Alberta Municipalities leaders reject provincial police force models

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Alberta Municipalities — which represents cities, towns and villages around the province — voted Wednesday to oppose the UCP government’s provincial police service pitch.

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At the spring municipal leaders’ caucus in Edmonton, members voted overwhelmingly to oppose the policing proposals in a government-commissioned report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and pushed the province to address the root causes of crime and properly fund the justice system. They also asked for a province-wide referendum on the issue before terminating its contract with the RCMP.

Earlier Wednesday, Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara took to the mic and asked Justice Minister Tyler Shandro what the government is doing to deal with the shortage of Crown prosecutors in the province.

“I believe that the biggest issue is the repeat offenders and the lack of Crown prosecutors in our province, not our police service,” he said to the panel of cabinet ministers.

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Shandro said the province is looking at ways to deal with a backlog in the court system he attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, and expressed concerns about existing police service agreements, local governance and oversight, and community policing.

Until Wednesday, Alberta Municipalities had not taken an official stance for or against the provincial police proposals. President Cathy Heron told reporters while the government’s collaboration is good on some files, municipal leaders don’t feel looped in on the policing proposals.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to hire my detachment commander. I don’t know if I’m able to deal with complaints within my community. Those are questions that are really important to municipalities and they’re being left unanswered,” said Heron.

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Speaking with reporters, Shandro said he’s committed to more discussion.

“We have not made any decisions, but we are going to work with those municipal leaders to make sure that we’re addressing the gaps that we see right now,” he said, adding that what he heard Wednesday was support for local RCMP officers .

“That’s support that is shared by government, by me — our RCMP officers do great work,” he said.

Zahara told reporters his town has a good relationship with the RCMP, and has unanswered questions about who would pay for a new provincial building for 17 RCMP officers currently working out of a federal building in Edson.

“We don’t understand it from a municipal standpoint. Once again, we’re happy with the service we’ve been provided with. Is there areas that can have improvement? Absolutely. And we’d be happy to work with the province on that,” said Zahara.

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The PwC report, released in October, said dumping the RCMP for a provincial service could cost Alberta approximately $200 million more annually than what the provincial and municipal governments currently spend, and could come with a $366-million price tag at least for a transition that could take up to six years.

NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said the government isn’t listening to municipalities that would be impacted.

“They say ‘if there’s money on the table, if the provincial government is going to step up with hundreds of millions of dollars, why don’t we fix what we have?’”

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