According to new data, the RCMP continues to fall short of its desired recruitment targets despite union pay, quicker processing and permitting 'foreigners' to apply.
"Recruitment in policing is a global challenge," testified Deputy Commissioner Bryan Larkin at the Senate national finance committee. "Our target is approximately 19,000 regular members."
In a report to the committee, the RCMP said it has 18,483 members, missing its 19,000 target, reported Blacklock's Reporter. "Of the 18,483 funded regular member positions in the RCMP, 1,295 were vacant," it wrote.
In March, B.C. had the most vacancies at 460, with 113 vacancies in Saskatchewan and 35 in Newfoundland and Labrador — approximately 8% of its respective police force.
"Last fiscal year, 152 permanent residents applied to our regular member cadet program," said the report. Of that, 79 people either dropped out or were rejected by the national police force.
"We continue to see hard and soft vacancies," Larkin told the Senate, despite competitive pay and quicker processing times. However, three-year constables earn over $106,000 annually when employed by municipal police forces, more than the RCMP can compensate.
Recruitment in past years peaked at 1,783 new cadets in 2009, according to Samantha Hazen, chief financial officer for the RCMP. However, the national police force says it is only on pace to recruit 700 new officers this year.
"We're seeing attrition and vacancy rates impacting us again," Hazen testified at the Senate committee.
Former Mountie Larry Comeau, who retired in 2001, said the RCMP's ability to recruit prospective officers has never struggled as much as it has now.
"I used to work on evaluating attrition rates [for] the RCMP in the 1980s. I was amazed at just how steady it was. Most members stayed at least 25 years when they were eligible to get 50% of their pension," he said.
"Then gradually, as married members were hired, the age went from 19-25 for recruits to 27 and higher, meaning more members were not serving for 25 years. Therefore, attrition rates escalated."
"Policing is no longer considered as attractive a career as it used to be," testified Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation representing unionized Mounties, at the Commons human resources committee.
"Police services across North America are seeing a decline in applicants," he told MPs. Between April and December 2021, the RCMP received 6,300 applications, compared to nearly 11,800 applications the previous fiscal year, reported Blacklock's Reporter.
"This shows a decline of almost 47%. In addition, the RCMP is projecting an even further decline in applicants."
In a 2020 testimony at the Commons public safety committee, Sauvé said Black Lives Matter protesters spat on, cussed and yelled at officers following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"We are hearing more cases of members being yelled at, confronted, spat on and assaulted while on duty," he said Sauvé. "This is unacceptable. All Canadians should be free from harassment and assault, including those on the front line."
Soon after Floyd's death, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki embraced the idea that the RCMP is "systemically racist," despite some initial reservations.
"I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have," wrote Lucki in a statement.
The RCMP website outlines their intent to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace amid ongoing sexual harassment suits and pay disputes.
"This has been a growing problem. Contributing factors have been the internal problems within the RCMP coupled with pay levels below those of most other large Canadian police organizations," said Comeau.
"The class action [sexual harassment] civil suits also sent the wrong message to would-be female applicants. The racism within the RCMP is another concerning issue."
The former RCMP officer said many prospective recruits looking for a policing career are looking at provincial and municipal departments, which pay better than the RCMP and do not require applicants to move.
Grande Prairie, Alberta, the city council voted on March 7 to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force. The Alberta government pledged $9.7 million to help cover transitional costs over the next two years, which are expected to total $19 million.
The National Police Service called the decision "politically motivated."
Alberta's Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis called the RCMP "an arm of the state…rather [than] an extension of the communities they serve."
Comeau added that enforcing public health orders during the COVID pandemic likely encouraged early retirement or discouraged others from applying to the RCMP. The PoliceOnGuard.ca website published an open letter from "concerned law enforcement officers of Alberta" describing their moral problem.
"It's a tough position for sure. Do they obey the instructions of their superiors to enforce the restrictions? In obeying what are likely to be unlawful orders, do they understand that they may, ultimately, be committing an offence under section 423 of the Criminal Code, and potentially others as well?" reads the letter.
"Do they understand that the excuse 'I was just following orders' may not end up being an excuse that a court, be it a court of law or a court of 'public opinion,' will accept as justification for an officer's actions? Do they go to their respective associations and stand against their superiors, potentially risking their livelihood?" it continues.
"We won't offer any answers here, as it falls to each law enforcement officer to grapple with their conscience and make their own decisions."