Canada’s RCMP: History and What It Wants to Change

As the RCMP marks a major milestone, questions arise about the legacy of Canada’s paramilitary police force and how it fits into modern-day policing.

Over the past 150 years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has grown from 300 staff to 30,000 and evolved from a northern police agency into a nationwide organization.

The agency has jurisdiction over 22% of Canada’s population and works to prevent crime, law enforcement, investigate crime, and assist in emergency situations. Currently, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only provinces in Canada that do not use the RCMP as a provincial police force.

In addition to the local and provincial controls that the RCMP exercises, it is also tasked with supporting the international community through police training and peacekeeping, as well as providing protection details to officials. senior officials, including the prime minister.

As the RCMP navigates the 21st century and the changing demographics of Canada’s population, the RCMP’s upcoming goals and initiatives are critical to understanding how it will evolve.

Nadine Huggins, human resources director, told in a recent interview: “We are addressing the issues that have been raised directly.

“We acknowledge the complexities of our history and lay the groundwork for us to ensure that the next 150 (years) legacy of policy is modern, inclusive, respectful and dignified. “


Huggins was asked about the organization’s growth in recent years to critical attention.

Recently, the force has come under close scrutiny as reports of sexual assault, racism, insider misconceptions and homophobia have plagued the organization.

One such report, called “Broken Dreams, Broken Lives” and compiled by Judge Michel Bastarache, notes a “toxic” culture in the RCMP. The report, published in 2020, delves into the “devastating impact” of women being mistreated in their workplace.

Bastarache highlights barriers preventing women from succeeding in the RCMP, calling for an independent outside study into the future of the federal police organization. He made 52 recommendations for change, including training, recruitment, job posting, HR policy, etc.

A separate report by the House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in June 2021 focuses on how the RCMP can be reformed.

The Commission said the “pervasive nature of systemic racism in policing” needed “transformative” action to ensure the safety of Indigenous Peoples, Blacks and other racially abused people. in Canada.

Additionally, the RCMP is fighting a $1.1 billion lawsuit over bullying and harassment of its members.

The main plaintiffs, veteran RCMP members Geoffrey Greenwood and Todd Gray, allege that there is a culture of systematic intimidation and harassment within the force that is tolerated by management.

Critics look at the organization’s recent history, questioning why it took so many damaging reports and allegations before the force took action.

In response to this, the RCMP said those currently in leadership roles within this force are determined to improve.

“I think leaders do the best they can in the moments where they take on their roles,” says Huggins. “And I know that this leadership team, at this point, is pretty focused on making sure we lay a strong foundation for the next 150 (years) of our organization.”


Huggins said one of the RCMP’s current “core missions” is that it reflects representation of the communities in which it operates.

“Throughout our entire organization, we hold people accountable to ensure that we have an organization that is free from sexism, racism, homophobia, discrimination, harassment, confusion of any kind… there is no place for that in the modern RCMP,” she said.

To this end, the force is developing guidelines that address each of its issues.

Reports detailing a toxic culture within the RCMP have blamed the leadership team. To fix this, the RCMP says, it is removing barriers to recruiting diverse candidates, helping to bring representation to the forefront.

As of October 2020, only 21.7% of the RCMP’s regular members are female and 12.1% are identified as a clear minority. Indigenous people make up 7.1% of the regular membership of the RCMP.

“One of the big things… was how we changed the way we recruited and innovated our recruiting approach,” says Huggins. “The organization has updated everything from the entrance exam to the assessment of new applicants. We’ve updated our exam so it’s unbiased.”

The exam is the first step to determine if the person holds the fundamentals for becoming an RCMP member. Huggins said if the organization sees people from certain demographic groups struggling with the same questions, administrators will come back to see if they’re biased.

Huggins said the organization is also prioritizing hiring younger people. Two programs, one specifically for Indigenous youth and the other, the Diversified and Inclusive Cadet Preparatory Experience, are bringing new perspectives to the force.

“This is not an overnight thing, this is a long-term project,” Huggins said. “It’s changing the ground so the culture changes.”

According to Huggins, the hope is that when new officers join the RCMP, the culture will change.

“We’re building and flying at the same time,” says Huggins. “That’s to ensure that we continue to deliver the services we need and evolve our model, so that it will lead to more diversity across ranks, as well as our leadership. .”


Fear of speaking out against senior leadership is another problem the RCMP is trying to tackle.

