Rural residents’ dissatisfaction with the police is proof the province should consider dropping the RCMP, a professor familiar with the issue says.
About 100 people showed up at a meeting in this week in the western New Brunswick village on Monday, where they complained about RCMP taking too long to respond to calls for service or not responding at all.
The village council organized the meeting in response to what Mayor Ken Stannix says is an increase in thefts and other petty crimes by repeat offenders.
It also happened after an alleged act of vigilantism, with residents and Stannix showing support for the two men accused of taking “the law into their own hands.”
The situation in McAdam is not unique in Canada, and serves as one of the latest examples of why the RCMP might not be cut out for serving rural communities, said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and author of a new book titled Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.
“The RCMP trains, you know, officers … on a model that a Mountie is a Mountie is a Mountie, and that they may be moved anywhere in the country,” Roach said.
“And so when you’re talking about things like, you know, minor crimes and crime prevention that the people in, in McAdam all seem to be concerned with, it raises the question of whether RCMP officers have enough time in each detachment to become, you know, really embedded within the community and to know the community.”
Roach said the complaints levelled by McAdam residents against the RCMP mirror those that surfaced in the wake of the shooting death in Saskatchewan of Colten Boushie by Gerald Stanley in 2016.
Similar criticisms of the RCMP have surfaced more recently in light of the public inquiry in Nova Scotia into the mass shooting in Portapique in April 2020.
“There were concerns that there’s not enough RCMP in rural detachments, and, you know, we even saw that in … the Stanley-Boushie case,” Roach said.
Losing faith in the police
Monday’s meeting in McAdam heard from about a dozen residents who shared anecdotes about crimes committed against them and their families, and how the RCMP’s response has eroded their faith in the justice system.
“We’ve lost our sense of safety,” said resident Don Doherty.
That lack of faith in local policing is a troubling development and signals potential for violence within the community, said Michael Boudreau, a professor of criminal justice at St. Thomas University.
“If people don’t have a lot of faith in the police, they may not assist the police,” Boudreau said.
“And perhaps more importantly, and we’ve seen this now play out in McAdam, if they do not have faith or trust in the police, they … may take matters into their own hands in terms of trying to apprehend criminals or trying to solve crimes, and that can lead potentially to more criminality and potentially to acts of violence.”
Boudreau said the concerns out of McAdam make alternatives to the current RCMP model “certainly worth exploring.”
Boudreau noted Ontario and Quebec already have their own provincial police forces, and that Alberta recently commissioned a study on potentially doing the same.
If New Brunswick were to go down the road of having its own provincial police, Boudreau said it would be costly and warrant extensive studying.
“Policing is a very expensive proposition, so it’s it is something that I think any province, and New Brunswick in particular, needs to approach cautiously. But then if the service isn’t there, then perhaps it is time to get rid of the RCMP.”
RCMP’s future already in question
The RCMP operate in eight provinces, including New Brunswick, three territories, and more than 150 municipalities through contract-policing agreements.
New Brunswick is about halfway through its current 20-year contract, and whether that agreement gets renewed is yet to be decided.
However in 2019, then minister of justice and public safety Carl Urquhart said his government was putting together a task force to consider implementing a regional policing model in the province.
The government has yet to release any report on the matter.
And last fall, Dieppe Mayor Yvon Lapierre said he was told the RCMP, which currently serves the Moncton region, would be withdrawing from municipal and provincial policing within six years.
Those claims were never confirmed by the RCMP but had followed a parliamentary committee report recommending the federal government end contract policing.
“The RCMP may not have the capacity to police areas where they are not familiar with community concerns,” the report said.
The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is now poised to conduct an assessment of contract policing by the RCMP, as part of the mandate he was given when he took on the ministerial role in January.
We hear every day that people are frustrated with crime in rural New Brunswick, and we need to address that meaningfully.-Judy Désalliers, spokesperson, Department of Justice and Public Safety
In an email to CBC News, New Brunswick Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Judy Désalliers said the department has heard from local governments about the desire to change the policing model.
The departmet is open to working with them on ways to provide more adequate and sustainable policing services.
“The Department is working with the RCMP to ensure New Brunswickers do notice results,” Désalliers said. “We want excellence in policing and we recognize rural policing is challenging and that investigations can be complex.
“At the same time, we hear every day that people are frustrated with crime in rural New Brunswick, and we need to address that meaningfully. We’re confident that our team, and the Commanding Officer [Deanna Hill] and her team, can, and will, drive change.”