Confidence dropping in RCMP sensitivity to different cultures, survey suggests

Newly released figures suggest a steep erosion in the public's belief that the RCMP is attentive to the needs of a diverse society.

Thirty-nine per cent of people who responded to an annual survey prepared for the Mounties agreed the national police force was sensitive to the needs of different cultures and groups, down from 58 per cent two years earlier.

"When the scope of the questions is narrowed to focus on specific groups, the RCMP elicits even less favourable reviews," says a summary of the survey, completed in April by Ekos Research Associates and recently posted online.

"Fewer than four in 10 agree that the RCMP is sensitive to the needs of Canada's various cultures and groups, that the RCMP treats women fairly, that it is sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ2 community or that it is respectful to the cultural needs of Indigenous people."

The sampling of opinion followed an intense period of scrutiny for the RCMP and other police forces over their treatment of Black and Indigenous people.

A May 2020 video showing Minneapolis police killing a Black man, George Floyd, fanned the flames of fury over racism in the United States and sparked anger and concern in Canada. A police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while he pleaded that he couldn't breathe.

At the time, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki initially stopped short of agreeing with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's assessment that the national police force, like all Canadian institutions, exhibits systemic racism.

In an abrupt reversal soon after, Lucki expressed regret for not having done so.

Overall, the Ekos survey of 2,988 Canadians, conducted both online and by phone, found the vast majority approved of the Mounties' contribution to public safety.

"The RCMP also scores well in terms of upholding its core principles, particularly professionalism and integrity. However, across virtually all of the indicators examined, perceptions have deteriorated over the past year," the summary says.

"There are some doubts as to whether the RCMP provides Canadians with sufficient information regarding its work, and Canadians tend to disagree that the organization is transparent."

Another recent survey, conducted online in February by Environics Research for Public Safety Canada, found six in 10 people gave their local police a good rating for keeping their communities safe.

However, the survey of 2,590 people noted that just under half felt police did a good job of using force only when necessary, treating people of different genders and sexual orientations equally and being respectful of different cultures.

It also found three in 10 respondents believed that bias in policing and law enforcement was a big problem, while another four in ten considered it somewhat of a problem.

In last fall's throne speech, the Liberals promised legislation and money to address systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system.

They pledged action on issues ranging from sentencing and rehabilitation to improved civilian oversight of the RCMP and standards on police use of force.

The planned measures also include modern training for police and other law-enforcement agencies, as well as broader RCMP reforms that emphasize a shift toward community-led policing.

For its part, the RCMP has committed to efforts including revised crisis intervention and de-escalation tools, improved relationships with Indigenous Peoples, and stronger collaboration with health and social service partners.

The NDP election platform says it is past time to put in place robust and independent civilian oversight of the RCMP.

The party also promises a review of the force's budget, the RCMP Act and Mountie use-of-force policies.

"For too long, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have stood by and done nothing while Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities are forced to live in fear and mistrust of the police."

The Conservatives promise to stamp out the "culture of sexual harassment" within the RCMP.

Their platform does not provide additional details on reforming the police force.

However, through a House of Commons committee report tabled in June, the Tories expressed support for recommendations to ensure greater responsiveness and accountability on the part of the RCMP watchdog.

The Conservatives also advocated empowering the watchdog, when investigating the RCMP, to refer cases to the appropriate body responsible for criminal investigations of police conduct.

This story by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2021.