Stettler urban and rural councillors, along with other members of the public, heard warnings from the National Police Federation (NPF) about the Alberta government’s proposal to replace the RCMP with a provincial force.
The Stettler and area residents attended an information session Feb. 1 at the Stettler CanAlta Hotel as part of the NPF’s province-wide public consultation.
Jeff McGowan and Kevin Halwa, both prairie/north region directors for the organization that bargains on behalf of members of the RCMP, spoke to a full room about the provincial government’s proposal to replace the RCMP with a provincial force, and specifically about two documents released last year that the province claims makes a solid case: the Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) study and the transition report.
McGowan began by stating the majority of Albertans do not support replacing the RCMP. McGowan stated the NFP has met with over 100 municipal leaders beginning in October 2020 and found 84 per cent of Albertans across the province support the RCMP; only about nine per cent support Alberta having its own police force.
McGowan also pointed out several times during the presentation the studies clearly state they’re going to continue operating much the same way the RCMP operate, including specific programs spearheaded by the RCMP and its partners.
McGowan did point out, though, rural crime rates, cited as a serious concern across Alberta beginning in 2017, have dropped considerably as a result of RCMP efforts.
However, McGowan noted the NFP has heard a recurring concern throughout its public consultation efforts, and that’s the “revolving door justice system.”
The subject of criminal code convictions that receive only mild or non-existent consequences was discussed at the great length at the session.
Halwa also mentioned the transition study made a lot of assumptions.
He used as an example the assumption that current RCMP would leave their organization in droves to join the new Alberta force, although that’s not what Surrey, B.C. found with their new department.
Halwa stated Surrey found about 15 per cent of the RCMP decided to switch over, meaning in Alberta that would leave the new force short of police officers by about 2,500.
Halwa responded while the performance of the RCMP is obvious, the questions surrounding a provincial force are considerable and serious.
“We are talking about a huge risk to public safety in Alberta,” he added.
After the session Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls stated he’d most like the general public to understand any issues that exist with the RCMP are easy to fix, while the court system’s problems need to be addressed by the provincial government.
Nolls added he’s concerned the court system’s issues, like huge backlog and lack of staff, will become accepted as normal.
“That’s my worry,” said Nolls.
County of Stettler Reeve Larry Clarke threw his support behind the RCMP; when asked if the county has problems with the RCMP Clarke responded, “No, absolutely not.”
He encouraged residents to speak up about whether or not Alberta needs a new police force.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter