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RCMP's Effectiveness Damaged by Politicization, According to New Study

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Release Date: April 12, 2006
The RCMP should refocus on its role as a law enforcement agency, rather than acting as a government department, according to Bureaucrats in Uniform: The Politicization and Decline of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, released today by The Fraser Institute.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police advertises itself as Canada's national police service, an organization of excellence, and a world leader in integrated policing. By and large, general surveys of public opinion indicate that the RCMP is widely respected by Canadians. In contrast, there have been several studies, as well as occasional public complaints, showing that the RCMP is in crisis not only because it is underfunded, but because it has succumbed to an even greater problem: politicization.

The latter has resulted in a decline in the core competencies of the force, namely, the enforcement of federal laws. That is, the RCMP as an institution appears to be less capable today than it was in the past, and less capable than it proclaims itself to be.

Among the most serious reasons advanced for the current problems in the force is that it responds directly to political instructions. This is especially serious because the RCMP is above all a "guardian" institution, like the Canadian Forces and the courts of law.

"Once the police take political direction, the rule of law is subverted. And the rule of law, it must be emphasized, is a pillar of constitutional democracy," said author Barry Cooper, a senior fellow at The Fraser Institute. Two examples of politicization of the RCMP from the 1990s were the investigation of the Air Canada Airbus purchase by the Mulroney government, which was initiated by the government of the day, and the explicit political direction given to the federal police concerning security arrangements for the APEC meetings in Vancouver.

Cooper points out that the problem of politicization has been exacerbated by the over-centralization of political power in the Prime Minister's Office. The participation of the RCMP in the recent Sponsorship Scandal is in some respects the logical outcome of the preceding decade and a half of change, but all the more serious because the Mounties are central to the administration of justice in Canada.

Cooper suggests that the path to reform lies in returning the RCMP to its role in enforcing federal laws: organized crime, internal security, interdiction of illegal immigrants, as well as major crimes that occur inter-provincially.

"These tasks once were performed admirably by the RCMP. Accordingly, and even though it flies completely in the face of current thinking about the RCMP, the best solution may be found by combining the latest technical advances in policing around the world with a return to the original 'paramilitary' ethos that built the RCMP's reputation in the first place. This means, quite simply, returning the RCMP to its area of core competence: policing," he noted.

It is clear that any police force must strike a balance between being held accountable to political authority, but without being an agent of politicians or becoming a law unto itself. When the RCMP investigates political corruption or criminal activity by politicians and officials, it should be under the direction of an independent special prosecutor, along the lines worked out in British Columbia.

"Whether or not there exists the political and bureaucratic will to bring the reality of the RCMP closer to its formal purpose, one thing seems clear: the politicization of the RCMP has damaged both the police and the political order," concludes Cooper.


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