‘Ottawa’ RCMP Pant Protest Moves to Parliament Hill
A widespread protest by RCMP officers has reached Parliament Hill, where officers have ditched the yellow stripe on their pants to send a message about what they view as an inadequate pay increase and other concerns about the force.
Mounties in Ottawa have traded their familiar uniform pants with yellow stripes for blue, cargo-style tactical design. The protest is more subtle than in other parts of Canada, where some officers taped over or removed the yellow stripe entirely from their uniform pants.
“I actually worked on the Hill over the weekend and I was donning my blues as I worked alongside other members that had blues on. I would suggest to you based on what I know on the Hill right now, we are probably in the neighbourhood of 80 or 90 per cent of the members who are wearing blues,” said Dennis Miller, an Ottawa-based RCMP officer and member of the executive of the National Police Federation, which is among two groups seeking to represent currently non-unionized RCMP members.
“It’s not an act of defiance, it’s to send a message that enough is enough,” said Miller.
The protest began in British Columbia last week and has spread across the country following the announcement of a pay package that RCMP members complain isn’t competitive with other large police forces. They are also concerned with staffing levels and working conditions.
The pay package included retroactive salary increases of 1.25 per cent in both 2015 and 2016, along with a 2.3 per cent market adjustment effective as of April 1, 2016. The government said the pay increase brings the total compensation for RCMP officers, including pension and benefits, in line with the eight police departments covering 90 per cent of the country’s population.
In a statement released Wednesday, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson said no one had been disciplined for the protest, but worried about the impact it will have on the public they serve.
“Public trust and confidence in the RCMP are crucial to our mission. It is important that we all pause for a minute and reflect on how our actions during these times may impact that vital relationship and how these actions are being seen by the communities and citizens we serve,” Paulson wrote.
Paulson said while the new pay package may be “maddening” to some members, it wasn’t going to get any better.
“It does not get us to parity with the top paid police forces in the country but I tell you all solemnly: we went to bat and our Minister went to bat, and there was no better package to be had at this time,” wrote Paulson.
“While it is upsetting that we haven’t yet achieved this parity there are an awful lot of people in the communities that we police who don’t understand what it is about our present circumstances that is leading some of you toward altering the uniform that they recognize, rely on, and look to for support.”
But Miller said even with the pay raise, first-class constables with other forces are receiving more money. Miller argued that meant the RCMP wouldn’t be the top choice for the best recruits.
“We have to be treated fairly by the government and the ministers of Parliament in relation to a pay package and resourcing. People are not applying for our police force, they are applying for other police forces across the country,” said Miller.
Miller said he appreciates the approximately $86,000 a first-class constable would now receive with the RCMP is a significant amount, but said it still lags behind other Ontario police forces. By comparison, a first-class constable with the Ottawa police earns $93,000. Other forces are closer to $100,000.
In his statement, Paulson argued the focus should be on future contracts that will be negotiated by their chosen union. The RCMP is the only police force in Canada that isn’t unionized, but will be in the future.
Miller said the pant protest won’t affect the RCMP’s quality of service.
“Our priority is and always has been and always will be service first. Whether we are wearing blue or our regular pants with the yellow stripe, it doesn’t matter. Our duty is to the public,” he said.