By Cole Parkinson
While municipalities in southern Alberta continue to question the validity and desire of bringing a provincial police force to Alberta.
The Municipal District of Taber is one of the municipalities that have questioned why the province has continued to beat the drum to bring in a provincial police force and they were able to ask Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow some questions on the topic during their meeting on Jan. 11.
“My question is what problem are we trying to fix here?” asked Reeve Merrill Harris.
Schow explained that from his perspective, a provincial police force would correct a few issues that he sees. The first of which is that fact they are federally funded and their new negotiated contract is problematic for Alberta.
In June 2021, the federal government announced they had reached a tentative agreement to establish a first collective agreement for RCMP members and reservists. This agreement follows legislation passed in 2017 allowing RCMP regular members and reservists to unionize and bargain collectively for the first time.
“I think there are a couple of issues here. One is general input. The first example of that is you might have heard the RCMP and the federal government recently renegotiated contracts with retroactive payments. I think our frontline workers and the police force do a tremendous job on the ground, but we were not at the table with that conversation. We got slapped with a pretty big bill without having any input on that. That in itself should tell Albertans that if we’re not going to be allowed to have a conversation about the bills we pay, then we need to renegotiate that agreement,” stated Schow.
The other part of the equation Schow sees is local policing. With provincial police, he sees local police officers staying in or near their hometowns and doing their work there.
“The second thing I think is important is the idea of local policing. Not to say police officers don’t come to Taber or other places, because you have your own police force here in town, and the same in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Red Deer, and other jurisdictions. This idea that you can create a more holistic program, you know drug addiction treatment centre and programs — more integrated. I have to admit I am not as well versed on this topic as the minister of Justice is, by any stretch,” he continued.
Earlier in 2021, Schow had hosted open houses with Minister of Justice, Kaycee Madu. From those meetings, it was explained the provincial force would not cost Albertans more than the RCMP.
“We had him down in Cardston to do some consultations and this idea it’s going to cost more, my understanding is that is not the case. I could see where the frustrations would be there for the ratepayers, but this idea that we have a more responsive police force that is not based out of Ottawa — that is a real issue for Albertans. Especially in rural Alberta where the RCMP officers are doing a great job, but there are certain perceptions that Ottawa has an influence in Alberta, specifically in policing and that’s a concern for a lot of my constituents,” stated Schow.
The biggest issue for the M.D. so far along in the process has been the fact nothing has been explained in detail. With consultations coming up later in 2022, they’re hopeful they can learn more and give feedback before anything is decided.
“Locally, I think we have a pretty good relationship with our local detachment. They are fairly responsive to things we ask them to do. I think that it’s got to be explained better. I know we’re going to some consultations here in the next little while and I hope it’s not a foregone conclusion as to what the outcome of those consultations is going to be. We keep hearing it’s a done deal, but they are going to go and do the consultations anyways,” stated Harris.
Schow explained he’s heard that concern from several municipalities. While rumours have swirled that it’s all but a done deal, Schow says that’s far from the case.
“I can understand that concern and I heard it when I was up at RMA. I spoke to a number of people up there and there’s a similar concern. I know the minister of justice quite well and my interpretation of the process is that it’s not a done deal. There is a lot of interest in it and how to make it work properly, so we’re not left hanging with a much larger bill and lesser service. I think that’s what it comes down to,” he said.
He also doubled down on why having local police officers in their hometowns would be beneficial for all.
“I think people just want to feel safe in their communities and I think there is some great opportunity to have this idea of local policing where you have someone who grew up in a community that can police there,” he said. “Sadly, I’ve heard some counter-arguments saying ‘well, if you live in the community where you police and you grew up there, there’s some kind of bias that you can’t do your job.’ I think that’s really offensive because I know a lot of police officers through the constituencies, some of which are in Cardston who grew up there and they are RCMP. To suggest because they live in a community they can’t do their jobs effectively and professionally is upsetting.”
Others on council also highlighted issues they have had throughout the process.
“A lot of the problem is there is not much clarity on how it would roll out. Just a couple of examples here — we have a long response time for rural crime and rural crime is an issue. We’ve had some incidents recently here, but it just takes a long time to get attention for criminal matters,” stated Coun. Brian Hildebrand. “At the same time, we have huge duplication of enforcement of say the Traffic Act. We have fish and game, the provincial sheriffs, the town police, the RCMP, commercial vehicle inspectors, and peace officers can all issue speeding tickets. We have six or seven controlling the Traffic Act, yet when it comes to these criminal matters, it’s a very long response time. That makes it very confusing as to what the provincial police force will do or accomplish.”
“I would certainly hope if it was the ultimate decision to move to a provincial police force, it would be done with as much consolation and as little growing pains as possible,” added Schow.
Another councillor issued concern about the judicial system.
“Not only is it at the policing level, it’s at the judicial level. The crown prosecutors have come forward and said they don’t have enough resources. Through COVID we’ve closed our courts, we’ve not adapted our courts to being virtual,” explained Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga. “There are some jurisdictions and courthouses that are more equipped than others, but the technology to have a victim give a witness statement when they need to be in court in Taber makes good sense. It’s less cost to the province because they’re not paying for the witness costs. I hope the judicial system will look at modernizing the courtroom and if COVID has taught us anything, there is ways to do it. Some of the justices are even accepting guilty pleas virtually, where that never happened before. We need to do some work on our access to the courthouse during COVID right now and then what we’re going to do going forward.”
“COVID has been tough but it hasn’t been all bad in the sense where we have seen emerging technology and modernizing practices,” replied Schow.