As thousands of RCMP officers at the G8 and G20 wait for signs of trouble in Toronto and Huntsville, Ont., this week, they’ll have some workplace gossip to chat about on the street corners.
Unionization is the new buzzword within the ranks, something their colleagues in municipal and provincial forces have experience with — but which has been previously denied to the Mounties.
The federal government slipped a new piece of legislation in under the wire last week before Parliament rose for the summer, a bill that would allow rank-and-file officers finally to choose whether or not they want to be a collective bargaining unit.
The bill would also allow members to send certain grievances and disciplinary issues to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, a win for Mounties who complained the system was always rigged in favour of management.
The federal government was forced to come up with something, after an Ontario Superior Court ruling in 2009 directed them to change the system by October this year.
That news barely made a public ripple last week with all the negative headlines RCMP brass faced.
The Mounties were slammed in key reports on the handling of the Air India bombing investigation and the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport. Shaken public trust also underpinned the government’s announcement of a new watchdog for complaints against the RCMP.
But Mounties say addressing internal trust is just as important.
Rob Creasser, vice-president of the B.C. Mounted Police Professional Association, said Mounties have faced a basic lack of fairness and accountability within the force when they come forward with grievances. Decisions made by resolution bodies within the RCMP are currently not binding, and members do not have a wholly independent body to represent them with management.
His and other associations across Canada are arguing for an independent guild with bargaining power — not a union in the truest sense because the Mounties would not be allowed to join a larger, national or multinational organizations.
“As frustrated as the public is (about) the police investigating the police, there are members equally frustrated that we have members investigating our own complaints and having them go nowhere, too,” said Creasser, a retired constable who was disciplined for once criticizing upper management.
As with union talk in any organization in Canada, there are differences of opinion among workers about the right path to take.
The RCMP’s 22,000 members are currently represented by a Staff Relations Representative Program (SSRP) — or “div reps” as they’re dubbed inside.
That program has been arguing that the current system — although not currently independent of RCMP management — actually works, and should simply be altered to create more distance between the representatives and the brass.
Staff Sgt. Brian Roach, of the SRRP’s national executive, said one necessary change would be to make the program’s funding guaranteed and not dependent on the wishes of the RCMP commissioner.