'They're not listening': Alberta mayors and First Nations caution against provincial police force
Groups across Alberta are cautioning the province against ditching the RCMP and creating its own police force.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said Friday that an Alberta police force would give the province more flexibility to respond to rural crime, as he released a third-party report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).
That report outlined it would cost Alberta about $735 million each year to operate its police force, in addition to a projected $366 million in startup costs.
According to the review, it costs Alberta about $500 million annually to pay for the RCMP. The federal government provides $170 million through a cost-sharing agreement to offload some costs.
Currently, the province has 1,480 Mounties that police rural areas, First Nations, and communities that do not have municipal forces.
“I’m still uncertain as to what is the problem the province is trying to solve by proposing a provincial police force,” said Tanya Thorn, Okotoks mayor and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association board member.
“I don’t understand why we need to create a whole new structure to solve a problem we’re already working on, and we’ve seen improvements on.”
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, head of the Mounties in Alberta, said they look forward to hearing and acting on what Albertans have to say.
“We know that Albertans want an active role in community safety and in deciding how their policing services are provided,” Zablocki said.
In Thorn’s view, a provincial police force is a cost municipalities cannot afford to bear.
“If it’s not giving us better value, if it’s not allowing us to increase service levels to our residents, why would we take on more costs?”
Irfan Sabir, justice critic for the Opposition NDP, said Madu is misleading Albertans by suggesting a new police service would be cost-neutral. Sabir warned there would be a tax increase to pay for it.
“The report clearly states it will cost more,” Sabir said.
Madu said he believes the government could fund the police force and would not seek additional money from municipalities.
“We do have a responsibility beyond the monetary implications to defend and pursue our province’s best interests,” he added.
“Ontario has done this. Quebec has done this. Newfoundland and Labrador has done this. And I think the time has come for our province to do the same.”
For Marlene Poitras, Assembly of First Nations Alberta regional chief, a provincial police force would not solve issues facing Indigenous Albertans.
Three First Nations have their own police forces in Alberta, something Poitras believes is a better approach.
“First Nations know what the issues are, they're the experts in their communities as to what will work and what won’t work,” Poitras added. “It’s critical that First Nations are involved in these discussions at the outset.
“A lot of the First Nations are working on developing their own nationhood and asserting their jurisdiction and authority,” she said. “The federal government will be moving toward consulting with First Nations on developing legislation developing First Nations policing as an essential service.”
On Friday, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said that Treaty 8 rejects the provincial police force idea the province is contemplating.
Alberta’s contract with the RCMP ends in 2032. The province says it wants to survey the public next year about what they think about a provincial police force.
“They’re not listening to what they’re being told already,” Thorn said. “From our members with AUMA, there’s a 90 per cent response that we do not want to shift.”
Kevin Zahara, Edson’s mayor, sent a letter to Madu stating the town’s opposition to an Alberta police force.
“We have worked hard as a municipality to build a strong working relationship with our local RCMP Detachment,” Zahara wrote. “They are our partners and an integral part of our community. We are happy with the level of service our RCMP provide.”
The mayor added that Edson would prefer to see the funds the province is currently using to research creating a police force to augment the partnership with the RCMP.
“The Province repeatedly encourages municipalities to work with each other and come up with new and collaborative ways to provide programs and services to our residents in a cost-effective manner,” Zahara said.
“We implore your Government (Madu) to do the same and work with your Federal counterparts to achieve the Province’s goals related to the RCMP and Policing and to emulate the principles in which they ask of municipal governments within the Province.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson and The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett
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