Saskatchewan’s top RCMP police commander is questioning the province’s decision to start a new law-enforcement agency from scratch, suggesting the money could be better spent to bolster the Mounties.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, who oversees provincial policing in the province, told hundreds of Mountie officers in an e-mail that it was “incredibly disheartening” to have her request for more police officers rebuffed by a provincial government. The province has instead announced plans to spend millions to create a law-enforcement agency to be known as the Saskatchewan Marshals Service.
“Right now, we are uncertain what this new type of police service means. I have been assured the intent is not to replace the RCMP,” wrote Assistant Commissioner Blackmore on Oct. 26.
Her e-mail to officers, obtained by The Globe and Mail, was written hours after the government led by Premier Scott Moe announced the proposal for the force in its Throne Speech last month. Details are still being worked out, but the government says the province will create this 70-officer squad by 2026 at a cost of $20-million a year.
“Why weren’t these resources provided to F Division?” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore wrote in her e-mail. She said the province’s Mounties are struggling on many fronts, and on First Nations reserves in particular. “We don’t have the resources to fully address the complex and diverse policing needs of our Indigenous communities.”
In September, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore was the public face of a massive police manhunt across the prairies, providing frequent televised updates about the search for a mass murderer who killed 11 people in a massacre that took place mainly at James Smith Cree Nation.
The RCMP is a sprawling force managed by the federal government, but which is contracted out to work as local law enforcement in every province except for Ontario and Quebec. But the Mounties, who often say they police more than 99 per cent of Saskatchewan’s territory, are in the midst of a recruiting and retention crisis.
The staffing woes are affecting rural Canada in particular and this summer RCMP F Division asked the province to consider hiring many more Mounties.
“Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of crime in the country,” reads a synopsis of an RCMP resource proposal from August, which Assistant Commissioner Blackmore attached to her e-mail.
The document urges the provincial government to consider adding 300 more RCMP police officers to Saskatchewan by 2030 at a cost of about $100-million. The proposal also urged the province to spend $20-million on an immediate infusion of 60 civilian employees for the police force.
“The evidence-based request was a big ask but a necessary one to address the critical state of increasing violent persons crimes,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said in her e-mail. “Despite our proposal, I’m uncertain we will receive the resources we need.”
Details of the proposal suggested that nearly half of the requested new RCMP officers could be used to supplement Saskatchewan’s First Nations policing programs.
In her e-mail, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore explained that many reserves have asked the Mounties for a stepped-up police presence through frameworks known as “community tripartite agreements.”
These deals see federal and provincial governments split costs of Mounties posted to reserves. But in Saskatchewan, such officers “are constantly being used for general duty policing due to resource shortages,” the RCMP document says. “The spirit of CTA agreements are not being fulfilled and First Nations communities are voicing their concerns.”
Several First Nations in the prairie provinces are now trying to figure out better policing models in the wake of September’s massacre at the James Smith Cree Nation.
That First Nation does not have an RCMP agreement. Instead, it is policed by a Mountie detachment 45 kilometres away. It took police officers more than 30 minutes to respond to emergency calls that morning.
The suspect was arrested after a four-day manhunt and died of what police called “medical distress” as he was taken into custody.