Send in the Mounties

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The Article

The state of security in Canada is pathetic; Stephen Harper should dramatically increase the number of RCMP officers, and soon

I want to present a challenge to Stephen Harper and his new government: Make better use of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The security of Canadians is full of holes. Only a bolstered RCMP has the potential to fill them.

We Canadians are very adept at sending RCMP officers across the country and around the world as photo-op symbols of Canada’s dedication to the causes of justice and public order.

There are too many guns on the streets, the drug trade appears to be out of control, and several reports by our Senate committee for national security and defence have shown that in an era of worldwide terrorist attacks, our coastlines and border crossings are virtually undefended. Our sea ports and airports are riddled with organized crime, which creates security gaps that terrorists and gunrunners are well aware of.

Am I an alarmist? Optimists point to an overall decline in crime rates, and they’re right. But that’s a factor of demographics: a higher percentage of older people means less overall crime, particularly petty crime. But it doesn’t mean fewer big-time threats from people the Mounties have told us are active in Canada: Asian Triads, Russian gangsters, narco-terrorists and traditional organized crime. Most of these people aren’t aging baby boomers. They’re young, mean and efficient.

Outfits like the Hells Angels are running huge nation-wide businesses with massive profit margins. They’re great organizers, marketers and masters of just-in-time delivery. They’ve demonstrated that you don’t need an MBA to succeed in the dark side of commerce—all you need is a society that can’t get its act together to keep you in check. In Canada, they’ve got a beauty.

Enter the RCMP.

The RCMP are a national institution, which I believe is essential when you’re fighting coast-to-coast crime. Trying to use a multiplicity of government departments, organizations and police forces to deal with issues such as airport security means no one really has a handle on what needs to be done. And nobody can be held accountable when big things go wrong.

The RCMP also have an outstanding record when given the resources. Like all big organizations, they screw up from time to time, but for the most part, these people have the right credentials to go after the worst kind of people.

For some time now the RCMP have been starved of resources. Inadequate funding has meant that the force has only been able to play a fringe role at our ports and on our borders. You may find the following numbers shocking—I do: The RCMP’s resources are so limited that they currently dedicate fewer than 30 officers permanently to monitor and investigate organized crime at ports across the country, fewer than 100 at all Canadian airports, and fewer than 150 to Integrated Border Enforcement Teams—the key units monitoring crime and national security investigations along the whole of the Canada-U.S. border.

These miniscule numbers give new meaning to the words “spread thinly.”

And make no mistake, our ports, our borders and our border crossings are vulnerable. When our Senate committee first pointed out that our sea ports and airports were riddled with organized crime, we were greeted with waves of denials. About a year later, the government acknowledged the problem and became a signatory of the minimalist standards of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. It provided $115 million in financial assistance to improve security. The money went into things like fencing.

Fencing and other physical improvements at sea ports, airports and border crossings are helpful, but criminals need only to bribe or intimidate port employees to circumvent these kinds of barriers. And our committee has been told in no uncertain terms that they do. Fences are a poor substitute for robust and sophisticated policing.

What Canada needs to beat criminals that don’t restrict themselves to municipal or provincial boundaries is an intelligence-led policing effort with the resources and capabilities necessary to meet any threat, anywhere in the country. The RCMP isn’t the police force of local or provincial jurisdiction in every province, but it has proven itself a team player with provincial police forces in Ontario and Quebec in recent years, and it can offer intelligence, leadership and support in these jurisdictions.

What Canada has now is a fragmented approach with too many weak links. At airports, for instance, responsibility is diffused between Transport Canada, local airport authorities, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, local police forces and whatever rent-a-cops the airport authorities choose to employ to save money. No one is accountable.

The bad guys have skilled and single-minded teams. We have a collection of players, some of whom don’t skate so well.

Take a look at Canada’s Great Lakes, where nobody has a clear picture of what is going on, where smugglers go about their business with relative impunity, where the unrestricted whirl of pleasure craft in the summer provides cover for anybody wishing to do just about anything.

The new Harper government is now in place, and says it is committed to increasing the security of Canadians. Prime Minister Harper is going to meet again with RCMP Commissioner Giuliano (Zack) Zaccardelli to discuss security. If Commissioner Zaccardelli follows sad tradition, he will hold out a small bowl, tug his forelock, and suggest that modest increases to the RMCP budget would sustain it as an effective institution.

What Commissioner Zaccardelli should be doing is making the case that the government must be bold enough to increase the size of the RCMP by at least a third over the next decade. The force should be given the lead mandate to upgrade the domestic security of Canadians, particularly by fighting organized crime nationally and closing the security gaps on our borders and at our ports.

The RCMP currently employ about 16,000 persons in uniform, with training facilities to bring in approximately 1,400 to 1,600 recruits a year. The size of the force should be increased to at least 21,000 within a decade.

To make this number a reality, the force needs to double its training capacity, and increase the number of recruits it graduates every year to approximately 3,000. Even extraordinary measures like this will not yield the kind of seasoned officers we need right away. But it will increase the force’s capacity, freeing up experienced officers to tackle our national security problems on behalf of all Canadians.

Right now, Canada’s national response to crime and terrorism looks like a juggling act, with plenty of balls in the air and plenty of dropped balls on the ground. Jugglers don’t make good street fighters. Somebody has to take charge. Who better than the RCMP?

Colin Kenny was chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence over the past five years. The committee has published 14 reports on Canadian security during that period.

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