After years of calls to better arm RCMP officers with carbines, the Mounties say more than 78 per cent of front-line members are now trained on the weapon, but it’s unclear how evenly these officers are spread across the country.
A carbine is a short-barrelled rifle that has a longer accurate range than a sidearm or shotgun.
“It appears that the RCMP is making up for some of the lost time on the initial rollout of the carbine program,” said Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who specializes in police and security issues.
Issuing RCMP officers carbines was a key recommendation of an expert report in 2010, following the 2005 tragedy in Mayerthorpe, Alta., when four officers were killed.
A review of the 2014 Moncton shooting, where three Mounties were killed and two injured, renewed the urgency of rolling out more carbines to front-line officers.
The officers who died, and two others who were wounded, did not have carbines. Instead, they had 9-mm handguns.
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As of this month the RCMP has 6,650 carbines distributed to the roughly 8,500 front-line members in detachments across the country. That’s a major jump from the 1,500 carbines in service at the time of the Moncton shooting, according to national RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival.
At the time of the Nova Scotia mass shooting in April 2020 where 22 people were killed by a gunman, including a Mountie who was not carbine-trained, Percival said the RCMP had about 8,700 front-line members and more than 5,700 carbines distributed across the country.
In December 2020, about eight months after the Nova Scotia massacre, the RCMP updated their national standards to make sure as many front-line officers as possible are qualified to use a carbine.
As part of these standards, the Mounties set a benchmark that as of March 31, 2022, at least 65 per cent of operational front-line members at each detachment would be carbine-trained.
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Mounties won’t share detachment percentage
The RCMP have declined to say what their progress is on this goal.
In an email Thursday, Percival said they cannot break down the response capabilities of RCMP divisions, districts or detachments for security reasons.
“These capabilities cannot be made public as they provide information on what type of response/tactics RCMP officers have available to them — potentially putting both the public and police at risk,” Percival said.
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As of April 1, 2022, at least 72 per cent of RCMP members in Nova Scotia where the Mounties handle front-line policing were carbine-trained, but it’s unclear where in the province these officers are stationed.
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Percival said that nationally 78.4 per cent of all front-line members across Canada were also carbine-trained as of April 1.
The broader issue is that the RCMP is short-staffed nationally, Leuprecht said, so the organization is faced with difficult choices about where to allocate the people, training and equipment they have.
But Leuprecht said RCMP officers are “disproportionately at risk” since they are often operating in rural areas where officers are also more likely to be injured or killed in the line of duty.
“The RCMP has a disproportionate interest to ensure that its members have the equipment they need,” Leuprecht said.
“Your backup can be a long ways away, unlike municipal areas where your backup is minutes away.”
Leuprecht said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the detachments with lower percentages fell in areas farthest from shooting ranges.
While some larger police forces might have shooting ranges in their basement, making it easy for members to fulfil their annual carbine requalification, Leuprecht said, in many parts of the country Mounties have to drive hours to get to a range.
“So you’re taking a member out of a shift, and many of those detachments are already short-staffed,” Leuprecht said.
Cpl. Rodney Peterson of the Bible Hill detachment, who responded to the mass shooting on April 19 and passed the gunman that morning, told investigators with the commission leading the inquiry that he was trained as a firearms instructor.
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He completed the instructor course while at the nearby Millbrook detachment, and Peterson said the goal was to have full-time members do firearms training and qualifications year-round.
“Unfortunately, I was not able to do very many instruction because … we were short-staffed,” Peterson said in an interview with the commission.
Those patrol members who are always out in the community “should be getting priority” in carbine certifications and always have them in their cars, Leuprecht said.
With many municipal forces in urban areas, Leuprecht said it’s “pretty standard” to see patrol officers have carbines and body armour in their vehicles.
These tools are vital in active shooter situations, Leuprecht said, since the best strategy is to immediately engage with the shooter and try to contain them.
The ongoing public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting has heard that Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed by the gunman in Shubenacadie after she engaged in a gunfight with him, was not carbine-trained.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation (NPF) has said this was irrelevant because Stevenson dealt with the gunman at close range, so her service pistol was her best option anyway.
The NPF represents thousands of RCMP members below the rank of inspector.
Other N.S. officers not carbine-trained in 2020
Leuprecht said in that specific circumstance that’s likely true, but carbines are standard-issue across most medium and large municipal police forces in Canada “precisely because it is difficult to anticipate when and where you might likely run into a situation where a carbine may be necessary to ensure the safety of the public, or your own safety.
“You don’t want to be showing up with a knife for a gunfight,” Leuprecht said.
Besides Stevenson, other RCMP officers responding to the mass shooting were not trained to use carbines.
They included Const. Vicki Colford of the Bible Hill detachment, who was one of the first RCMP officers at the scene in Portapique on April 18, and Cpl. Natasha Jamieson of Millbrook who also responded that night.
Peterson was carbine-trained, but it’s unclear from his interviews with police and the commission whether he had a carbine rifle in his car.
Sauvé of the police union said in a recent interview that carbine training is considered mandatory for the RCMP, in that it’s encouraged for all general duty officers but “everybody’s human and not everybody can pass every course.”
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RCMP aim for 80% in next 3 years
“If you can get through it, if resources allow it to happen and we have the ability to put you through that course, then we’ll get you through that course. It is a plus,” Sauvé said.
By 2025, Percival said the percentage of carbine-trained front-line officers will steadily increase until each RCMP detachment hits at least 80 per cent.
Leuprecht said reaching 100 per cent is likely not a helpful goal as there will always be a certain number of officers that don’t need carbine qualifications, such as those in management, doing undercover work, or posted abroad as liaisons.