With a few exceptions, not too many municipal politicians dare speak critically about the RCMP’s lucrative policing contract in B.C.
An agreement in principle to renew the deal for another 20 years is expected to be reached this fall, and two more Lower Mainland councillors are asking whether or not the province is getting a good package.
Although District of North Vancouver councillor Doug MacKay-Dunn and Richmond councillor Greg Halsey-Brandt have previously raised questions about the costs and the quality of RCMP service, the City of North Vancouver’s Rod Clark and Burnaby’s Nick Volkow are zeroing in on the lack of civilian control over the force.
“I would say that the public is demanding civilian accountability and oversight over the RCMP,” Clark told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Nobody’s happy with the police investigating themselves. There has to be some sort of complaint mechanism, which, again, is civilian oversight.”
Unlike independent local police forces, RCMP detachments don’t answer to municipal boards. As well, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the provincial Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
“If we don’t have that, I mean, why would a party sign to a contract unless they were 100-percent happy?” Clark asked.
A total of 58 cities and towns in B.C. with populations of at least 5,000 are policed by the RCMP through separate agreements with the national force. Except for jurisdictions that have their own independent police forces, like Vancouver, the rest of the province is also patrolled by the Mounties under contract with the province.
Burnaby’s Volkow isn’t pleased that his city doesn’t really have control over its RCMP detachment.
“I’m starting to lean towards the view that a municipal force is better because there’s a better opportunity for oversight municipally than there is with the RCMP,” Volkow told the Straight in a phone interview. “There’s a local police board, and the other thing is that the local [RCMP] detachments, they answer to Ottawa before they answer to the city that they’re policing.”
Volkow also noted that costs are another concern, a matter that is reflected in proposed resolutions for this year’s annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, to be held in Whistler from September 27 to October 1.
One proposal calls for greater financial, equipment, and personnel resources for the RCMP in small rural recreational areas during peak tourism seasons. Another suggests that the RCMP should bear all the costs of defending its members facing allegations of improper conduct. A third resolution seeks to protect municipal governments from unexpected costs as a result of major criminal investigations involving RCMP assets drawn from outside their local jurisdictions.
In 2007, according to a UBCM document, municipalities with populations of more than 15,000 spent about $370 million for RCMP policing services. Jurisdictions with 5,000 to 15,000 residents paid out around $47 million. For areas with fewer than 5,000 people, the provincial government spent more than $276 million in that same year.
The RCMP contract in B.C. expires in 2012. According to SFU criminologist Robert Gordon, the inquiry into the bungled police investigation of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton presents the provincial government with a chance to suspend the contract-renewal negotiations. As the lead investigating agency for cases involving missing women, the RCMP was largely blamed in a report by the Vancouver Police Department in August this year for the failure to stop Pickton sooner.
“A sensible”¦cabinet will be saying: ”˜We don’t know what’s coming out of Pickton, we don’t know where this is going to go, we don’t want to be jammed in the embarrassing situation of having a contract with the police service that’s shown to have so many problems and so many failures as exemplified by the Pickton incident,’” Gordon told the Straight in a phone interview.
But Gordon himself doesn’t expect this to happen. “That assumes that there is rational governance taking place,” he said. “I have no faith that that is what is going on at this point.”
Speaking on the floor of the B.C. legislature on June 3 this year, Solicitor General Mike de Jong declared that the government wants to “continue the relationship” and arrive at a “long-term agreement” with the RCMP.