‘An untenable situation’: Justice minister sounds alarm over RCMP vacancies in Manitoba

Manitoba’s minister of justice is sounding the alarm over what he calls inadequate staffing of RCMP in the province – a situation the Mounties union says is leading to burnout among officers who are stretched too thin.

In a letter to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Manitoba Attorney General and Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen called for ‘immediate action’ from the federal government to create a concrete plan to deal with the problem.

“Manitoba has concerns that RCMP detachments, particularly those in the North and Indigenous communities, are operating with inadequate staffing levels, which impacts community safety and the health and safety of RCMP members,” Goertzen said in the letter, which he posted to Twitter on Sunday.

According to data from the Manitoba RCMP, the vacancy rate in the province is at six per cent as of April 1, 2021. This is equal to about 60 positions, though RCMP said this is just a snapshot in time as the numbers change regularly.

The countrywide average vacancy rate is 4.3 per cent.

In his letter, Goertzen said the problem was exacerbated by the temporary pandemic closure of the RCMP training depot in Regina. Though it has reopened, the minister says it is still causing issues.

“Recent information provided by the RCMP suggests that over the next two years it is unlikely that the number of new recruits will be sufficient to fill even retirement vacancies,” Goertzen said in the letter. “The result is that staffing levels in Manitoba are likely to become even more challenging in the near future. This will be an untenable situation.”

Bobby Baker, the prairie region director for the National Police Federation which represents RCMP officers, called the recruiting situation a crisis. He said interest in joining police has dropped and some retired officers have had to come back to work to fill the gaps.

“There’s just now a massive push to try to get boots on the ground, tried to get them into the training academy and it’s not happening,” Baker said. “We’ve called on the federal government this past spring for a strategy and to increase the capacity of the depot and for a plan. We’ve yet to hear this plan, but we need this to happen now.”

Goertzen said he wants the federal government to take immediate action to develop a concrete plan to deal with the issue, and wants to meet with his federal counterpart to discuss the problem.

In a statement to CTV News, the Manitoba RCMP said it’s aware that recruitment and retention is a serious issue.

“Our top priority is the safety and security of those living in the communities we police, and we realize the key to doing that is having police officers in those communities,” the statement reads. “The RCMP in Manitoba manages any vacancies to ensure the impact is felt in a minimal way.”

Manitoba RCMP said it shifts schedules and deploys officers from one area to another to make sure there are enough officers in any given area.

But Baker says it is those officers that are paying the price.

“They’re not operating at 100 per cent because they’re burning out – is where the impact would be,” he said. “They’re not letting any gaps happen, they’re picking up the slack, there’s a lot of overtime – and I would say it’s unwanted overtime in most instances – and our officers, they’re definitely burning out.”

Baker said the National Police Federation supports the minister’s letter, and echoes his call for a concrete plan.

CTV News has reached out for comment from the federal public safety minister, but has not yet heard back.

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