The RCMP’s rural policing strategy has been for many years an ongoing disaster and a danger to the public in Colchester County, say two municipal councillors with law enforcement backgrounds.
Most of the victims killed in the Nova Scotia massacre of April 18-19 lived in Colchester County, the majority of them at Portapique at the south end of the roughly 3,800 square kilometre county. Others were killed near Wentworth, just over the western edge of the county in Cumberland County.* The final three killings, including RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, took place in Shubenacadie, just south of the county.
“I know for a fact that we are not getting the proper policing that we’re paying for and this in turn has left the community very vulnerable,” said Wade Parker in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. Parker, a former corrections supervisor, is a councillor for the Municipality of the District of Colchester and chairman of the police advisory board.
His comments were supported by Michael Gregory, who spent 25 ½ years in the RCMP, where he worked in various capacities from highway patrol, the force’s drug section, and criminal investigations. Gregory’s final assignment before retirement was as Corporal* Commander of the Tatamagouche, NS detachment. As an elected representative, Gregory is also a member of the police advisory board and a separate entity overseeing the RCMP contract with the municipality.
“Over the past several years, the RCMP policing has gone completely downhill,” said Gregory in an interview. “It’s pretty sad.”
One of the major problems both men see is the force’s practice of providing services during a defined window. In Colchester that means there are no scheduled RCMP services between 2am and 6am. Officers are on call.
“To me we need 24 hour policing,” Gregory said. “The world is changing all the time. In today’s society most things don’t happen between the hours of 9 to 5. There is a four-hour time frame when there are no police. That’s when things are happening. It’s wild out there.”
Another expert who has problems with the RCMP approach is former Cape Breton Police Chief Edgar MacLeod.
“At 4am in the morning in many of these rural communities policed by the RCMP it’s like the wild, wild west, out there,” MacLeod “There has to be a police presence. It’s that simple.”
Both Gregory and Parker outlined a litany of problems with the force’s policing methods, including not only poor response times, but often no response, at all, to calls from the public.
“I live behind the NSLC (government liquor store) in Tatamagouche,” Gregory said. “I heard on the grapevine that the liquor store had been broken into three weeks earlier. I hadn’t even heard about it. So I called the RCMP in Bible Hill (the local detachment just outside Truro) and asked what the Mounties had done. I said: ‘Nobody knocked on my door. People around me heard nothing about it.’ The Mountie told me that the force doesn’t make neighbourhood inquiries anymore. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
In their assessment of the decline of the RCMP, each man separately painted a picture of a secretive, unaccountable organization that seems to have lost touch with the basic requirements of its mandate — to protect the public interest and enforce laws.
“The thing the RCMP used to emphasize was its commitment to Community policing,” Gregory says. “When I was the commander in Tatamagouche, I lived in the community. I knew everyone and everyone knew me.”
Nowadays, in many rural communities near major cities, the RCMP has switched to what can best be described as commuter policing. Instead of the traditional notion of workers travelling to their jobs in the city, many Mounties do the reverse — they live in or near the cities and commute to their jobs in the country.
“The police are the public and the public are the police,” said Gregory, quoting Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing. “When I lived in the community, I prided myself that I knew everyone in the community. It paid off for me. Now, that’s all gone.”
Councillor Parker added: “The RCMP got away from community policing and instead of having officers rooted in the community, they are everywhere. I don’t know where the police live or where they have to come from to get here. And when they do get here to do their job, they don’t know the people in the area, very well. The people don’t know them. They don’t who’s a criminal and who isn’t.”
That Mounties are commuting to their posts in rural areas like Colchester only compounds the problem.
“So they are on call. In the middle of the night, a call comes in to the Mountie at home?”
“How long is it going to take them to respond when they don’t live in the communities they are policing?” Parker asked, adding: “I have nothing against the people doing their jobs. They lay their lives on the line. It’s not their fault. The problem is higher up than the people working in the detachment. I don’t like the RCMP model of policing.”
But perhaps the two most important issues facing Colchester, and for that matter many communities with RCMP contracts across the country, is understaffing and accountability.
That the RCMP is understaffed across the country is no secret. It is an issue in Surrey, B.C., much of the rest of that province, Red Deer, Alberta, Moncton, NB, and Colchester.
Colchester County is paying for 28 Mounties, but the local council has no way to hold the RCMP accountable for those numbers.
At one point, Parker said, he learned that the detachment was short about 5 or 6 members, about 25 per cent.
“We couldn’t get the real numbers,” he said. “We tried our best, but the RCMP won’t answer to anything.”
Lately, he said, the numbers may have gone back to normal. “But I can’ be sure of that either. We don’t know. And no one in the ministry (of Justice) will tell us.” Then, he added: “I heard that before the shootings they might have gone down again, but who knows.”
These concerns and questions are not new.
Three years ago, Gregory and Parker raised the issue with their fellow councillors. They knew that the current contract worth almost $6 million per year with the RCMP would be expiring within a year and they were looking for alternatives.
In January, the nearby Truro municipal force was asked to put in a proposal to police the entire county. Within a month of being asked, the Truro police made a proposal which included 24-hour policing, staffed sub-detachments, and more police on the ground — for less money.
The RCMP was asked to make a similar proposal, but hasn’t yet. A potentially complication is that the new RCMP union will come into being in the near future.
“When the time comes, I just want to be able to compare apples to apples,” Parker said.
“But the Department of Justice was supposed to come back to us with their model in March or April. Now they are telling us its going to be another 20 weeks. We need to know as soon as possible. The RCMP right now is 90th on pay scales in Canada for police. With the union, we can expect they are going to want a raise and we can’t afford $7 million or $8 million dollars.”
The eagerness of the Truro force to take over the RCMP’s role in Colchester County also raises another serious question.
It has been widely reported that the RCMP did not contact the nearby Truro police on the weekend of April 18-19 and ask for assistance. In fact, the shooter drove his fake RCMP car down the main street of Truro in mid-morning.
Did the RCMP not contact Truro because of corporate hurt feelings over a perceived intrusion into their business?
“I sure hope that isn’t the case,” Parker said. “Only a public inquiry will bring that out.”
(Interviewed by Examiner contributor Joan Baxter, Gregory said he did not support an inquiry into the massacre.)
But both the federal and provincial governments have balked at calling an inquiry, arguing that there is no money left for such an exercise after the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on finances.
Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister Mark Furey has all but stayed out of the discussion. Premier Stephen McNeil has indicated that he sees no problem with Furey handling the RCMP file. However, there might be a clue to how Furey thinks from a 2017 news story published by Global News https://globalnews.ca/news/3762836/tatamagouche-n-s-councillor-former-rcmp-officer-concerned-over-police-response/
about Councillor Gregory’s nascent attempt at overturning the current RCMP contract with Colchester County.
Reporter Natasha Pace interviewed Furey who said: “We’re certainly familiar with the police service delivery model in rural Nova Scotia. It’s a model that is applied right across Canada outside of our urban centre and it’s certainly a challenge to have police presences 24/7.”
Has Furey changed his mind about whether the RCMP model can be applied unilaterally across rural Canada in every country?
Wade Parker doesn’t seem to think so.
“Our constituents deserve to know whether we have proper policing in place for our municipality. We need to know whether we should stick with the RCMP or if there is a better model. If there is, so be it.” he said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done on council, the most frustrating three years of my life. It’s so hard to get information. This process needs to be resolved once and for all. Right now, I don’t feel we have the safest policing because of that.”
* As originally published, this article misidentified Gregory’s rank, as well as the location of Wentworth.
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