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RCMP federal policing recruits could soon skip Regina training depot, frontline policing

The RCMP is on the cusp of a major shift in how it recruits officers into federal policing — a move that would allow some Mounties to skip the training depot in Regina and the usual tour of duty in frontline policing.

Head of federal policing says force ‘not doing one-size-fits-all’ anymore

RCMP officers make their way to a bus as they head off Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, before the visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to Canada, on Thursday, March 23, 2023.

The RCMP is on the cusp of a major shift in how it recruits officers into federal policing — a move that would allow some Mounties to skip the training depot in Regina and the usual tour of duty in frontline policing.

"We're really modernizing our approach to say we're not doing one-size-fits-all," Deputy Commissioner Mark Flynn, the head of federal policing, told CBC News.

"It's a recognition that not everybody wants to do frontline policing prior to coming into this very challenging and rewarding work that we have in the federal policing program."

The RCMP sent out an internal note recently alerting members to the proposed change. The idea is to allow applicants who want to work on federal files — which include the RCMP's most sensitive and high-profile cases and involve things like foreign interference and counterterrorism — to apply directly to work with Flynn.

Successful applicants would then train at a facility in Ottawa, instead of at the historic training grounds in Regina, and would not have to serve in a detachment.

Flynn said he needs to change how he recruits officers to stay on top of a growing caseload.

"I would love to be able to investigate every single crime that I know of and every single criminal that I know. But I cannot," he said.

"There are times when I am faced with lists of priority targets, where we have to triage them and work on the highest threat, even though we know about other criminal networks that are operating that we can't target."

The RCMP has been sending its recruits to the RCMP Academy in Regina for more than a century. Cadets undergo a 26-week training program there before being posted to a detachment, often in a rural area. Those interested in federal policing can then request a transfer.

It's what Flynn did. He said he recognizes that career path likely discourages many people from applying.

"If there is somebody who is interested in coming into the organization and specializing, we don't want the traditional model of having people go do frontline policing be a barrier for them," he said.

Many reluctant to serve in remote detachments

Michael Kempa, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said the policy change could address a roadblock that thwarts RCMP efforts to recruit people with higher levels of education.

"I obviously get lots of students coming into my office hours talking about careers in policing. Many of them have been very reluctant to consider joining the RCMP … They say, 'I don't want to be sent to remote areas of … northern Canada, northwest Canada to serve in local community policing initiatives," he said.

"I think if we're looking to recruit people that have those higher levels of education, that would certainly help."

The RCMP has set up a pilot project to test the idea. It's a direct entry stream for the protective services program, which expanded its services earlier this year to provide close protection for senior federal ministers and public servants in response to the rising threat of political violence.

WACTH | MPs, bureaucrats to get more RCMP security

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say they are preparing to offer heightened security to senior government ministers and civil servants in response to rising threats of violence and instances of menacing behaviour.

The plan is to review the results of the pilot, make appropriate modifications and begin dedicated training for federal policing recruits in 2024 at a facility in Ottawa, Flynn said.

"If we're going to remove as many barriers as we can that impact our ability to recruit and retain people … it's also important to provide that training option in the city where the work is, and where the people want to live," he said.

Flynn said the federal policing training course — which still needs to be approved by the RCMP's health and safety team — will focus on the demands of federal policing and provide updated, specialized training more often. The first cadets in the pilot project are getting 14 weeks of training, with an emphasis on close protection and driving.

"I went through training over 25 years ago and the training I received then was current then," said Flynn.

"But as I've gone into some of the positions that I have gone into, I will tell you that I should have had updated, more current training for many of those positions."

RCMP union likes the depot model

Not everyone is happy with the planned change.

Brian Sauvé is president of the National Police Federation, the RCMP's union. He said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the proposed training program because he wasn't involved in its development — but he praised the depot model.

It "ensures members of the RCMP are well prepared to effectively respond in their own communities, or wherever needed, to whatever emergency awaits, in contract or federal policing roles," he said in a media statement issued earlier this month.

"The overwhelming trend across Canada is to increase the standards for basic and ongoing police training, not reduce or silo them based on a specific need."

Flynn said that while he knows there will be concerns about the new approach, he has to respond to increasingly dire recruitment numbers.

The RCMP is falling short of baseline staffing levels across Canada, leaving detachments shorthanded and possibly putting public safety at risk.

For years, Mounties in federal policing have been posted to detachments to address gaps in provincial policing without being replaced.

"When you look at … the demand and the evolution that's occurring in the the criminal networks — whether you look at organized crime supporting hostile states, or organized crime using hostile states' funding and services to further their efforts — we don't have the resources to combat [it] all at the same time," Flynn said.

"The reality for me is that if we want to become a modern organization, we have to make changes."

RCMP is not the 'FBI of the north': Flynn

Flynn insisted the upcoming changes are not a first step toward getting the RCMP out of contract policing.

Earlier this summer, the Toronto Star reported that the idea of transforming the RCMP into a Canadian version of the FBI is picking up traction in the Prime Minister's Office.

The idea, which has circulated in Ottawa over the years, is to pull the RCMP out of the business of frontline contract policing in eight provinces, three territories and 150 municipalities and shift its focus to federal policing.

"No, this is geared towards federal policing. [It] is not the FBI of the North. We are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a strong, proud history" said Flynn.

The federal government is reviewing the RCMP's contracts with provinces, territories and municipalities, which are set to expire in 2032. Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said recently it's too early to hint at a decision about the future of contract policing.

"We think there are some things that are working very well, some things that perhaps need to be improved and some jurisdictions may decide to go in a different direction," he said during last week's cabinet retreat in Charlottetown.

"It's not even preliminary to say that there are plans to unscramble that omelette that quickly."

Mass shooting report recommends phasing out depot

Kempa said it appears inevitable that the RCMP will shed some of its contracts. Some communities — like Surrey, B.C. — are moving to replace the Mounties with new, local police forces.

"The fact of the matter is it'll never be like a binary light switch, where one day you flip the switch and the RCMP is just out of contract policing entirety," he said. "There's just too many places across Canada that are very remote and don't have the resources to establish their own independent municipal policing services.

"The question of RCMP reform is really going to require a very measured and adult conversation in the months and years to come."

LeBlanc also will have to decide soon whether his government will adopt the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commision, the inquiry that reviewed the RCMP's response to the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead.

The commissioners have called for the RCMP to phase out the depot training model by 2032 and for the federal government to replace it with a three-year, degree-based training program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

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