‘They are not listening’: Alberta’s mayors and First Nations warn against provincial police

EDMONTON –

Groups across Alberta are warning the province against dropping the RCMP and setting up 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 when it released a third-party report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

This report outlined that it would cost Alberta about $ 735 million each year to service its police force, in addition to an expected $ 366 million in start-up 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 relieve 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 unsure what the problem is that the province is trying to solve by proposing a provincial police force,” said Tanya Thorn, Okotok’s mayor and board member of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

“I do not understand why we need to create a whole new structure to solve a problem we are already working on and we have seen improvements on.”

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, head of the Mounties in Alberta, said they look forward to hearing and acting on what the Albertans have to say.

“We know that the Albertans want an active role in the security of society and in deciding how their police services are provided,” Zablocki said.

In Thorn’s view, a provincial police force is a cost that municipalities cannot afford to bear.

“If it does not give us better value, if it does not allow us to increase the level of service to our residents, then why should we incur more costs?”

Irfan Sabir, a legal critic for the opposition NDP, said Madu was misleading Albertans by suggesting that a new police service would be cost-neutral. Sabir warned that there would be a tax increase to pay for it.

“The report clearly says it will cost more,” Sabir said.

Madu said he believes the government could fund the police force and would not seek additional money from the municipalities.

“We have a responsibility beyond the monetary implications to defend and pursue the best interests of our province,” he added.

“Ontario has done this. Quebec has done this. Newfoundland and Labrador have 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 problems faced by native Albertians.

The Three First Nations have their own police forces in Alberta, something Poitras believes is a better approach.

“First Nations knows what the problems are, they are the experts in their communities as to what will work and what will not work,” Poitras added. “It is crucial that First Nations is involved in these discussions from the outset.

“Many of the first nations are working to develop their own nation and assert their jurisdiction and authority,” she said. “The federal government will move in the direction of consulting First Nations on the development of legislation that develops First Nations policing as an essential service.”

Alberta’s contract with the RCMP expires in 2032. The province says it wants to investigate the public next year about what they think of a provincial police force.

“They are not listening to what they are already being told,” Thorn said. “From our members with AUMA, there is a 90 percent response that we do not want to move.”

Kevin Zahara, Edson’s mayor, sent a letter to Madu about the city’s resistance to a police force in Alberta.

“We have worked hard as a municipality to build a strong partnership with our local RCMP department,” Zahara wrote. “They are our partners and an integral part of our community. We are pleased with the level of service our RCMP provides.”

The mayor added that Edson would prefer to see the funds the county is currently using to research creating a police force to expand the partnership with the RCMP.

“The province repeatedly encourages municipalities to work with each other and come up with new and collaborative ways to deliver programs and services to our citizens in a cost-effective way,” Zahara said.

“We urge 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 they demand of municipal governments in the province.”

Featuring files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson and The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett

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