An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, the more they stay the same, the old saying goes. It might be an apt description for a proposal to get rid of the RCMP in British Columbia and establish a provincial police force instead.
An all-party legislative committee says the change would re-establish trust in policing, that it would “improve local accountability, responsiveness and decision-making.”
Fact is, though, that B.C. has taken the provincial police force route once before. Kamloops author Lynne Stonier-Newman wrote an excellent book about the B.C. Provincial Police in 1991, called Policing a Pioneer Province, that outlined its fascinating history.
The force (initially called the B.C. Constabulary) was created in 1858 as B.C. was becoming a Crown colony and dealing with the impact of the Cariboo gold rush. The new force was directed to “carry out the general policing of the district, taking special care that drinking and gambling are as much as possible put down.”
For almost a century, until they were disbanded in 1950, the “Provincials” kept law and order in all corners of the province, handling everything from murder investigations to weather reports, collecting licence fees and giving driver’s tests.
When the Coalition government decided to shut them down and bring in the RCMP, there was a lot of opposition. As Stonier-Newman recounted in her book, newspaper editorials demanded extensive public consultation before the change was made but that didn’t happen.
One of the main reasons put forth for changing to RCMP was money — the feds agreed to take up roughly half the cost of paying each police member. Every time a provincial police force — or a Kamloops police force, for that matter, is raised, cost becomes a prohibitive factor.
There’s no evidence at all that firing the RCMP would be affordable, nor result in more accountability. In fact, switching back to a provincial force would likely be every bit as traumatic as getting rid of it was in 1950.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.