Military Police - 75 years and counting

Chuck Konkel
March 21, 2016
By Chuck Konkel
With a strength of more 1,200, the Canadian Forces Military Police (CFMP) is one of the largest policing agencies in Canada.

With a strength of more 1,200, the Canadian Forces Military Police (CFMP) is one of the largest policing agencies in Canada. Members serve more than 200,000 regular and reserve force members, civilian employees, cadets and families residing on military establishments in Canada and abroad, protecting all components of the Canadian Forces.

The historical lineage of military policing is as old as soldiering, with origins in the Roman Legions. In a more contemporary context, the articles of war of British monarchs from the Middle Ages to the Army Act of 1879 make reference to the provost marshal and his company, with duties largely committed to discipline.

Britain's first standing military police was created in 1813 when the Duke of York proposed formation of a staff corps of cavalry attached to the Adjutant-General. Commanding officers of cavalry regiments were ordered to submit names of soldiers to serve in this unit and detachments were then allotted to each division of the Peninsular army.

Until a standard uniform was approved, members were identified by a red scarf tied around the right shoulder of their garb. This might have been the origin of the famous military police 'Red Cap' and was certainly the precursor of the 'MP' armband which identifies modern personnel.

Following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington re-formed the cavalry staff corps to police the British occupation army in France. During the Crimean War, the corps was empowered to prevent supply theft and maintain discipline and were formally recognized by 1877. The military foot police was raised in 1882 for service in Egypt.

An amalgamated corps of horse and foot was employed on operational tasks during the First World War, including marshalling troops and supplies on the front lines, often under heavy and concentrated fire.

The Canadian Military Police Branch traces its origin to formation of the Canadian Military Police Corps in 1917, when mounted personnel were tasked with enforcing discipline for the Canadian Expeditionary Force fighting on the Western Front.

Modern Canadian military policing was born during the Second World War. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had used the ship's master of arms and shore patrol to ensure conduct of all ranks from its creation in 1910 onward. During the Second World War, RCN policing would expand to maintain discipline over 100,000 sailors serving on more than 400 surface ships and countless stone frigates in what, by 1945, was the world's fourth largest navy.

For its part, in 1940, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) created a provost marshal to ensure discipline. By war's end, in addition to safeguarding security for the 132,000 personnel trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, RCAF Service Police had managed a quarter million Canadians in 48 squadrons, air bases and training formations at home and overseas in the world's fourth largest air arm..

The Canadian Provost Corps was formed within the Canadian Army on June 15 1940; No. 1 Company, made up of RCMP members, became part of the 1st Canadian Division. No.2 Company, comprising municipal police officers, joined 2nd Canadian division.

Provost members were captured in the defense of Hong Kong and were casualties on Dieppe's beaches. Yet it was during the Italian campaign and later in the liberation of Northwest Europe and the Netherlands that the corps came into its own.

In these war zones, provost personnel were responsible for expeditious traffic movement of men and material to the front line. Their traffic points were often under extreme enemy fire. As evidenced in the provost corps war diary and the number of awards members received, the recorded instances of bravery and devotion to duty were the rule rather than the exception.

As the war diary illustrates, military policing is not without a touch of human comedy.

As part of Operation Market Garden in 1944, Allied airborne troops were dropped near Arnhem. At least one glider went far off course (100 KM, to be exact!) and landed near a military provost responsible for a traffic point approaching Ghent.

Bristling with arms and ammunition, the paras spilled out and dug themselves into an impregnable defensive position. The MP remonstrated with them, but the paras had their orders and – ever certain they had landed on target – proceeded about their business in a soldierly manner.

After several hours crouched in slit trenches watching convoy after convoy with the Royal blue rectangle and gold maple leaf of Canadian Second Division emblazoned on each vehicle, the paras decided that 'possibly' the provost officer's observations had merit. They sheepishly called it a day and proceeded into Ghent to celebrate their hollow victory.

The red cap, MP brassard and olive green Norton motorcycle became the Provost Corps trademark. By conflict's end, the provost corps had been awarded 67 Canadian medals, 13 foreign awards and 117 mention in dispatches (MID), each singularly well deserved.

In Korea, Canada's forgotten conflict, Canadian provosts were merged with their British and Australian counterparts to form the British Commonwealth Provost Company; the first internationally integrated formation in contemporary warfare.

Such flexibility would become a living maxim for the CFMP. From Korea onwards, through the dynamics of unification to the contemporary Canadian Forces of today, MPs have served on military missions and in theatres of serious conflict from Cyprus and Haiti to Afghanistan, Libya and East Timor, and most recently the Ukraine and Jordan. They have protected Canadian embassies and high commissions worldwide in roles as complex and diverse as intelligence gathering, base security and combat support to training of counterparts in newly emerging nations.

Although the National Defense Act does not bestow authority to defense ministers to appoint police officers, Section 156(1) allows them to confer peace officer status to specially appointed military police members. This classification provides for powers bestowed by selected Acts of Parliament on or in relation to DND property or assets, worldwide.

If a crime is committed thereupon, MPs have arrest and charge powers over offenders, military or civilian, via the Criminal Code. Under the act, they also have power to arrest anyone subject to the Code of Service Discipline (CSD) regardless of position or rank. It is critical to note the purpose of the CFMP is not to replace the civil policing authority, but to support the Canadian Forces through security and internal policing services, including enforcing discipline, traffic control, handling prisoners of war, detainees and refugees and the collection, collation, analysis and dissemination of information relevant to criminal intelligence.

Members are deployed on operations both domestic and global, including humanitarian support, peacekeeping, hostile combat or stabilizing areas suffering from natural disaster.

The CFMP celebrated its 75th anniversary last year and can move forward justifiably proud of its lineage and future. The new CFMP Academy at CFB Borden heralds a significant milestone. A state of the art facility, it recognizes the critical importance which the integrated disciplines of policing and soldiering have in maintaining the reputation of Canada's military for thorough professionalism in peacetime and war.

For what it stands for, and for the training it provides, the academy is a living testament to the importance placed in the CFMP motto 'Securitas.' Always.

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