Rural Nova Scotia community seeking policing proposals, could dump the RCMP
April 13, 2023 By The Canadian Press
Apr. 13, 2023, Upper Nappan, N.S. – A largely rural municipality in northern Nova Scotia is looking into replacing the RCMP as the local police force almost three years after a mass shooting claimed the lives of four residents.
But the mayor of the Municipality of Cumberland, Murray Scott, said the horrific events of April 2020, which resulted in 18 additional deaths in other Nova Scotia communities, had nothing to do with his municipality’s decision this week to issue a request for proposals for policing services.
“It was not a result of the mass casualty,” Scott said in an interview Thursday, using the term adopted by the public inquiry into the killings. “It was because of the community’s thoughts around the level of policing.”
Scott, a former provincial justice minister, said that before his election as mayor in October 2020, the municipality was preparing to cut costs by reducing the number of local RCMP officers by three. That proposal was later rejected by Scott and his council.
Instead, the new council started a review of the RCMP’s work, and a committee later concluded residents were not satisfied with the Mounties’ slow response times and lack of visibility in the region, which includes the communities of Springhill and Parrsboro.
As well, Scott confirmed the Cumberland detachment was often short-staffed and required more money from the municipality to cover rising costs.
The Mounties have argued that they use overtime to backfill shifts, but Scott said it’s hard to understand how that would happen when adjoining municipalities are also short-staffed. The lack of staff also raises concerns about officer safety, said the mayor, who is also a former police officer.
The commission of inquiry found the RCMP was responsible for a long list of policing failures before, during and after a 13-hour rampage spanning more than 100 kilometres in which a man disguised as a Mountie fatally shot 13 people in Portapique, N.S., on the night of April 18, 2020, and then killed another nine people the following day.
Not only was the RCMP’s response disorganized and beset by equipment failures, it was also marred by ineffective and misleading communication with the public, the inquiry found.
“Throughout our work, we heard from community members and families most affected … and members of the broader public that the mass casualty and its aftermath had caused them to question their former trust in the police,” the three-member commission concluded in their final report.
Scott declined to comment on the inquiry’s 130 recommendations, which include requests for Ottawa to rethink the RCMP’s central role in rural policing.
“The province of Nova Scotia, the federal government and the RCMP are going to have to do their analysis of the report and the recommendations,” he said.
When asked if he trusts the RCMP to keep residents safe, Scott said: “The officers themselves, the ones answering calls, are doing the very best they can with the resources they have … This is more about the structure of the organization.”
He said Cumberland’s existing policing contract with the province requires the RCMP to have 27 officers serving the municipality, which has almost 20,000 residents spread across an area about one-third the size of P.E.I.
“We’re paying for the policing, and we expect full service for it,” he said, adding that the municipality’s bill for policing rose from $4.7 million last year to $5.1 million this year, mainly because of a retroactive wage increase over which the municipality had no say.
A federal subsidy covers about 30 per cent of the total cost of policing. The remaining 70 per cent is split between the province and the municipality, with Cumberland picking up two-thirds of that bill.
Scott said the deadline for policing proposals is May 19, by which time he expects to receive bids from the RCMP and the municipal police force in Amherst, N.S., the incorporated town closest to Cumberland.
The mayor of Amherst, Paul Kogon, said the town’s police chief will take a close look at Cumberland’s request.
“As the nearest police force to Cumberland, we feel it’s logical for us to look into … whether or not we could meet their needs and expand our police force,” Kogon said Thursday. “We know it’s a large task and a costly venture.”
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