Whitehorse RCMP have conducted a survey, which is intended to inform policing priorities, and put out a report July 8 on the survey results. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News file)

Premier Pillai is ‘very concerned’ about federal government’s plans for future of RCMP

Federal Public Safety minister’s mandate letter calls for assessing contract policing

Coming out of talks with Canada’s premiers, Premier Ranj Pillai has expressed concern about the future of the RCMP in the Yukon, which relies on the RCMP for policing across the territory including Whitehorse.

“I’m very concerned,” he said.

“We want to make sure that right now that we have — that Canada is making the right investments into the RCMP.”

Pillai spoke with the News by phone July 11 from Winnipeg following the closing press conference of the Council of the Federation, an annual meeting of premiers from all 13 provinces and territories. He said the premiers discussed RCMP contracts during their gathering.

When asked by a reporter about RCMP contracts during the closing presser, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson indicated provinces and territories don’t have a say in negotiating the contracts, which the federal government is responsible for — and provincial and territorial leaders want the feds to come out and be clear about their plan.

“We’re very concerned because there is no indication what the federal government’s plan is moving forward with respect to the RCMP,” said Stefanson, who chairs the council. She noted Manitoba relies on the RCMP for policing outside of Winnipeg.

The territorial police service agreement, dated April 1, 2012, is a 20-year deal between the governments of Canada and the Yukon that establishes the RCMP “M” division as the territorial police service. The Yukon government pays 70 per cent and the federal government covers the remaining 30 per cent. The Yukon RCMP is also charged with First Nations policing, which is 48 per cent paid for by the Yukon and the rest is covered by Canada.

Pillai referred to the national conversation and the prime minister’s mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino which calls for assessing contract policing in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous partners and stakeholders.

Mendicino was not available for an interview. In a July 13 email statement, Alexander Cohen, communications director for the federal minister’s office, said the government is “delivering the RCMP reform that Canadians expect” based on the minister’s mandate letter to the RCMP commissioner.

Cohen said an assessment is being done to determine what the future of this service will look like.

“Our department has engaged every single province and territory over the past six months to hear their thoughts, and received feedback from all but Nova Scotia thus far,” Cohen said, adding that provinces and territories can leave the contracts under the process stipulated in them and make alternative arrangements for police services.

“It’s important to note that using the RCMP under contract policing offers significant benefits to provinces and territories. Contracting the RCMP provides them with police services that are affordable, flexible and predictable.”

Yukon government cabinet communications confirmed Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee has been consulted as part of ongoing consultations.

Pillai noted the Yukon government increased its support for the territorial RCMP contract this spring through a $3.5-million boost to RCMP in the budget.

“We know we need more capacity across the Yukon,” he said.

“We’re going through a substance-use health emergency, and we know what opioids have been doing and, you know, illegal activity across this country, and so, we need strong policing. And I’m hearing that from meeting with leaders. Mayors, First Nation leaders [and] Yukoners want to see strong policing.”

The final report released by the mass casualty commission, which closely examined the national police force’s role in a shooting spree that left 22 people dead in Nova Scotia, recommends a review of the RCMP’s approach to contract policing.

Pillai indicated that provinces and territories need to know now if there’s going to be a shift in contract policing in the next decade.

“When it comes to the northern territories, we’re not at the magnitude,” he said, noting that some southern provinces are already investing in and have other police services in place.

“It’s really important for us to understand now what the relationship between the RCMP and provinces and territories is going to look like at the end of the current contracts that are in place.”

Policing contracts was just one of many items on the agenda for the premiers.

Pillai said they also discussed dual-use infrastructure such as grid connection to British Columbia and future projects that the federal government will be announcing down the line.

“We want to make sure that we sit with the prime minister and he understands our priorities and the flexibility that we need as provinces and territories to support the people that we work for,” he said.

Pillai said there was unanimous support for northern premiers from southern premiers on Arctic sovereignty and security.

“We think there’s a lack of information coming from the federal government to northern leaders when it comes to plans for defence spending,” he said.

“I’ve requested for more collaborative partnership when it comes to everything from information sharing, right through to how the Yukon can be a significant destination for training for the Canadian military, right through to co-design of infrastructure that will not just help support the lives of Yukoners but also be significant to the long-term view of Arctic security and Arctic sovereignty.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com