A sexual harassment class action lawsuit in the RCMP alleges that higher-ranking employees used their power to force sexual acts against others, especially women. The allegations led to an independent evaluator recommending 52 actions the organization should take.

“In June 2021, we established an Independent Harassment Resolution Center… which is at the helm of the RCMP,” said Huggins.

The Center deals with harassment prevention and resolution of complaints when employees speak up.

When a member of the RCMP exhibits poor conduct, the matter will be investigated, according to the force’s code of conduct, after which the member will be provided with educational and correctional opportunities prior to taking actions. punishment action.

Although the center was set up to deal with complaints and is described as a long arm, critics have pointed out that its chief executive is employed and hired by the RCMP and reports to the RCMP. the force’s highest-ranking civilian officer. In addition, outside investigators are former officers, not truly independent people.

Shirley Heafey, former chair of the RCMP public complaints committee, told CTV National News in June 2021: “They can’t fix themselves. There’s so much hurt and corruption that it can’t be fixed internally.” . To be.”

Huggins said the ongoing conversations around removing barriers within the organization on reporting issues is something the force has committed to doing.

Women in particular are at the forefront of RCMP reports, with allegations of abuse ranging from gender-based discrimination in teams to penetration sexual assaults and disparaging comments. .

The RCMP says it is working to include more women in leadership roles in the force.

“Under the current commissioner (Brenda Lucki), we have achieved gender parity across our senior leadership desk,” said Huggins. “Are we perfect? ​​No, we’re not perfect in every way, but there is certainly a concerted commitment… to ensure that we promote equality and overall inclusion in the workplace. job.”

While the current government has come to her defense over the past few years over her handling of several famous incidents, Lucki’s future at the helm of the RCMP remains a question mark as she nearing the 5-year mark in this role.


Lucki was named the RCMP’s first permanent female commissioner in 2018, outlining her vision for a more diverse RCMP.

At the time, her experience with Indigenous relationships was seen as an asset, as the force was constantly working to improve relationships with Indigenous communities.

The RCMP was established on May 23, 1873. At that time, the landscape was hundreds of hectares of dense, unspoiled land.

Indigenous communities are scattered across the country, their languages ​​and traditions largely intact before the India Act of 1876 forcibly assimilated.

The very fabric that many think of today as Canadian culture is still in its infancy.

Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham historian and police expert, told CTV’s Your Morning in an interview earlier this month that the RCMP is modeled after the Royal Irish Police Service.

Forces in Britain were used to “control” the Irish, Hewitt said, and in Canada the RCMP was used against the natives.

“I think that gives you an idea of ​​the initial motivation for the force to go west to effectively control territory that used to be Indigenous land to help relocate Indigenous peoples into protected areas,” says Hewitt. existed to prepare for European settlement.

As Canada became more diverse in the late 20th century, the way the RCMP responded to issues of racism came into focus. Serving Canadians means that the organization needs to adapt its values ​​and protocols to a rapidly diversifying population.

However, discrimination continues.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, the RCMP participated in the purge known as LGBTQ2S+, in which thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians were discriminated against, questioned, and abducted. discharge or demote from the Canadian Armed Forces. RCMP and federal public service.

Work is underway within the federal government to improve inclusiveness and rebuild trust, with survivors recently calling out the RCMP specifically.

“If you look at the historical records, they fought hard to persecute LGBT people,” said Douglas Elliott, an activist and lead attorney for the class-action purge lawsuit.


Some of the elements of RCMP in the past are elements of the way it currently works – from the way it was set up to the core missions.

Critics wonder if the organization can grow, away from the damage it has caused in the past.

“You have effectively understood what it is to be a colonial institution, a paramilitary institution that is still (working) in the 21st century,” Hewitt said. “I’m just not sure if paramilitary values ​​in the 19th century would work as well in the 21st.”

The problems emerging today are not unfamiliar, he said – but there is one key difference.

“These problems are not new. The obvious difference is that through social media, through lawsuits, things like that, we’re more aware of them than we were before,” Hewitt said.

The RCMP admits that moving forward requires “a lot of work” to address the issues in RCMP. It has known this for years, according to its CHRO.

“While the organization is certainly proud of its tradition, it also aspires to be a police service for the future,” says Huggins. “Our culture shift, our new core values, our focus on de-escalation, it all speaks to how we take what’s useful from the paramilitary tradition. our own and combined it with the modern vision we had for ourselves.”

Featuring files from CTV News Senior Digital Congressional Correspondent Rachel Aiello.

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