A provincial study on establishing an Alberta police force is a step in the right direction to address the concerns of rural residents, says Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson, but St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud says money going toward this study isn't well-spent.
The provincial government announced Oct. 7 it would proceed with a provincial police force study conducted by PwC Canada, estimated to cost $2 million. The announcement came a few months after the Fair Deal Panel recommended Alberta replace the RCMP with a provincial police force.
Getson, whose riding includes the west side of Sturgeon County, said in an emailed statement his constituents have continually raised concern over rural crime issues and "the lack of fast and effective service from the RCMP."
A 2019 Statistics Canada report showed the crime rate is 38 per cent higher in rural Alberta than it is in urban settings. The reasons cited for that discrepancy are longer wait times for police, addiction issues and unemployment.
“The rural crime rate has continued to climb, and the increase in armed incidents is also rising. I’ve even seen several of my neighbours fall victim to rural crime. I understand the struggle rural Albertans have had to face in this province, and that is why we introduced the fair deal panel to address the major concerns of Albertans,” said Getson.
Getson thinks this analysis is a step in the right direction as Albertans have, through consultations with the panel about the RCMP, expressed concerns with overt bureaucracy, limited connection to local communities and potential enforcement of heavy-handed gun laws from Ottawa.
“The safety of our communities in Alberta are the end goal in this review, and we are confident that this study will help to guide us in achieving this,” he said.
Renaud said she doesn’t agree with the Fair Deal Panel’s findings, as only 35 per cent of respondents to the panel supported a provincial police force.
“I think the recommendations that came out of the Fair Deal Panel are certainly not endorsed by the vast majority of Albertans. I think that was clear,” she said. “They decided for whatever reason to push ahead.”
Renaud is concerned the money that is going towards this study isn’t well spent, especially while the government is cutting services in other areas.
“They’ve decided to put $2 million to source out work through PwC to do an assessment of this, when in fact, new people are losing their jobs all over the place. People are struggling. We’ve got an over-$24-billion deficit," she said. “We have so many other challenges ahead of us.”
Despite not hearing anything from her constituents on the matter, Renaud thinks St. Albert has been, over the years, well-served by the RCMP.
“Does that mean there isn’t room for improvement? No, but I think St. Albert has consistently ranked as one of the safest places to live in Canada so that speaks very loudly for the success of the RCMP in our community,” she said.
The Gazette reached out to Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally for an interview but was referred to the Justice Minister.
Justice and Solicitor General senior press secretary Blaise Boehmer said in an email the government is committed to exploring how an Alberta-designed police force could improve policing.
'This is in line with other jurisdictions as a number of provinces and cities already have their own police forces rather than relying on the federal government," Boehmer stated.
Boehmer said this study will allow the government to make an informed choice about the cost of setting up and operating a provincial police force.
He said that benefits to a provincial force include the enforcement of Clare's Law. Clare's Law comes into effect this spring and allows people who are at risk of domestic violence find out if their partner has a violent or abusive past. The law is modelled after Clare's Law in the U.K., which was named after a woman who was killed by her ex-boyfriend who had a history of violence toward women. The law may not be enforceable by the RCMP because of federal privacy restrictions.
"While Alberta’s Clare’s Law has the full support of our privacy commissioner and will be enforced by municipal police services, we are concerned that the RCMP might be unable to enforce this law due to federal legislation," said Boehmer.
In an Oct. 7 media release, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said the government has an obligation to listen to the concerns residents expressed through the Fair Deal Panel.
“Alberta’s government must make an informed choice, and this report will bring us one step closer to the panel’s recommendation,” said Madu.
The RCMP released a statement to the Gazette from Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki.
“There is a lot of political commentary and discussion surrounding the provincial police feasibility study currently being conducted here in the province. It is my role to ensure Albertans receive professional, responsive police services, and I will continue to do just that," Zablocki stated.
Zablocki wrote there are currently 4,500 RCMP members in Alberta committed to the communities they serve, and he has created partnerships with local governments, community leaders and Indigenous chiefs and elders. He is committed to those partnerships, he wrote.PwC Canada is a global network that offers, among other services, consulting on public safety. On its website, PwC says it has interviewed 25 police services in six countries and looks into issues that include technology, society and crime.
The government expects to receive results from the analysis from PwC Canada by April 30, 2021.