By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With the Alberta government announcing their blueprint to implement a province-wide police force, some concerns have arrived from the NDP and some of the municipal governments within Alberta. NDP Justice Critic, Irfan Sabir, laid bare some issues that he had with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro’s plans after they were announced on Aug. 16.
“This is not a blueprint. It’s a boondoggle,” said Sabir in a press release. “The UCP will spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to set up a new police force when what Albertans want is better policing focused on addressing crime and its root causes. That’s what I hear in Calgary, where Albertans are concerned about the rise in gun violence. Alberta Municipalities and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta have both passed resolutions against this plan. Rural leaders in more than 70 communities have sent the government a letter saying they don’t want this for their residents. Alberta can invest in better policing without blowing up the RCMP. Also, the UCP should not be able to dismantle the RCMP while under investigation by the RCMP.”
With this being such an intricate topic, Cathy Heron, president of Alberta Municipalities, discussed their view on the potential provincial force.
“I would say our biggest concern has very much been the process that they have undertaken to get to their decision-making point,” said Heron in an interview with the Times. “It starts back with there really is no mandate from Albertans, and really a desire to go to a provincial policing model in Alberta. The Fair Deal panel did have it as one of the recommendations, but it was rank 14 out of 15 with about 37 some per cent of the population (supporting it). That’s a question that Albertans have — ‘I don’t want this, why do they continue to go down this path?’ We are also concerned about the speed that it is going. There really is no rush to get out of (RCMP) policing — we have a contract with the federal government until 2032. We have 10 years to figure this out and transition into a new model if that’s what we want to do.”
Following this, Heron also discussed the organization’s concerns on how the Alberta government is not bringing the municipalities and other organizations to this discussion.
“I guess the other concern we have is they’re doing this in a bit of isolation,” said Heron. “They’re not involving the municipalities and they’re not involving the federal government in the conversation, and they probably should be involving some of the other ministries such as health and children services because this is really about community safety, not just about policing. The system of crime in Alberta can partially be solved when we have better support for people who are homeless, and people who have severe addictions or mental health issues. On the backend, we really need to fund justice and the crown prosecutors so we can have a good justice around in it, so we don’t let offenders back out on the roads.”
Heron also briefly touched on some of the aspects that they like about the provincial police force.
“I think that we all agree the policing in Alberta should be modernize,” said Heron. “The justice minister has a mandate from the prime minister to actually ban the government of contracts we see in Canada, so that’s a good thing, and we understand that it could be better.”
Along with this discussion, Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop also touched on this topic.
“That wouldn’t affect our municipal police service per se, but provincially they’re looking to replace the RCMP, and we do have an RCMP here with several members here,” said Prokop. “The Taber municipal police are responsible for the town of Taber, and the RCMP although they are in town, they are actually responsible for the rural area, and the highway as well. A little different that way, but again, if they were to start up with a provincial policing that would affect the RCMP completely, but cost-wise it is going to affect us all if that should be the case.”
Following this, Prokop also talked about how rural communities have suffered under the current policing system that we have right now.
“There are three different studies that have been done so far and I believe they’re on to a fourth right now as far as the viability, and the sell behind that reasoning, behind that and everything else,” said Prokop. “This has been going on for some time. It has been a United Conservative Party mandate as far as their original elections platform to do so. Part of it is, I think we’re all aware of that rural has suffered a lot of the crime element for the last several years not just through the pandemic, but in the last several years. The rural crime rate has been high and the RCMP detachment hasn’t been able to fill a lot of their authorized staffing numbers for whatever reason, and that’s been a factor. Also, the RCMP does not work 24 hours and unfortunately, rural crime takes place generally after midnight. There is no RCMP coverage in this area. I believe the City of Red Deer they are saying police there work 24 hours, but as far as any rural detachment, I don’t know if I’m aware of any rural detachment that has 24-hour policing.”
After this, Prokop then shifted to speak on what would happen with the current RCMP members that try to provide provincial policing.
“How do you deal with the current RCMP members? In this case, if there would be a lot that would likely come over to the provincial police side, and basically just switch uniforms different duties et cetera, but it’s a major undertaking and cost,” said Prokop. “I remember this happening 30 years ago, them talking about this and several times since, but it was always the start-up cost which was the initial hurdle and main concern to get over. Even now they’re talking about some of the costs or even guesstimating at best of what they are suggesting. There has also been research done about the cost and it would likely be higher than what’s been suggested.”
Finally, Prokop discussed how provincial policing is a method to allow Alberta’s communities to have a say in how they want their communities to be policed.
“A lot of things to consider here, and part of it is I think there is more work to be done I’m not going to say yay or nay either way it got benefits both ways, but the cost is certainly a major concern for all of us,” said Prokop. “A part of it is when we are dealing with the RCMP, the RCMP are dealing with K division, or Edmonton as far as their head office that deals with decision making for numbers and staffing et cetera across the province. Ultimately, the policies and everything else involved are handled in Ottawa, so anyone policed by the RCMP has no say in their own community or their own area. It is strictly through the federal format and ultimately based out of Ottawa. So, that is one thing that the UCP has suggested that they would like to have some more control, so Alberta residents do you have some say.”