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Assistant Commissioner Roger L. Brown, Commanding Officer "Depot" Division, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Police Defensive Tactics Unit Sgt. Ernie Brock (left to right) watch Cadet Troop 2 during a tactics class at the RCMP training depot on Friday, June 20, 2008 in Regina, Sask.Troy Fleece

The RCMP plans to make white, male police officers a minority on the force within a generation as it struggles to better reflect the multicultural face of Canada.

Under new hiring benchmarks set this month, senior Mounties say that new classes of recruits should comprise 30 per cent women, 20 per cent visible minorities and 10 per cent aboriginals, The Globe has learned. If the benchmarks are met, it would be the first time "minority" hires would actually represent a majority of RCMP recruits.

These benchmarks amount to a near doubling, tripling and quintupling of the respective categories of cadets recruited last year. Figures show that, under less ambitious employment-equity goals then, the RCMP graduated classes that were 17 per cent women, 7 per cent visible minorities and 2 per cent aboriginal.

"We have a responsibility to be representative of the communities we serve," Inspector Jo Ann Smith, the RMCP's head of employment equity, said in an interview Thursday.

"There aren't just six-foot-two-inch males in the population," she said. "Think of it this way: If you have a culturally diverse police force, then you're going to be able to respond to the calls you get from communities better. You're going to have people who understand those communities better."

Like most police forces, the RCMP has been a bastion of tough, white men that under-represents women and ethnic groups. Meanwhile, Canada has grown ever more multicultural. The country's population is 51 per cent women, 15 per cent visible minorities and 4 per cent aboriginal, according to 2006 census data. (The Mounties do over-represent aboriginals in their ranks, given they often patrol those communities.)

Parliamentarians this year chided the force for being too male and too white. "A better balance with females and minorities will create a better RCMP and a better, peaceful, orderly Canada," a group of Liberal senators wrote in a position paper.

"It's important that the RCMP reflect the face of Canada for policing reasons," said Liberal Senator Colin Kenny in an interview. He argued that the investigation into the 1984 Air India terrorist tragedy failed, in part, because federal agents couldn't understand the language of the suspects.

Commissioner William Elliott, a career Ottawa bureaucrat appointed to lead the force three years ago, has frequently vowed to make his force more "progressive." He claims to have changed the composition of the force somewhat, but figures show the Mounties' ranks are still only 20 per cent female, 7 per cent visible minority and 7 per cent aboriginal.

The recruiting strategy has caused some tension in RCMP ranks. Some long-serving Mounties privately say they don't feel that race and gender should be major parts of the hiring equation - they argue jobs should be given on merit only, and that being a police officer remains a physical job.

The RCMP makes male and female recruits pass the same baseline physical tests. Proponents for a more multicultural force say that anything lost in brute force would be made up in empathy, language skills and the ability to reach out to cultural communities.

Police forces that seek to become more diverse often discover they have to make an extra effort to do so. Many immigrants come from countries where police are repressive, cliquish and unwelcoming to women and minorities.

Some strides are being made in Canada. Earlier this year, Toronto Police said they graduated a class that was 33 per cent made up of visible minorities, 23 per cent female. The Ontario Provincial Police force claims to be more than 30 per cent female, but says it doesn't track the races of the ranks.

The Mounties no longer talk of their hiring goals being "targets," preferring now to use a less-committal term, "benchmarks."

With a report from Rick Cash

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