabulary and situations are outdated."

Lucki promised to build a better national police force after former Supreme Court justice Michel ​Bastarache issued a blistering report last year in the wake of a series of sexual assault and harassment allegations. His report, released in November, concluded that the RCMP's culture "encourages, or at least tolerates, misogynistic, racist and homophobic attitudes among many members ..."

The RCMP — which provides contract policing in all three territories and most provinces — was accused of tolerating a climate of systemic racism following a number of controversial incidents caught on camera involving Indigenous Canadians last year.

In the fall, Lucki also faced questions about her defence of RCMP officers who policed a tense dispute between Mi'kmaw lobster harvesters and non-Indigenous commercial fishers in Nova Scotia.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the RCMP had failed to properly protect Indigenous people there. Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack called the force "useless" and said it hadn't sent enough officers to protect his members.

The tender for a new exam closes June 7.

With files from Elizabeth Thompson

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