Skip to main content

As Canada's RCMP marks 150th anniversary, a look at what it says needs to change


As the RCMP marks a major milestone, questions linger over the legacy of Canada's paramilitary police force, and how it fits into modern-day policing.

In its 150 years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has grown from 300 employees to 30,000, and evolved from a northern policing agency into a country-wide organization.

The agency has jurisdiction over 22 per cent of Canada's population and works to prevent crime, enforce the law, investigate offences and assist with emergency situations. Currently, Ontario and Quebec are the only provinces in Canada that don't use the RCMP as a provincial police force.

On top of the local and provincial policing the RCMP does, it also has a mandate to support the international community through police training and peacekeeping, as well as providing protective details for high-profile officials, including the prime minister.

As the RCMP navigates the 21st century and the changing demographics of the Canadian population, the goals and upcoming initiatives of the RCMP are crucial to understanding how it will evolve.

"We're tackling head-on the issues that have been raised," Nadine Huggins, chief human resources officer, told in a recent interview.

"We're acknowledging the complexity of our history, and laying the foundation for us to ensure that legacy of the next 150 (years) is about modern, inclusive, respectful, dignified policing."


Huggins was asked about the organization's evolution in light of recent years under a critical spotlight.

Recently, the force has been under scrutiny as reports of sexual assault, racism, internalized misogyny and homophobia plague the organization.

One such report, called "Broken Dreams Broken Lives" and compiled by Justice Michel Bastarache, notes a "toxic" culture within the RCMP. The report, published in 2020, digs into the "devastating effects" of the women who experienced poor treatment within their workplace.

Bastarache highlights the barriers preventing women from succeeding in the RCMP, calling for an external independent study of the future of the federal policing organization. He made 52 recommendations for change, including to training, recruitment, job postings, human resource policies and more.

A separate report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in June 2021 focused on how the RCMP can be reformed.

The committee said the "pervasive nature of systematic racism in policing" needed "transformative" action to ensure the safety of Indigenous, Black and other racialized people in Canada.

Additionally, the RCMP is battling a $1.1-billion lawsuit over bullying and harassment of its members.

The lead plaintiffs, veteran RCMP members Geoffrey Greenwood and Todd Gray, allege there was a culture of systemic intimidation and harassment in the force that was condoned by its leadership.

Critics look to the organization's recent history, asking why multiple reports and damning allegations had to occur before the force took action.

Responding to this, the RCMP says those who are currently in leadership roles with the force are determined to make improvements.

"I think leaders do the best they can in the moments that they're in their roles," Huggins said. "And I know that this leadership team, at this time, is quite focused on ensuring that we set a solid foundation for the next 150 (years) of our organization."


Huggins said one of the current "core mandates" of the RCMP is that it is reflective representation of the communities in which it works.

"All through our organization, we're holding folks accountable to ensure that we have an organization where sexism, racism, homophobia, discrimination, harassment of any kind… there's no place for it in a modern RCMP," she said.

To achieve this, the force is developing guidelines aimed at tackling each of its problems.

Reports detailing the toxic culture in the RCMP placed blame on the leadership team. To fix this, the RCMP says, it is eliminating barriers to the recruitment of diverse candidates, helping bring representation to the top.

As of October 2020, just 21.7 per cent of the regular members of the RCMP were female, and 12.1 per cent identified as a visible minority. Indigenous people represented 7.1 per cent of the RCMP's regular members.

"One of the key things… is how we've changed our recruitment and renewed our recruitment approach," Huggins said. "The organization has updated everything from its entrance exam to its assessment of new applicants. We've updated our exam so that it is bias-free."

The exam is the first step to determine if the person holds the fundamentals of being an RCMP member. Huggins said if the organization sees people from certain demographics struggling with the same question, the administrators will go back to see if it holds a bias.

Huggins said the organization is also prioritizing younger people in recruitment. Two programs, one aimed specifically at Indigenous youth, and the other Diverse and Inclusive Pre-Cadet Experience, are bringing in new perspectives to the force.

"This is not an overnight thing, this is a longer-term project," Huggins said. "It's changing the fundamental so that the culture changes."

The hope, according to Huggins, is that as new officers join the RCMP, the culture will shift.

"We're building and flying at the same time," Huggins said. "It comes to making sure that we continue to provide the services that we need and evolve our model, so that it is going to result in greater diversity amongst the ranks, but also into our leadership."


Fear of speaking out against senior leadership is another problem the RCMP is trying to address.

A class action lawsuit about sexual harassment within the RCMP alleged that higher-ranking employees used their power to force sexual acts on others, particularly women. The allegations led to an independent assessor recommending 52 actions the organization needs to take.

