The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is facing declining trust in the force’s performance and questions about the organization’s integrity.
That’s according to internal polling reviewed by Global News that suggests the Mounties face an increasingly skeptical public concerned not only with their job performance but with the national police force’s honesty, integrity and transparency.
“Overall, attitudes towards the RCMP are generally positive but have worsened over the past year. The majority of Canadians are satisfied with the RCMP’s contribution to public safety, but satisfaction has declined since 2020-21,” the Ekos Research polling, delivered to the RCMP in April, suggested.
“The RCMP scores reasonably well in terms of upholding many of its core principles, however, perceptions in this area have also deteriorated over the past year.”
The report noted that, between April 2021 and April 2022, there was a six-point drop in the sentiment that the RCMP acts with integrity, and a five-percentage point drop in the number of Canadians who believe the Mounties are honest.
The polling doesn’t offer any explanation for Canadians’ declining opinion of the national police force and noted that despite those declines, the public still places a “great deal of importance on the RCMP’s contribution to public safety.”
“I think there’s a lot of residual loyalty to the RCMP (among Canadians). They’re a national symbol and Canadians rightly rally to them when there’s tragedies like Mayerthorpe and Moncton,” said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and an influential voice on Canadian policing and security issues, said in an interview with Global News.
“But unless we know that the RCMP recognizes it’s in trouble, and has a vision about how to get out of trouble, then I’m afraid that we’re just going to see this slow erosion. Which is, in many ways, quite sad.”
The RCMP has been under even more intense publicly scrutiny than usual over the past year. The Mass Casualty Commission has been investigating the events leading up to the April 2020 mass murder in Portapique, N.S., when a gunman dressed in a fake RCMP uniform and driving a mockup RCMP cruiser killed 22 people.
Disclosures from senior Mounties in Nova Scotia suggested RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki urged them to release details on the guns the killer used, as it would benefit the Liberal government’s future gun control legislation. Both Lucki and the Liberal government denied any political pressure was put on the investigation.
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But Portapique was not the only cause for heightened scrutiny of the force. A non-exhaustive list of recent issues include senior RCMP members recently admitted they had been using cellphone spyware — unbeknownst to the public or Canada’s privacy watchdog — going back as far as 2002.
In October 2020 the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he had “lost confidence” in Lucki after criticism of how the RCMP handled violence against Mi’kmaq lobster fishers in Nova Scotia.
Just six months earlier, in March 2020, the RCMP settled a $100-million sexual harassment class-action lawsuit with former members who alleged harassment or discrimination based on their gender or sexual orientation.
Lucki also faced criticism that year after telling Global News she “struggled” with the definition of systemic racism and how it applied to the RCMP. She later acknowledged that there is systemic racism within the force.
Then there was the case of Cameron Ortis, a former head of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre (NICC), who was accused in October 2019 of selling secrets to a money laundering kingpin.
Roach told Global News that the last few years have seen an uptick in controversies surrounding the Mounties, in part because of the larger discussions around policing in both the U.S. and Canada, but also because more questionable police conduct is being captured on cellphone cameras.
“The RCMP has particular challenges, because they are such a vast organization arguably trying to do too much, trying to be local police forces in all three territories and eight provinces, as well as having some real challenges when it comes to federal policing,” Roach said.
The 2022 polling also found lower confidence among respondents that the RCMP is sensitive to the needs of various ethnic communities in Canada, visible minorities, LGTBQ2 communities and Indigenous Peoples.
“Fewer than four in ten agree that the RCMP is sensitive to the needs of Canada’s various cultures and groups, or that the RCMP treats members of the LGBTQ2 communities fairly,” the report read.
“Moreover, only one in three Canadians agree that the RCMP treats members of visible minority groups fairly, or that it treats Indigenous people fairly.”
And while the general sentiment towards the force remains positive, more Canadians appear to have concerns about the RCMP’s handling of specific types of threats.
For instance, 56 per cent of respondents said they believe the RCMP responds to national security threats effectively — but that’s a 16-point drop from 2021. Similarly, 56 per cent of respondents said the RCMP diminishes the threat of organized crime — a 10-point drop from the previous year.
The polling also found concerns about how much information the RCMP communicates with the public – and the force’s commitment to transparency.
“One in three Canadians … are satisfied with the level of information that the RCMP provides about its work, while a slightly larger proportion (42 per cent) express dissatisfaction in this area,” the report read.
“Findings also reveal that half of Canadians (50 per cent) disagree with the idea that the RCMP is an open and transparent organization.”
Global News submitted a list of questions to the RCMP for this story on Tuesday. As of Thursday, the force had yet to respond.
— with files from the Canadian Press.