Manitoba Justice Minister MLA Kelvin Goertzen says the RCMP vacancy rate in our province has become an increasingly serious concern. So much so, that Goertzen has sent a letter to the federal Minister of Public Safety asking for immediate action.
According to Goertzen, there are concerns that RCMP detachments, particularly those in north and Indigenous communities are operating with inadequate staffing levels, impacting community safety and the health and safety of RCMP officers. The letter states that many rural and remote detachments in Manitoba have small staffing complements and that vacant positions pose major operational challenges for an impacted detachment, affecting the well-being of RCMP officers. Goertzen says another concern is what is happening in Thompson, where they are doing okay with their complement of officers, but nearly all of them are new.
Goertzen says no part of Manitoba is immune to the RCMP shortage.
"I think it is safe to say that there is not a place that is policed by the RCMP where they aren't having challenges in keeping their full complement," notes Goertzen. "Certainly when I travel throughout Manitoba and talk to RCMP officers in the different detachments I hear that consistently that they are having a hard time keeping folks in."
Goertzen says Manitoba RCMP have little control over their own vacancy rate since the number of new recruits out of the RCMP Depot Division is managed nationally. He notes the recent temporary closure of the RCMP Depot, due to the pandemic, only exacerbated the staffing shortages that have been a reality in Manitoba for some time.
He notes 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. As a result, he says staffing levels in Manitoba are likely to become even more challenging in the near future.
"That is why I wrote to the Minister of Public Safety in Ottawa to say we need to see a plan, a clear plan in terms of how you are going to recruit and retain people in the RCMP and ensure that Manitoba gets the complement it needs for RCMP officers," adds Goertzen.
Goertzen says his concern is not over the professionalism or competence of RCMP members, noting Manitoba Justice has the utmost confidence in members. He adds appropriate additional support is required so that RCMP detachments can continue their vital work of keeping communities safe and enforcing the law. Goertzen is asking for the federal government to take immediate action to develop a concrete plan to address this issue.
According to Goertzen, there are about 1,100 RCMP officers in Manitoba currently. Our province has a vacancy rate of about seven per cent, which includes positions that are not filled. On top of that, is another 12 to 13 per cent that are vacant because individuals are either on maternity leave, paternity leave or other medical leave. That gives a total vacancy rate of about 20 per cent or more than 200 officers.
"That's a significant vacancy rate," he says. "And because we're concerned that it's going to get worse before it gets better, we really need to see that plan from the federal Minister of Public Safety about what is the plan to recruit, to retain RCMP officers."
Goertzen says he hears from Manitobans that there is not enough RCMP presence in our communities or that response times are too long. Again, he says this is not the fault of RCMP officers.
The Justice Minister says there are things that can be done internally to make it more attractive for officers to stay. There are also ways of making it more attractive for those who might be holding off on applying to the RCMP.
"Or there might be something that needs to be done in terms of how we can train people more quickly," he adds.