"In June of 2021, we launched the Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution…which is arm's length from the leadership of the RCMP," Huggins said.

The centre addresses harassment prevention and resolves complaints as employees come forward.

When a member of the RCMP displays poor behaviour, the issue will be investigated, according to the force's code of conduct, then the member will be issued educational and corrective opportunities before punitive actions are taken.

While the centre was created in response to complaints and is described as arm's length, critics have pointed out its executive director was recruited and hired by the RCMP and reports to the force's highest-ranking civilian officer. Additionally, the external investigators are former officers, rather than someone truly independent.

"They can’t fix themselves. There’s so much hurt and corruption that it cannot be fixed internally," Shirley Heafey, former RCMP public complaints commission chairperson, told CTV National News on June 2021. "It's just a stopgap measure. That’s all it is."

Huggins said having ongoing conversations around removing barriers within the organization about reporting issues is something the force has committed to.

Women in particular have been at the forefront of the RCMP reports, with allegations of mistreatment ranging from gender-based discrimination in teams to penetrative sexual assaults and pejorative comments.

The RCMP says it is working to put more women in leadership roles within the force.

"Under the current commissioner (Brenda Lucki), we have achieved just about gender parity with regard to our senior leadership table," Huggins said. "Are we perfect? No, we're not perfect in all regards, but there certainly is a concerted commitment…to ensuring that we strengthen overall equity and inclusion in the workplace."

While the current government has come to her defence in the past few years over her handling of certain high-profile incidents, Lucki's future at the helm of the RCMP remains in question as she nears the five-year mark in the role.


Lucki was named the first permanent female commissioner of the RCMP in 2018, outlining her vision for a more diverse RCMP.

At the time, her experience with Indigenous relations was pointed to as an asset, given the force’s ongoing work to improve its relations with First Nations communities.

The RCMP was created on May 23, 1873. At the time, the landscape was hundreds of hectares of dense untouched land.

Indigenous communities were scattered throughout the country, and their languages and traditions were still largely intact before the Indian Act of 1876 forced assimilation.

The very fabric of what many think of today as Canadian culture was still in its infancy.

The RCMP was modelled after the Royal Irish Constabulary, Steve Hewitt, historian and police expert with the University of Birmingham, told CTV's Your Morning in an interview earlier this month.

The force in Britain was used to "control" the Irish, Hewitt said, and in Canada, the RCMP was used against Indigenous people.

"I think that gives you an idea of the initial impetus of the force was to go westward to effectively take control of territory that had been Indigenous land to help displace Indigenous peoples onto reserves to prepare the way for European settlement," Hewitt said.

As Canada became more diverse into the later 20th century, how the RCMP reacted to issues of racism became a focal point. Serving the people of Canada meant the organization needed to adapt values and protocols to the rapidly diversifying population.

However, discrimination persisted.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, the RCMP was involved in what’s become known as the LGBTQ2S+ purge that saw thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians actively discriminated against, interrogated, and fired or demoted from their jobs in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal public service.

Work is ongoing within the federal government to improve inclusivity and rebuild trust, with survivors recently calling out the RCMP specifically.

"If you look at the historical records, they fought tooth and nail to persecute LGBT people," said Douglas Elliott, an activist and the lead lawyer for the purge class action, during a news conference on Parliament Hill in October 2022.


Some elements of the RCMP past are factors in how it currently operates – from the way it's set up to core mandates.

Critics wonder whether it's possible for the organization to evolve, moving away from the harm it caused in the past.

"You've got effectively what is a colonial institution, a paramilitary institution that still (operates) in the 21st century," Hewitt said. "I'm just not sure paramilitary values in the 19th century work so well in the 21st century."

He said the problems surfacing now are not unfamiliar – but there is a key difference.

"These issues are not new. The difference is obviously through social media, through lawsuits, things such as that, we're much more aware of them than we would have been in the past," Hewitt said.

The RCMP acknowledges that in order to move forward, "a lot of work" is needed to address the problems within the RCMP. It has known this for years, according to its CHRO.

"While the organization certainly is proud of its traditions, it is also eager to be a policing service for the future," Huggins said. "Our culture change, our new core values, our focus on de-escalation, all speak to how we have taken what is useful from our paramilitary tradition and wedded it to the modern vision that we have for ourselves."


With files from CTV News’ Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello.


A previous version of this article stated the RCMP was not the provincial police for Newfoundland and Labrador. While the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is the provincial police service, the RCMP also has three districts in the province. Top Stories

Local Spotlight

Stay Connected