Use of firearms is RCMP’s most common recorded intervention tactic, report shows

RCMP officers have pointed guns at individuals more than 5,000 times over the past three years.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police today released a use-of-force breakdown that shows the use of firearms is the RCMP’s most common recorded intervention tactic. The report was released as calls mount around the world for fundamental policing reform in the wake of mass protests against police brutality.

A spokesperson for the force said officers respond to roughly 2.8 million calls for service each year and, on average, 2,215 encounters have involved what’s known as police intervention — less than one per cent of the total.

“This indicates that approximately 99.9 per cent of RCMP encounters are resolved naturally or successfully de-escalated by officers without the need for police intervention,” said Cpl. Caroline Duval in an email.

“Overall, there was a 29 per cent decline in the rate of intervention being applied from 2010 to 2019, with 2019 marking the lowest rate of intervention over a ten-year period.”

According to RCMP records, between 2017 and 2019 Mounties pointed their firearms at people 5,441 times and brandished them 3,062 times as a deterrent.

The RCMP’s internal subject behaviour/officer response database, released to CBC News, says that from 2017 to 2019, officers were involved in 99 officer-involved shootings — an average of 33 per year. Twenty-six of those shootings — an average of nine per year — resulted in the death of the subject.

According to a 2018 CBC News investigation of police killings across Canada between 2000 and 2017, the RCMP recorded the greatest number of fatal encounters — 118.

That investigation also showed that of the more than 460 people who died in encounters with police across Canada since the year 2000, a substantial majority suffered from mental health problems or symptoms of drug abuse.

The RCMP is under pressure to explain why an officer shot and killed Rodney Levi, a member of the Metepenagiag First Nation in New Brunswick, on Friday. His death is now under review by an outside police watchdog agency. 

Levi was the second Indigenous person in New Brunswick to be shot by a police officer in just eight days. Chantel Moore, 26, was shot by an officer with the Edmundston Police Department on June 4; her death is also the subject of an outside investigation.

As for physical contact (what the RCMP calls “hard physical control”) Mounties employed “stuns” and “strikes” — hitting people — more than 2,000 times between 2017 and 2019, and used force to take down a subject more than 840 times, according to the recently released numbers.

The figures come from the RCMP’s database, which relies on officers entering incident details into the force’s records management systems.

Conduct called into question

The RCMP’s use of force became a topic of heated national debate earlier this month after two high-profile incidents were caught on camera.

One officer in Nunavut was seen slamming the door of his vehicle into an intoxicated man — a move even the top Mountie has called into question.

“From the outside looking in, I have to be honest, it does not look like a reasonable response,” RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told CBC News in an interview last week.

Last week, a video surfaced of RCMP officers punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam and putting him in a chokehold outside of a casino after Adam was stopped for driving with expired plates.

The officer said the chief was resisting arrest. 

At a press conference on June 6, 2020, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam alleged Wood Buffalo RCMP officers assaulted him in a Fort McMurray parking lot earlier this year. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that he has “serious questions” about the arrest after viewing the recently released dashcam video, while Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called it “very troubling, very worrying.”

The controversial neck hold — a manoeuvre Lucki has promised to review — is rarely used, according the RCMP’s records. Its use was recorded just 72 times over the past three years.

Mounties deployed taser probes 1,438 times over the past three years and a police dog bit a member of the public 1,291 times during that time period, according to the new figures.

Greens call for inquiry

So-called “soft” controls — techniques like using pressure points and joint lock methods to gain control of a suspect — fall under a category separate from the use of weapons. Officers are not required to record the use of soft controls in RCMP records unless someone was injured in the process — so it’s not clear how many times they’ve been used. 

The RCMP’s officer response reports don’t capture a subject’s ethnicity, so there’s nothing here to indicate how many times police intervention has been used on minority Canadians.

All RCMP cadets are trained on an incident management intervention model, which is meant to guide them on when to use verbal de-escalation or force during a situation, said Duval. Recertification training is mandatory for all regular members yearly, she added.

This morning, the Green Party’s parliamentary leader Elizabeth May called for a full inquiry into the RCMP, arguing the recent conduct of some of its officers shows the force needs a thorough review.

At his own briefing today, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also called for more accountability from the RCMP. 

The force has been criticized in recent months for the amount of time it takes to review investigations completed by its watchdog body — delays which slow down the release of those reports to the public.

“We found that throughout Canada, this is an ongoing concern, that the investigations are not conducted in a way where people are left feeling satisfied that it was thorough and that it was independent,” said Singh.

Trudeau was also asked Wednesday about the length of time it’s taken for the force to weigh in on the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission’s probes.

“I think one of the things that we’ve seen come to light over the past weeks and months is that our systems are not adequate to respond to the concerns [of] racialized and Indigenous Canadians, and others who want to see a reduction of systemic discrimination in our institutions move forward quicker,” he said.

“We are going to move much quicker on responding to these things, on making changes to our institutions to go after systemic discrimination.”

Their comments follow Sen. Lillian Dyck’s call for Lucki to resign over her comments about failing to understand the concept of systemic racism.

Lucki recently said she struggled with the term, and with the question of whether there was entrenched racism in the RCMP — only to reverse her statement days later.

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