The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, often referred to as “Mounties,” is Canada’s federal law enforcement agency. It was initially put into place to patrol the Northwest Territories in the late 1800s. In 1920 it was renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but what exactly does it do?
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is responsible for federal law enforcement and police services in eight provinces. It additionally provides local policing in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon. The RCMP is in some ways equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by providing security intelligence gathering and crime detection to the Canadian federal government. It is responsible for the protection of federal buildings and border patrol.
An easier question might be, what doesn’t it do? It doesn’t offer policing at a provincial level in Ontario and Quebec, but only these two of Canada’s eight provinces and three territories. Its members don’t serve as municipal police in areas where a municipality has started their own force, and in Newfoundland only provides contract policing in certain communities. In First Nations areas it only provides services if self-administered services have not been established. RCMP officers no longer are always “mounted” police on horseback. Horses are usually only seen at ceremonial and fundraising events.
What does it do in terms of federal law enforcement?
Canadian policing is managed on three levels: municipal (local areas), provincial (covering the entire province or territory) and federal (the entire country). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniquely has jurisdiction at all three levels in different areas of Canada.
The RCMP is primarily responsible for maintaining federal laws, which includes leading the charge against counterfeiting, terrorism, and organized crime. Its other responsibilities include border patrol, drug trafficking and assistance to other law enforcement throughout the country.
The RCMP first provided international aid in 1989 when Canada sent officers to assist with a political election in Namibia. Today as part of its responsibilities the RCMP offers aid to other law enforcement agencies throughout the country and is a member of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police External Review Committee is an independent arm of the Government of Canada. Their task is to review cases and issue findings for appeal decisions regarding RCMP employees. They report directly to Canada’s Parliament.
How did the Royal Canadian Mounted Police begin?
In 1873, when the newly formed Canada was trying to control its vast territories peacefully, parliament sent 150 police recruits to the northwestern part of the country. They were first called the North West Mounted Rifles but when the United States government balked at the idea of rifled men patrolling the border, the name was changed to the North West Mounted Police. Their primary goal was to perform basic police duties, but they were also hired to stop the liquor trade among native citizens and prevent attacks on settlers. At the time fur traders and indigenous people were the primary residents of the area. Within a few decades a rush of settlers flooded the northern parts of Canada as gold was discovered, making their earlier establishment quite fortuitous.
Over the decades as Canada grew, the jurisdiction of the RCMP expanded. By 1885 the force had grown to nearly 1,000 people and in 1904 King Edward VII was so impressed with their work that he requested their name should have “Royal” added.
In 1920 parliament considered an amendment to the 1873 act that originally established the police force. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act established more parameters of law enforcement for the police, changed the location of headquarters to Ottawa and officially changed the name to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
How are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police organized?
There are 15 different divisions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Each of the ten provinces and three territories has their own division lettered B through H, J through M, then O and V. Additionally there’s a division for the National Capital Region (A Division) and the RCMP Training Academy in Regina, Saskatchewan, which is called the Depot Division.
Each provincial and territorial division is led by a Commanding Officer who reports to the RCMP Commissioner, the leader and manager of the entire force across the country. The commissioner serves under the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for the Canadian government. More than 20,000 police officers and 10,000 civilian employees are currently part of the RCMP.
The National Capital Region has no geographic jurisdiction; instead this group enforces traffic on federal routes, protects Canadian and foreign dignitaries, provides protective services to embassies in the region of Ottawa that holds the Capital and Canadian federal buildings. The group also investigates cybercrime, war crimes, and domestic and international corruption.
Beyond simply preparing new RCMP recruits, the Depot Division also has a training program for national and international law enforcement. Within the Depot Division is the Police Dog Service Training Center which prepares police service dogs and handlers for active duty. The center also breeds its own dogs for training.
What is so Iconic about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?
From the red uniform to the black horse, “Mounties” have been represented in literature, cartoons and television. The red uniform, known as the “Red Serge,” is purely ceremonial versus functional but has been part of the RCMP history since the very beginning. The original North West Mounted Police wore the color red to align the Canadian military with the red coats worn by British troops and also to be differentiated from the United States Army wearing blue uniforms. They anticipated that this color would be more respected among Indigenous people.
Because of the vast wilderness the original RCMP were patrolling, their work was done on horseback. The vision of these mounted police quickly gave them the nickname “mounties.” The horses they used were smaller and tougher than the ones used today, sometimes acquired by purchase from the native people of the area. In order to perform their duties, the RCMP needed horses that could stand the harsh and bitter environmental conditions of northwest Canada.
Initially every RCMP recruit had to learn to ride horseback and was expected to be able to patrol by horse. That changed in 1966 when it was no longer a job requirement. Today only those who register for a special three-year program are trained to ride, and they must first have logged two years of active service. These members, part of a special unit of the RCMP, participate in the annual Musical Ride. They travel half of the year to perform throughout Canada and also participate in special events such as the Olympics and on Canada Day. The origins or the Musical Ride began in 1887 when the riders wanted to show-off their horseback riding abilities with a program based on drill movements.
In 1937 the RCMP Commissioner decreed that their police would only ride black horses. It soon became evident that it was far too difficult to find enough horses in the same size, temperament and color, so the organization decided to breed and raise them on its own. In 1939 a breeding farm was established initially using donated horses with a large percentage of Thoroughbreds. In 1989 black Hanoverian mares and stallions were added to the mix, resulting in a stronger and patient horse with more color consistency. Today about 80% of the horses bred through the program are black.
How can Someone Become a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer?
Only those persons who are citizens of Canada, of good moral character and in good physical fitness can apply to be a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He or she must also be a minimum of 18 years old, fluent in French or English, and have a Canadian secondary school (the equivalent of American high school) diploma. There is a provision to include those who are not Canadian Citizens if someone without the other qualifications is unavailable. The new recruits must also be prepared to accept certain concessions such as willingness to work weekends and holidays, work anywhere within Canada, and be prepared to spend six months at the RCMP Training Academy.
Indigenous people have been part of the RCMP since 1874 when they were hired as guides and interpreters. In 1936 the police force began giving Inuit employees an official rank, and in 1973 began actively recruiting more Indigenous members. In 2018, 7.5% of the RCMP were identified as Indigenous and 11.5% were minorities.
Women have been officers in the RCMP since 1974 when the service actively began recruiting females. Within a short time 32 women were simultaneously sworn into the program, and six months later 30 of them completed their training and graduated. By 2018 approximately 22% of RCMP officers were female. That same year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Brenda Lucki to be RCMP Commissioner, the first time a female was named to that position on a permanent basis.
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Heather is a journalist and freelance writer with a passion for history, travel and home restoration. Her work has appeared in American Farmhouse Style Magazine, RoadTripsforFamilies.com, Current in Zionsville and Indy’s Child. You can read more of her material at TheQuillHeather.net.