RCMP understaffing in Faro and Ross River was worse this year than it has been in a long time, says Faro Mayor Jack Bowers.
Bowers told the News on Dec. 5 that RCMP shortages have been “chronic” in recent years. However, in the summer of 2023, the detachment that serves the two communities was only at 40 per cent capacity.
This led to situations where, due to staff scheduling and days off, there was occasionally only one officer patrolling both communities, located 70 kilometres apart.
Bowers says he understands the RCMP is facing nation-wide staffing issues at the moment, but he says the local shortfalls have led to security issues in Faro and Ross River. Bowers cited one incident this year where EMS was called to respond to a domestic violence incident because the lone RCMP officer on duty was in Ross River when the incident occurred.
That wasn’t the only incident like this, he says, though village staff have not yet gone over the policing reports for 2023 to see exactly what impact the understaffing may have had on incidents and calls for service.
“In the past, [the RCMP] would parachute in relief help for a period,” Bowers says. “This year it wasn’t available [in summer].”
He says that’s because other detachments couldn’t send transfers until those detachments had found their own replacements and there were just too many vacancies (an additional barrier to finding permanent staff for Yukon detachments is that the potential officer and any members of the officer’s family all have to pass medical exams stating they’re healthy enough to work in a place where they will be further from medical supports).
According to a report presented by the RCMP to Faro city council in November, October RCMP staffing levels increased to 60 per cent capacity. At that time, relief workers were brought in from Whitehorse. The report also said staffing would increase to full capacity with the addition of relief from Ottawa in November.
When the News asked the RCMP for an interview about this, its communications department forwarded an emailed statement.
“While we have been seeing the normal transfer cycle and patterns, we have been maintaining our operational model in Ross River/Faro Detachment with a mix of permanent and Relief members, which is our regular posture in the Yukon,” reads the statement. “We are also currently in the process of onboarding new Members to vacant positions which have been filled by Relief members in the Faro and Ross River detachments.”
The RCMP would not confirm how many officers are currently in the communities, or how many will be there in 2024.
However, the report presented to council in November says there is currently one permanent officer in Faro and two in Ross River. The same report says one new officer each is anticipated to join Faro and Ross River in early 2024.
“A female member has been identified as the second Faro Member and she will begin the transfer process shortly,” reads the report, submitted by Corp. Bayden Austring, detachment commander in Ross River. “She has completed her northern medical and is awaiting approval from RCMP Health Services. Ross River RCMP anticipates a new member arrival in January 2024. Unfortunately the nation is facing a policing shortage in every province and territory. After our new transfers, Faro and Ross River will be staffed 3/5.”
Bowers says even those additions won’t be enough, especially in light of the Faro Mine Remediation Project. That project is slated to ramp up in 2024.
Faro CAO Larry Baran says the mine remediation will put additional pressure on the RCMP detachment.
“With the contract awarded for the water treatment plant construction and the service camp being able to support 200 people, there is going to be increased traffic,” Baran says. “Literally hundreds of heavy trucks coming up over the next 18 to 24 months.”
Baran says the population of Faro is roughly 470 permanent residents. Another 100 to 150 people typically live in the community occasionally, but are not permanent. The mine project has the potential to nearly double the population.
“This large ‘non-permanent’ population will have an impact on the provision of local services as well as emergency services (like the RCMP),” says Baran. He says it will stress the highway, which will increase the need for enforcement.
Baran has a meeting scheduled with the Yukon Emergency Measures Organization early in the new year. Part of the reason for it is to coordinate general emergency plans.
“But we also need to coordinate for the fact that there will be a problem [on the highway] and how do we deal with it?” he says.
Bowers says he wrote Minister of Justice Tracy-Anne McPhee earlier this year with a “strong request” for a third RCMP officer in Faro in 2024, for exactly this reason. In his letter, Bowers asked for a meeting and decried the shortfall.
“We got a letter back that addressed nothing,” says Bowers. He says McPhee’s response touched on the difficulty in RCMP recruitment right now, but didn’t ultimately respond to the request.
McPhee responded to the News’ request for an interview with a prepared statement.
“The Director of Public Safety and Investigations has reached out to the Faro chief administrative officer to schedule a meeting with Mayor and Council so that we can better understand the mayor’s specific needs regarding community safety,” read the statement. The minister’s office didn’t respond to questions about when the director contacted Faro staff about scheduling a meeting.
Baran says Faro doesn’t want to take on policing for the community. Village administration wants to support the RCMP. In the absence of more staff though, the community is short on alternatives.
One thing Bowers says would help alleviate pressure on the RCMP is an increase in mental health supports.
“It ties together,” says Bowers. “So much of what the RCMP are doing is dealing with mental health issues. We have not had a mental health worker in a long time.”
He says a Carmacks-based worker was serving Ross River and Faro until roughly a year ago. Both communities have also been without a social worker for the same period.
Bowers knows there are shortages in that field as well, but there’s only so much the RCMP and the nursing station can do with respect to social services. In the end, staffing issues in both areas dovetail to create a situation where residents are being underserved in more ways than one.
The News also contacted the Ross River Dena Council for comment, but did not hear back before press time.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org