Mounties refusing to join 'red serge' community events in protest over working conditions

Mounties are refusing to volunteer for so-called "red serge duty" over what they say is unsustainable under-staffing and an overall morale problem within the force.

RCMP had to cancel participation on Vancouver Canada Day parade due to lack of response from officers

Members of the RCMP march during the Calgary Stampede parade in July 2013. Mounties are turning down overtime for participating in appearances such as these as a protest over working conditions. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Members of the RCMP across Canada are taking part in quiet protests over what they say is unsustainable under-staffing and an overall morale problem within the force.

Some Mounties are refusing to volunteer for so-called "red serge duty" where they march in parades and appear at events such as fairs, festivals and sporting events in their ceremonial red uniforms and Stetson hats.

Vancouver's Canada Day parade was the first casualty.

"It is with disappointment that I have to announce that I had to cancel the RCMP participation in this year's Canada Day parade in downtown Vancouver due to a lack of response," Sgt. Maj. Nathalie Caron wrote in an email to employees in B.C. "Thank you to the few that showed interest."

Protest of any kind is rare inside the RCMP, which has strict regulations about publicly expressing any kind of comments about the force that could be considered negative.

But as Parliament missed — and appears to be in no rush to honour — a deadline set out by the Supreme Court to give Mounties the opportunity to form a union and collectively bargain with management, many members of the RCMP are organizing online to refuse requests for red serge duty.

"There is a morale problem,' says Const. Richelle Daly. And while she doesn't endorse the protest, the Edmonton-area traffic cop says she sees first-hand the effect of chronic short-staffing.

"The lack of resources, member fatigue — just the operational burnout seems to be the biggest factor here. And I'm finding that members, when they are looking for overtime, they're more likely to take the overtime that's going to be for the front-line members and on the watches rather than doing a red serge duty," Daly told CBC News.

A pair of Mounties on red serge duty, flanked by Winnipeg Blue Bombers mascots, walk with the Grey Cup ahead of the 103rd Grey Cup. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

Last month, RCMP managers in Alberta sent out a request for people to volunteer for a ceremonial troop that would attend six high-profile events per year. If there weren't enough volunteers by July 1, the email said, people would be assigned to don the red serge.

The protests are largely being organized on social media, where Mounties have also discussed boycotting upcoming parades and other community events across Canada.

"Management should see this as an early warning signal," says retired RCMP assistant commissioner Cal Corley.

He says front-line officers have been under a great deal of strain and expressions of frustrations are to be expected.

Among the irritants, according to Corley, are:

  • The decision to redistribute resources to combat terrorism, leaving other units short staffed.
  • Findings that three Mounties murdered in Moncton, N.B., in 2014 were not properly equipped
  • class-action lawsuit over sexual harassment inside the force.
  • Commissioner Bob Paulson's decision six weeks ago to scrap the closest thing officers had to a union.
  • How far the RCMP has fallen behind other police services in pay.

"The only way the RCMP is going to achieve its vision is to engage the membership in more democratic ways, and perhaps what we call non-traditional ways, than it perhaps has in the past," he said. "It'd be foolish to dismiss it. It really warrants some introspection on the part of the organization and to take this seriously."

While mounties are turning down red serge duty for non-essential events such as parades, they will continue to attend funerals and memorials such as this funeral for slain RCMP Const. David Wynn. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

When asked for the force's reaction to the Canada Day parade boycott, a B.C. RCMP spokesperson responded, "As more and more communities throughout B.C. plan larger celebrations, we are seeing our members, and their families, choose to celebrate Canada Day in the communities where they live and work."

The RCMP says requests for red serge duty are assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure they don't conflict with operational needs. Sometimes, ceremonial duties become part of a regular shift, such as when an event takes place during work hours. That said, changes are coming.

"Due to the extensive number and range of requests the RCMP receives on an international, national, divisional and local level, the RCMP is in the process of standardizing an approach across the force for volunteer ceremonial duties, to better establish duty status red serge duty and consistency on entitlements," said Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon, an RCMP spokeswoman.

Corley says it's positive that the officers are choosing to strike out at a symbolic element of the force, instead of day-to-day policing. And organizers are clear that they won't boycott Pride parades, regimental funerals or Remembrance Day ceremonies.

The last controversy over red serge duty involved on-duty officers training for the musical ride who were assigned to serve in the honour guard at Paulson's 2012 wedding. Once the story became public, Paulson later cut a $912 cheque to repay the federal government. 

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was forced to apologize for having members of the RCMP musical ride act as an honour guard while on official duty during his wedding with Erin O'Gorman in August 2012. (Betty Cooper/Sugarbush Studio)


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