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Alberta’s policing future dominates Innisfail forum

Provincial officials and National Police Federation do not participate but Innisfail’s mayor briefs dozens of Innisfailians on council’s support of RCMP and rejection of proposed Alberta provincial police service

INNISFAIL – Mayor Jean Barclay did not mince words when she stepped up to the podium on Nov. 15 at the second community engagement forum on local policing this year.

“I'm here to really talk about the stance that Innisfail council has taken on this matter between the RCMP and the Alberta provincial police service,” said Barclay to her forum audience. “We are an ardent supporter of keeping the RCMP in Alberta and in our community.”

The forum, which was held at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 in Innisfail, attracted an audience of more than 50 citizens, nearly double the total that came to the first community engagement on policing last June 23.

The first forum focused on crime statistics, crime reduction and local issues of concern. The second forum, facilitated by Innisfail RCMP Sgt. Ian Ihme, acting detachment commander, did provide statistical and information updates on Nov. 15 but it was the ongoing push from the province to consider a provincial police service to replace the RCMP that dominated the evening discussion.

“I find it interesting that at the local level we can focus that togetherness,” said Innisfailian Bill Hoppins, who addressed the speakers during the question-and-answer segment of the forum. “If we had an Alberta police force, and some RCMP and big Calgary police force and we had an emergency like they had in Ottawa, it's clear those police services would have a very difficult time working together.

“Not because they're bad people, but that's the way more government works, in silos, ‘I'm not sharing my stuff with you because it's about me and my police service'. So, I don't think we need more and a different police service. We need more of what's going on in Innisfail.”

Hoppins received enthusiastic applause for his comments. However, many attending Innisfailians came to hear detailed in-person perspectives from both sides of the controversial issue.

Representatives from Alberta Justice and the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services and the National Police Federation (NPF), the union that represents the RCMP, were originally invited to take part in the forum on Nov. 15. However, representatives from both sides did not participate.

“Due to changes within ministry, they weren't able to support that (forum),” said Gary Leith, the town’s manager of fire and protective services of the province’s reason for not attending. “They gave direction back, which was that if mayor and council wish to have a representative come and speak to them then mayor and council could speak at ministerial level . . . in respect of having somebody come and speak with them.”

RCMP Supt. Pam Robinson, who attended the forum representing K Division’s Central Alberta District, said it “wasn’t a request to not” have the NPF attend the forum.

“It was a consideration of what we were trying to achieve tonight and informing the public of the role of the RCMP in our communities,” said Robinson. “It was actually my understanding that NPF representative intended to come in, would be sitting in the crowd, and would take the microphone and be able to present information tonight.”

There was no formal in-person NPF presentation to Innisfailians on Nov. 15.

Instead, Barclay presented council’s support to keep the RCMP, and to reject the provincial plan of a new Alberta provincial police service.

For Barclay, it all came down to cost and the ongoing problems of recruiting new police officers, and three rounds of public opinion research from the NPF which is claimed to show 84 per cent of Albertans do not support replacing the RCMP, and when detailed analysis and costs of transitioning are factored in, 81 per cent of Central Alberta rural communities are satisfied with the current policing model.

The mayor reminded Innisfailians that the town’s policing budget for a local RCMP detachment is now about $1.5 million, with the federal government paying 30 per cent and Innisfail taxpayers picking up the remaining 70 per cent.

Barclay also noted the total cost to Albertans to move towards a preferred APPS model could increase from $595 million to $759 million.

 “And that's $164 million per year to have our provincial police force,” said Barclay, adding the transition costs are estimated to be $366 million. “I think what is clear is the cost to Alberta will be much higher. We are told this will not impact our municipal finances, but we don't see how it cannot.”

During the forum the RCMP expressed gratitude for the ongoing public support it has been receiving, including at the Innisfail community engagement forum and a ‘Keep the RCMP in Alberta’ rally in Edmonton on Nov. 17.

“I'm humbled and it's overwhelming,” said Robinson. “I will say a big thing that's impacting our recruitment is the APPS. It’s hard to draw people to work in a community or out in a province when you don't know what the future of policing in that province looks like.

“To have support of anybody to say, ‘you know, we support you in doing your job and we're here to work with you’ is overwhelming and appreciated,” she added. “I cannot tell you wholeheartedly how great it is to hear that.”


Johnnie Bachusky

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