Top Mountie says he's keen on Ottawa's plan for a 'separate and distinct' federal policing unit

A looming shakeup in how the RCMP's federal policing wing tackles national security files can't come fast enough for the country's top Mountie.

"If I had a magic wand, I'd want it in place by tomorrow," Commissioner Mike Duheme said in an interview airing soon on Rosemary Barton Live.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc recently wrote to his provincial counterparts signalling Ottawa plans to make federal policing "separate and distinct" from the RCMP's boots-on-the-ground policing obligations in the provinces and territories.

A government source with knowledge of the plans told CBC News the separate federal policing institution will receive dedicated funding, resources and members.

"We want to dive a little bit deeper into federal policing and see how we can strengthen it," Duheme said.

The change appears to be a response to mounting calls to reform the country's largest police service.

The RCMP's federal policing side — which investigates foreign interference, terrorism and other threats to national security, along with high-level organized crime and cybercrime — has been losing regular members over the last decade in order to fill vacancies in the contract policing section.

Mounties in federal policing who are posted to detachments to address gaps in provincial policing are often not replaced, undermining the work of the federal policing unit.

Last year, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians issued a report saying the RCMP's federal policing mandate is hindered by resource issues and competing demands from the contract policing side.

Federal policing is not "as effective, efficient, flexible or accountable as it needs to be to protect Canada and Canadians from the most significant national security and criminal threats," the committee warned.

Ottawa says it's still committed to contract agreements

It urged the government to review the relationship between federal policing and the RCMP's contract obligations.

Outside of Ontario and Quebec, the RCMP provides front-line policing services through contract agreements with the provinces and territories.

Under those agreements, which expire in 2032, provinces and territories pay 70 per cent of the cost of the RCMP's services and the federal government covers the rest. Municipalities pay between 70 and 90 per cent of their contract costs, depending on their size.

In a letter to B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, LeBlanc said he envisions "an end-state for federal policing that is separate and distinct from the RCMP contract policing mandate."

He also assured his provincial counterpart the federal government is committed to honouring its existing policing contracts.

"Further, I commit to work with provinces and territories on our approach to the renegotiations of the agreements and ensure we have the proper path forward to support you in your needs and priorities when it comes to policing in your jurisdiction today and beyond 2032," he wrote.

RCMP members are pictured wearing their red serge uniforms during a Change of Command ceremony in Langley, British Columbia on Tuesday, September 20, 2022.
RCMP members wearing red serge take part in a change of command ceremony in Langley, B.C. on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A government source said the RCMP isn't getting out of contract policing but suggested there will be a period of transition as Ottawa and the provinces figure out how the new contracts will function.

Duheme said the change will make the RCMP "better aligned" to fulfil its federal policing mandate.

The government source said creating a separate stream for federal policing is an acknowledgement that national security files will continue to grow in importance and complexity in the coming years.

A team within LeBlanc's department is working on the restructuring plan — including the question of whether legislative changes are needed — and likely will present the minister with a "path forward" in the fall, said the source.

It's not clear yet when federal policing will be officially separated from contract policing.

"We're working with the provinces and territories, working with the minister's office, working with our folks within the organization to move things along," said Duheme.

"Sometimes it could be challenging when you look at policies and legislation, but there's a strong desire in shifting the overall footprint of the organization when it comes to federal policing."

Some jurisdictions already 'reviewing options'

Last year, the federal government consulted jurisdictions that use the RCMP for feedback.

According to the "what we heard" report, recently posted online, most of those jurisdictions told the government they preferred to keep the RCMP as their contract policing service provider.

"No province or territory indicated an intention to withdraw from the contract policing program at this time, but some noted that they would be reviewing options moving forward," said the report.

"Those that expressed the potential to explore transition from RCMP to independent police services cited increasing cost pressures and the need for more local control/influence as primary change drivers."

Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, right, arrives with RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme, left, and CSIS Director David Vigneault, centre, before their joint appearance at the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Those surveyed also said they wanted local input in order to "tailor" RCMP front-line services.

"Some partners cited the RCMP's need to adhere to federal legislation, national policies, standards and processes as a key challenge (e.g., procurement, access to information) and as a barrier to establishing alternative service delivery models," said the report.

The report cited the RCMP's previous inability to participate in Clare's Law, legislation several provinces have on the books to allow police officers to disclose someone's previous abusive behaviour to their current partner.

The RCMP initially couldn't participate because it was bound by federal privacy laws. The federal government updated the RCMP's regulations in 2021 to allow Mounties to alert potential victims in jurisdiction where Clare's Law legislation has been enacted.

Many of the jurisdictions reported "significant concerns" with the number of vacant RCMP officer positions and staffing levels. Some of the jurisdictions reported local RCMP vacancy rates in excess of 50 per cent at one time or another.

"This was noted as being particularly challenging in communities with high crime severity indexes, notably some First Nation and rural communities," said the report.

"Few jurisdictions noted the closure of rural detachments, which they believe is due to a lack of officers. Others also noted that they do not receive 24/7 coverage, which is a concern for them."

For the past few summers, Iqaluit RCMP have used ATVs during their patrols for public drinking, to reach areas that aren't easily accessible by regular patrol cars.
Iqaluit RCMP on patrol using all-terrain vehicles. (Submitted by Nunavut RCMP)

Several jurisdictions the federal government consulted with expressed concerns about the cost of policing and some said they can't sustain the rising price of RCMP policing services.

They suggested the RCMP improve its budgeting and planning, "which, at times, results in significant cost and unforeseen increases to replace asset and equipment purchases (e.g., pistols)," said the report.

"Representatives from the territories, as well as Indigenous communities and some provinces, noted particular challenges faced in northern and remote communities regarding a lack of housing for RCMP officers and inadequate policing infrastructure to suit modern policing needs."

All of the jurisdictions surveyed by the federal government said Ottawa should alert them five years in advance of any changes to the RCMP's contract policing footprint.

You can watch Rosemary Barton Live's full interview with RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme on Sunday, June 23 at 10 a.m. ET