The head of the RCMP has promised to “double down” on efforts to boost diversity among its officers — but newly available statistics show those efforts haven’t borne fruit over the past decade.
The recently released diversity statistics come as the national police force grapples with a fierce debate over systemic racism in the ranks and claims that it policies racialized Canadians differently.
As of April 1, 2020, just under 12 per cent of the RCMP’s 20,000 rank-and-file members identify as visible minority, according to figures posted online late last week. That figure hasn’t changed dramatically over the past few years and remained lower than the general rate in the workforce nationwide.
The percentage of regular RCMP members who self-identified as Indigenous remains higher than the Indigenous share of the wider workforce, but that number has decreased slightly over the past nine years.
This year, 7.2 per cent of regular members identified as Indigenous — down from 7.8 per cent in 2011 — according to the new figures published on the RCMP’s website.
The force said it doesn’t track detailed employment equity data, which means it’s not clear how many officers listed as “visible minority” also identify as Black or South Asian, for example.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto who studies race and policing, said that’s a problem.
“The United Nations has come out and called the category [of visible minority] inherently racist for grouping together diverse groups of people with vastly different experiences past and present, as well as serving in other functions,” he said. “So anyone who is not white, not Indigenous, are all lumped together …”
Owusu-Bempah said that, in order to demonstrate that RCMP officers “are representative of the communities that they serve,” the police service should break down its demographic numbers “by region, so that representation within the RCMP could be compared with the regions within they are policing.”
Commissioner Brenda Lucki has promised to build a more diverse police service.
“Let me say, we are committed to seek out and eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination in our organization,” she said back in June.
“We really need to double down on hiring a more diverse membership as we want greater diversity to reflect the communities that we serve.”
Those comments came after Lucki publicly struggled to define “systemic racism” in the RCMP following a number of controversial incidents caught on camera involving Indigenous Canadians.
‘Continuous issue of racism:’ MP
Since then, she’s faced questions about the RCMP’s reaction to the ongoing dispute between Mi’kmaw lobster harvesters and non-Indigenous commercial fishers in Nova Scotia.
“We’ve seen a continuous issue of racism that’s permeated within the RCMP,” said Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree during a House of Commons committee meeting Monday.
“One of the conversations I’ve had over the last several weeks is why is there one set of rules for people who are racialized, who are Indigenous or Black, and why a certain other set of rules for others. And we saw that clearly in the way the RCMP handled the issue of the fisheries in Nova Scotia.”
Owusu-Bempah said simply changing the percentages won’t amount to a “magical solution” to racism in policing.
“Policing is an institution. Police cultures are very real forces and factors and simply putting non-white people in uniform is not going to deal with the deep-seated and longstanding issue of racism within policing. We know that,” he said.
“But what we do know as well is that there is some benefit, whether that simply be with respect to perception, of having what we would consider a representative bureaucracy and that over time, the hope is that attitudes and behaviours will begin to change as representation increases.”
Changes to recruitment application
A spokesperson for the RCMP said the force doesn’t have any specific internal employment equity targets but is drafting a new equity, diversity and inclusion strategy which will include performance measures.
“We make a considerable effort to incorporate the lens of diversity and inclusion in everything we do. The RCMP is committed to ensuring that policies, practices and standards are fully inclusive and provide employees with equitable opportunities,” said Cpl. Caroline Duval.
“The RCMP is committed to providing every part of the country with culturally competent policing that can serve all Canadian communities in a professional manner with dignity and respect.”
The RCMP also has made changes to its recruitment process to attract new members.
As of May 2020, permanent residents who have lived in Canada for three of the last five years can apply to the RCMP.
“This change is part of the RCMP’s ongoing efforts to modernize our recruiting process and to recruit qualified applicants from a wide range of backgrounds to better reflect our Canadian reality,” said Duval.
“The diverse cultural backgrounds and language skills that applicants may bring will provide an enhanced understanding of cultural issues and perspective that helps us work even closer with the communities we serve.”
Owusu-Bempah said the RCMP also needs to address the problem of racism in the ranks, following allegations from serving and retired members about being targeted for harassment and discrimination by their fellow Mounties. He said the police service should work to better understand how its policies and policing tactics affect communities.
“I think we have ample evidence of how that is taking place. The disrespect and the harm inflicted upon Indigenous people, I think, would be a case in point,” he said.
“There are individuals who need to be held to account for such behaviour. Individual officers need to be held to account. Their supervisors need to be held to account. Ultimately, the commissioner of the RCMP must be held to account for that behaviour.”
The number of Mounties who indicate that they have a disability has also declined: from 2.5 per cent in 2014 (the first year data was collected) to 1.4 per cent in 2020.
The number of women wearing the red serge has increased slightly, from 20 per cent nine years ago to nearly 22 per cent this year.
So far, the applicant levels have shown a slim improvement in diversity.
Between August 2019 and July 2020, the number of applications from members of visible minorities grew by just under three per cent and the number of Indigenous applicants nudged upwards by less than one per cent.