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How Many Types of Police Are There in Canada?


How Many Types of Police are there in Canada?

As an American citizen, I’ve often thought about which government practices we have in common with our northern neighbors. Recently I’ve wondered how many types of police are there in Canada?

I admit to being pleasantly surprised at how closely the police systems are in comparison. However, Canada has four types of police! The Canadian system’s three-tier structure consists of federal, provincial, and municipal law enforcement, but they also have an additional policing service for and run by the First Nations. This means the Canadian government has a total of four types of police. Let’s look into these a little deeper and see how they each work!

While there are some definite similarities, there are finer details we can’t pass up such as the renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the significant role they play within the three-tier system, and the policing relationship with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Here I’ll be breaking down each police type and their roles within the Canadian system.

What Is the Municipal Police?

The municipal police are the second largest police force within Canada and they are the ones who protect a majority of Canadian people. Most cities and large towns have been delegated their own police force through provincial Police Acts (each province has its own Act) and are governed by both elected officials and the communities in which they serve. Many municipalities are also overseen by police boards to ensure they are maintaining a certain standard their specific province sets and they can be penalized for not doing so.

This section of Canadian police are funded by the city in which they have jurisdiction. Like police in the United States, they are broken down into divisions, and within each division they are divided into numbered units or squads.

Municipal police include the duties of apprehending criminals, assisting victims, keeping the peace, crime prevention, charging those who break the law, participate in prosecutions, carry out warrants, and enforcing municipal bylaws.

When Were the Municipal Police Created?

The first signs of policing in Canada date back to 1651. Inspired by both French and British legal traditions, Quebec utilized French city models with the use of watchmen, while Ontario opted for a British model by adopting both a constabulary and a watch-and-ward system. After 1759, French areas were forced to shift their legal traditions to instead enact the British system of policing. Using England’s Metropolitan Police Act as a model, Toronto was the first to create a police department in 1835. Quebec soon followed the same model in 1838 with Montreal also adopting the system in 1840. By the time of Canada’s Confederation in 1867, most police forces were under municipal control.

What Does the Provincial Police Do?

Provincial police differ from municipal police in a unique way – provincial police are only active in Labrador, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Quebec which means there are none in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Saskatchewan. Their jurisdictions also range in various ways as some are throughout the entire province while Ontario and Quebec do not go into municipalities where they have their own police force. Provincial police have jurisdiction in rural areas, which is much akin to the Sheriff’s Department in the United States, with their largest being the Ontario Provincial Police Force (OPP).

While much of their capabilities coincide with municipal police, they also patrol provincial highways and waterways, investigate major crimes such as organized crime, trafficking, and smuggling, investigate major cases (homicide and kidnapping) as well as provide major case investigation support to municipal and regional police services, and provide air support for search and rescue.

Who Polices First Nations Reserves?

Established in 1991, First Nations (Indigenous Peoples of Canada) have their own police forces that are only tied to the three-tier structure through its establishment as well as close contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to strengthen the safety within First Nation communities. This was much needed in Canada due to the steady rise and excessive misrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples within Canadian correctional facilities.

While municipal police are governed by their communities and municipal councils, First Nations policing is governed by the First Nations Policing Program. To find an agreement, First Nations negotiate with the federal and provincial or territorial governments. They can also choose to include things such as self-policing or utilizing federal or provincial policing services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

What Are the Dominion Police and North-West Mounted Police?

The first federal police force in Canada, the Dominion Police were created in 1868 after the Canadian Confederation to help the federal government by enacting federal laws and perform policing duties primarily within Eastern Canada. However, in 1918 the Dominion Police Force was reassigned to the Department of Militia and Defence, becoming a civilian wing of the Canadian Military Police Corps (CMPC).

To handle the vast Northwest Territories of Western Canada, the North-West Mounted Police (later renamed the Royal Northwest Mounted Police) began In 1873 by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald and worked similarly to the Dominion Police Force. However, they combined policing, judiciary, and military functions that weren’t used by metropolitan police. The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) were responsible for enforcing the relocation of Canada’s Indiginous people from their lands to construct railways, provide order to the Klondike Gold Rush, and end the smuggling of whiskey.

The Dominion Police Force had been tasked with protection of federal buildings, secret service work in conjunction with the rise of Fenian activity, bodyguards for government leaders, enforcing certain federal laws such as human trafficking and counterfeiting, and in 1869 with the creation of the Public Works Peace Preservation Act, keeping the peace for railways and canals under construction. Later on they were also acquired responsibilities in compiling fingerprint and criminal records, and administering parole services.

What Is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Beyond being one of the most iconic symbols of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (also affectionately referred to as “Mounties”) is the largest type of police in Canada and makes up the federal tier within their system. Their jurisdiction ranges throughout the entirety of Canada, and while they don’t have a full hand in policing within Quebec and Ontario, they do work closely with both provincial police offices of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Sûreté du Québec. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are also contracted out for policing services to over 150 municipalities and 600 Indigenous communities mainly providing the enforcement of federal laws regarding organized crime, drug trafficking, border protection, and anti-terrorism and domestic security affairs.

On February 1, 1920, the Dominion Police and the now-Royal Northwest Mounted Police merged to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Much of the structure used upon its conception is still used in modern day policing.

What Do the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Do?

They are the “strong-arm” of the law covering everything from enforcing federal law to protecting national security, as well as investigative and protective services to Canada’s federal government.

While they also have daily tasks such as enforcing laws and helping citizens whenever necessary, there’s a long list of things they do on the much grander scale of things which are their primary responsibilities. These include, but are not limited to:

Running criminal investigations – filing reports, analyzing crime scenes and accidents, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, victims, and suspects, collecting evidence from crime and accident scenes, and providing testimony in court if necessary.

Ensuring the safety of civilians – quick emergency response, providing victim assistance, and assessing and responding to national emergencies such as natural disasters and evacuating civilians if needed.

Maintaining community safety awareness.

Investigating federal crimes – drug trafficking, grand-scale financial fraud, terrorist activity, and any other type of matter associated with national security.

Maintaining order during public events – provide safety and order for protests, public meetings, and strikes.

How Are Canadian Police Different From American Police?

How are Canadian Police Different from American Police?

In Canada, all Canadian police enforce the same federal laws while in the United States, federal laws can differ from state laws. This is beneficial to the Canadian police force training system as it’s all standardized and not broken down by individual states, which then in turn allows them to enact laws across all provinces.

The United States of America has multiple data points for police to use as each are provided by either state, federal, or municipal police information systems while Canadian police have a solitary system, known as the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), that all police officers are able to use for information regarding criminal activity and criminals at any given time.

Police in Canada are public servants whose financing comes from federally, provincially, and municipally collected taxes, whereas in the United States, police chiefs can be elected.


It’s these policing services that continue to uphold and enforce the laws within Canada. While there are some similarities with the American police structure, such as ensuring the safety of its citizens, Canada has a couple more that are very different. What do you think? Are the differences good or bad, and should either country maybe adopt new practices? Tell me what you think! I’d love to hear your viewpoints.

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