Mounties win right to form union

An Ontario Superior Court judge yesterday awarded the Mounties the right to unionize in a landmark decision that may have huge implications for the RCMP, its culture, and government budgets across the country. Mr. Justice Ian MacDonnell struck down a section of the RCMP Act that precludes unionization, finding the law unconstitutional.

The Globe and Mail
April 7, 2009

Mounties win right to form union
Colin Freeze

TORONTO — An Ontario Superior Court judge yesterday awarded the Mounties the right to unionize in a landmark decision that may have huge implications for the RCMP, its culture, and government budgets across the country.

Mr. Justice Ian MacDonnell struck down a section of the RCMP Act that precludes unionization, finding the law unconstitutional. He gave the federal government 18 months to prepare for the decision to take effect, given that it could fundamentally alter the power structure of one or Canada's most important institutions.

The RCMP, whose 22,000 officers work as municipal, provincial and federal police, is often described as the only force in the country that doesn't have a union. For more than a century, senior police commanders have resisted unionization movements, often arguing that it is imperative that the loyalties of the rank and file not be split.

But "why does the wider jurisdiction of the RCMP, or its status as a unique Canadian institution make the labour relations modes in place for other police forces inappropriate," Judge MacDonnell asked in his 35-page ruling (downloadable at globeandmail.com).

The Mounted Police Association of Ontario launched the lawsuit.

Under the current labour-relations model for the RCMP, police brass impose a "staff relations" program to give a voice to the rank and file.

But Judge MacDonnell characterized this as unconstitutional as it was "an entity created by management to avoid unionization."

One Mountie, who grudgingly serves as a divisional representative under the current regime, is overjoyed by the decision.

"Technically today I'm unconstitutional," said Staff Sergeant Gaetan Delisle, whose failed unionization bids led to a Supreme Court case in his name 10 years ago. Under the status quo, he said, he is powerless. "The president of your union doesn't report to the commanding officer, does he?" he asked rhetorically.

For decades, RCMP commissioners have said that unwieldy police unions would expose Canada to everything from creeping Bolshevism to politicized police.

Proponents for change, however, have argued that a union would not only lead to more money and benefits, it could also give the institution a much needed shot in the arm in terms of culture change - for example, by better protecting whistleblowers.

Striking is not regarded as an issue, given that Canadian police associations give up the right to do so.

Currently, the interests of RCMP members are represented by what critics regard as a company-controlled quasi-union, the Staff Relations Representative program, which was implemented as a concession 35 years ago.

Judge MacDonnell found the arrangement unconstitutional. "From its conception in 1974, the SRRP was meant to be a mechanism for consultation … not a vehicle for bargaining," he writes.

"Throughout the 20th century management was unequivocally hostile to the prospect of unionization of the force," he said. He added that "the SRRP is not an independent association formed or chosen by members of the RCMP" and that its relations with management "cannot reasonably be described as a process of collective bargaining."

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