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Critics see little in deal to target RCMP vacancies

Mar 23 2012

Critics of the new 20-year RCMP contract the province signed Wednesday say it's largely a continuation of the status quo, with few mechanisms to prevent the staffing shortages that have plagued many B.C. detachments.

"I'm a little concerned there isn't a lot of teeth in the provisions that the province was negotiating on behalf of the municipalities," said NDP justice critic Kathy Corrigan. "I don't see anything there in the new structure that forces the federal government to address issues like vacancy [rates]."

A Times Colonist investigation in February revealed that one in 10 Mountie positions in B.C. sits empty. Jobs left unfilled due to medical, parental and other extended leaves push the vacancy rate to almost 16 per cent provincewide and to 17.4 per cent on Vancouver Island.

Yet the contract does little to press the RCMP to fill the vacant positions as quickly as possible, other than a section requiring the detachment commander to provide regular reports on the number of vacancies.

"Vacancies were discussed at the negotiating table, and there are new requirements included for them to report on different types of vacancies and whether they are backfilled," a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said in an email. "The RCMP have set up a process for assessing vacancies on a priority basis that will allow them greater flexibility to potentially move members to temporarily deal with backfilling the most critical vacancies."

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, slammed the provincial government for refusing to release a contract audit, which would have indicated whether the public is getting good value for their money with the Mounties.

The government has said staffing shortages were one issue of many explored in the audit.

Eby said the government missed a chance to start a new relationship between the B.C. residents and the RCMP by negotiating behind closed doors instead of in a way that is transparent and takes into account public input.

In a statement, Justice Minister Shirley Bond said the province would release the report now that the agreement with the federal government is finalized, but she did not set a date.

"As stated, this report was done to review how we were managing the previous RCMP contract," she said. "As such, it was one significant component in determining the terms we sought in the new agreement, particularly around accountability."

Premier Christy Clark previously floated the idea of B.C. setting up its own provincial police force when the province and federal government reached a stalemate in September, but critics now say that was just a bargaining tactic.

Criminologist Robert Gordon, who is in favour of a provincial police force and regional police forces for Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver, said the government did not look seriously at reforms to improve shortfalls.

The new agreement "is in essence a continuation of the current contract [which expires March 31], because there's not been any particular interest in moving ahead with the development of alternatives," Gordon said.


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