The past two weeks have been challenging for Canadians across the country. This is true for RCMP Members who find themselves once again in the middle of difficult, and often highly politicized protests, while working around the clock to ease tensions and ensure protests do not escalate.
Across Canada, our Members have a sworn duty to keep the peace, regardless of personal opinions or preferences. It’s important to remember that, in general, protests are most often coordinated events, planned far in advance. Our Members will connect with protest leaders ahead of time to understand their objectives and to ensure that their right to peaceful assembly is upheld, and they remain in touch for the duration of the protest. They also make it clear to organizers that illegal behaviour won’t be tolerated.
On February 8, Acting Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Sonya Savage, issued a statement to media on the continuing blockade near the Coutts border crossing, supporting the right of individuals to protest while emphasizing that those rights come with reasonable limits. She followed up with a call on protesters to respect the rule of law and end their blockade, which we hope is heeded, adding, “The RCMP and local law enforcement agencies are on site, sharing information and working in tandem to maintain public safety.”
During protests like the one near Coutts, our Members are working hard to ensure that the public remains safe. This involves conversation, negotiation, and, if necessary, enforcement. Keeping open lines of communication is key, and discussions often occur in the background with little to no media coverage or public attention.
In absence of more direct enforcement tools – such as a Court injunction – the RCMP (and all other police organizations for that matter) operate with a goal of keeping the peace and ensuring protests do not escalate to more serious situations.
In Alberta, the RCMP’s response can be seen as a shining example of the value Members bring to residents across the province as their local, provincial, and federal police. Our Members are fully trained officers who undergo specialty training to undertake any situation requiring police intervention. This training helps officers build relationships of trust, respect and mutual understanding between the police and the public during all protest stages: pre-event, event, and post-event. To its advantage, the RCMP’s surge capacity enables Members to adapt to several evolving scenarios, from a smaller police presence to a stronger enforcement posture bringing national resources from within the organization to respond to situations like this.
While this is the case currently, this expertise may be jeopardized with the provincial government’s proposal to replace the Alberta RCMP with a new Alberta provincial police service that would deliver two different tiers of officers, resulting in fewer fully trained officers able to respond to situations such as the one near Coutts, and less equipment and expertise within the organization to adapt to evolving scenarios.
RCMP Members understand and respect the rights surrounding freedom of association and expression. RCMP Members also understand the importance of ensuring communities like Coutts have safe, unobstructed access to the vital services they need, like emergency responders or the economic freedom to transport goods and services across Canada and the border.
In a delicate balancing game between the rights of protestors and the rights of communities, our Members are there to help. We know it’s frustrating; and our Members feel it too. Blaming or targeting them simply because you disagree with a law is neither fair nor constructive. Our Members don’t create the law, but are regularly called on to enforce it using the tools that are available to them.
For that, we thank them.
Kevin Halwa, Michelle Boutin and Jeff McGowan are Regional Directors of the National Police Federation, which was certified to represent ~20,000 RCMP Members serving across Canada and internationally in the summer of 2019. The NPF is the largest police labour relations organization in Canada; the second largest in North America, and is the first independent national association to represent RCMP Members.