Politics

Bob Paulson tells Mounties taking off-duty community assignments not an 'expectation'

The commissioner of the RCMP has told his officers they are not expected to take part in community events while off duty if they don't want to, after CBC revealed that Mounties across the country were declining "red serge duty" in a protest over working conditions.

RCMP head writes staff after CBC story about Mounties refusing red serge duty as a protest

Some RCMP officers have been declining to take part in 'red serge' duties at community events in a protest over work conditions, CBC News reported last week. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press)

The commissioner of the RCMP has told his officers they are not expected to take part in community events while off duty if they don't want to, after CBC revealed Mounties across the country were declining "red serge duty" in a protest over working conditions.

Bob Paulson made the comments in an email to staff dated July 8 and obtained by CBC News.

"Many of our members choose to represent their RCMP profession in the community activity they engage in while off duty," Paulson said in the email, which does not mention the CBC story. "That is outstanding and frankly represents the professionalism and privilege many of us feel as employees of the force. But there is no rule or expectation that everyone do so."

Last week, the CBC learned that some Mounties were no longer volunteering to appear in parades, fairs and festivals wearing their ceremonial red uniforms and Stetson hats in protest over unsustainable understaffing and overall morale issues within the force, among other irritants.

The first casualty of the apparent protest was Vancouver's Canada Day parade, which saw no RCMP participation.

Paulson opened his note by referring to an earlier memo about Bill C-7, legislation that would give RCMP officers the right to collectively bargain, saying he was writing because he "thought it timely to address some related workplace issues."

The federal government has already missed a Supreme Court imposed deadline to pass Bill C-7, and the bill has drawn criticism from RCMP rank and file for explicitly excluding some workplace issues from the bargaining process, including staffing levels and how the force deals with harassment complaints.

In his memo, Paulson acknowledged the pressure created by staffing vacancies. He said the RCMP is "investing millions" in recruitment efforts and is about to enter a "resource review" being conducted for the government by consultants KPMG, but he acknowledges there are concerns about workload.

"The pressure for voluntary overtime ought to be gone by now. If it isn't, use this message to extinguish it. Police work is by its nature difficult and can incur overtime, but even that has to be managed carefully," he wrote.

Paulson's email came a day after the announcement that former auditor general Sheila Fraser has been appointed as a special adviser to the government to look at how the RCMP has handled complaints of harassment in the force.