Twenty years ago, Lee Dyson joined the RCMP for the same reason many others did: history, tradition and the honour of wearing the famous red serge.
But the Chilliwack RCMP corporal is one among a growing movement across Canada fed up with being treated as if he’s a member of a second-class police force.
A larger number of Chilliwack RCMP officers are the latest to take off or cover up the distinctive yellow stripe on their uniform pants to protest not only lower pay packages but staffing levels and other benefits.
“We’ve never had an organization that spoke for us as a group of members,” Cpl. Dyson told the Progress. “There was a time during my service when it was said our pay package should come in at the average of the top three forces [in Canada].”
And for a time, it did.
“We’ve steadily slipped further and further behind,” he said.
The recent no-stripe movement began in North Vancouver and Saanich, and has quickly grown to forces across Canada. It’s the result of delays over years to change the way Mounties’ pay is assessed and if they can form a union.
In January 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the program in place to pay RCMP officers was unconstitutional and government was given one year to make changes to allow for collective bargaining. In Dec. 2015, the new government applied for a six-month extension, was given four months and in March 2016 Bill C-7 was introduced.
A senate committee made changes and Bill C-7 still hasn’t been finalized. In the meantime, a pay increase with no consultation with members was presented on April 5. That recommendation forwarded to the Treasury Board of Canada included 1.25 per cent retroactive to January 2015, 1.25 per cent retroactive to January 2016 and 2.3 per cent “market adjustment” retroactive to April 2016.
Not bad, according to Dyson, but the pay scale was already far behind other forces.
As of April 1, an RCMP first class constable salary was $86,110. That compares to $90,468 for BC Transit Police, $97,776 for Vancouver Police and $101,733 for Delta Police.
Next door at the Abbotsford Police Department (APD), the wage is $92,165. As Dyson puts it, Abbotsford has many of the same crime problems as Chilliwack has — many of the exact same perpetrators go back and forth — yet he could go across Boundary Road to work for the APD and make $6,000 a year more than he earns as a Chilliwack RCMP officer.
“If you want the best, they are not coming to us,” he said. “The disparity creates issues for the RCMP in relation to recruitment of new members and retention of experienced members.”
Public trust and confidence are crucial as we transition to a represented
workforce. My comments on recent events: http://t.co/lRGVH1u64Z
— Bob Paulson (@CommrPaulson) April 12, 2017
RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson posted a message on April 12 asking members to consider how the no-stripe movement may reflect on the RCMP in communities.
“We are lucky to enjoy broad support across the Canadian public,” Paulson wrote. “That precious trust and confidence in us is awful hard to rebuild once it has been eroded.”
The RCMP is the last police force in Canada not represented by a union, Dyson said, adding that the time has come. The push in recent weeks is for members to join the National Police Federation (NPF). By Wednesday afternoon, the NPF website said 9,604 individuals had signed up.
Dyson said locally one concern has been the detachment running at or below minimum staffing levels. He said because of vacancies, last summer during an extensive stint the Chilliwack RCMP force was at or below the levels with officers coming in on overtime.
He added that their beef is not with the city, who fund most of the RCMP costs, or with the provincial government or even with senior officers locally.
And while many Mounties have expressed concern over being reprimanded, Dyson said Supt. Deanne Burleigh, the officer in charge in Chilliwack, told officers she can’t condone the actions but there won’t be any repercussions. Paulson reiterated this in his April 12 message, stating there had been no “retribution or discipline for covering up or removing or changing the colour of our stripe.”
Not every RCMP officer is on board with the silent protest, but Dyson said most are and his watch is unanimous. He added, too, that the public shouldn’t notice anything about the officers or the service they provide beyond the missing stripes.
“We are not wearing jeans, we are not growing beards,” Dyson said.
“Public safety is still our number one priority.”