The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (in French the Gendarmerie royale du Canada), known more commonly as “Mounties”, are one of the things (along with maple syrup, hockey, and universal health care) that a lot of foreigners tend to think of when they think of Canada. What makes the Mounties so interesting? What’s their history, and how are they different from other police organizations? We’ll look at all that and more below.
History of the Mounties
What is today known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was established in 1920 as a result of a merger of two earlier police forces, both founded in the 19th century, known as the Royal Northwest Mounted Police and the older Dominion Police. Originally called the North-West Mounted Police, the former organization had the honorific “Royal” affixed to their name by King Edward VII in 1904 (not for any specific acts of heroism it seems; this was just a common prefix in the territories of the British Empire), and this title was inherited by the RCMP. The North-West Mounted Police were originally formed to police the then-frontier of the Northwest Territories, acquired by Canada in the late 1800s. The Dominion Police, on the other hand, dated back to 1864 and were founded to protect government buildings. Many of the traditions and customs of the modern RCMP are a result of the continuing legacies of these two 19th century police organizations. For instance, the legacy of the North-West Mounted Police is part of why we think of the RCMP as a frontier police force.
What Mounties Do and How They Operate
The RCMP is unique in the world owing not only to their bright scarlet uniforms and horseback riding skills but also to their wide range of responsibilities. They are both a national and a federal police force, meaning that it is their duty to enforce national laws; in American parlance, they are the “feds” (equivalent to the American FBI) of Canada. However, they are also a provincial police force. Canada is divided into ten provinces and three territories. Quebec and Ontario, which are the most populous provinces, have their own provincial police, but the other eight provinces contract the RCMP to police them; of course, since they’re also a federal police agency, you can spot them in Quebec and Ontario as well. Interestingly, the provinces are constitutionally responsible for policing themselves, but they prefer to use the Mounties.The RCMP also enforce law and order in Canada’s three territories and provide services for over 150 municipalities and more than 600 Aboriginal communities.
The Mounties, as part of their federal obligations, police Canada’s borders, perform counter-terrorism operations and provide protection to the Prime Minister, the Monarch, other government ministers, and visiting dignitaries. They are also the security force at three international airports. Many other countries divide municipal and federal responsibilities between different policing organizations, which is part of what makes the Mounties so unique and fascinating.
Traditions of the RCMP
The RCMP is so popular with foreigners because of some of their interesting traditions. For instance, their scarlet uniforms, popularly known as the Red Serge but officially designated the Review Order, is popular in Canada and in other countries. This uniform was worn by the old North-West Mounted Police (one of the groups that merged to form the RCMP) and is styled after old British uniforms (think of the “Redcoats”). Another famous tradition is the Musical Ride, which is when 32 RCMP officers show off their horseback riding skills while music plays. Contrary to popular belief, the Mounties don’t use horses in operations anymore. Officers of the RCMP refer to their organization as “the Force.”
How to Become a Mountie
If you’d like to join up with the RCMP, there are several requirements. Firstly, you must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (if a permanent resident, you must have resided in Canada for at least 10 years consecutively). A prospective must be at least 19 years old, fluent in English and/or French, have a secondary education (high school) diploma and pass health and psychological standards, including vision and hearing tests. A candidate for the RCMP must spend 26 weeks training at the RCMP Academy in Regina, Saskatchewan, and can’t have been convicted of any criminal offenses in the past.