Protecting Prince Harry and his family during visits to Canada cost Canadian taxpayers more than $334,000 over a period of less than four years, CBC News has learned.
Records obtained by CBC News from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police under the Access to Information Act show that security related to Harry’s visits between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018 cost taxpayers $182,430. That sum covered things like overtime and travel costs but not the salaries of police officers.
In January 2020 — as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex publicly contemplated living in Canada part of the year — the RCMP estimated that protecting them and their son while in this country could cost taxpayers nearly $33,000 a month.
According to the Court Circular, which outlines the public activities of members of the Royal Family, Prince Harry had one public visit to Canada during 2017 and 2018 — a week-long trip to attend events in Toronto. The events included the Invictus Games — which Harry founded — a WE Day celebration and a reception for young people who received Duke of Edinburgh gold awards.
Prince Harry’s appearance at the Invictus Games drew widespread media attention because it was one of the first times he was seen in public with Meghan Markle, an American actress living in Toronto.
The pair, who met in July 2016 in London, were engaged in November 2017 and married in May 2018, when Prince Harry was granted the title of Duke of Sussex.
That wasn’t Prince Harry’s only visit to Toronto during that period. In April 2017, paparazzi photographers waiting outside Markle’s home in Toronto’s Seaton Village neighbourhood captured images of Prince Harry arriving at her home during a private, unannounced trip.
It’s not known how many times Prince Harry came to Canada to visit Markle. The RCMP refused to provide a breakdown to explain how it spent $182,430 to protect him during 2017 and 2018. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office referred questions to the RCMP.
Spokespeople for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Archewell organization did not respond to questions and interview requests from CBC News.
Pursued by the press
Alastair MacPherson, a photographer who has done freelance work for Splash News, said photographers started hanging out around Markle’s house when news came out in the fall of 2016 that she and Harry were dating.
“Before everyone knew that they were seeing each other, he was here for some time around Halloween and they went to some Halloween party,” he said. “After that happened, people found out that they might be seeing each other and that’s when the reporters and photographers would have been trying to find him.”
When Prince Harry visited Markle, six black SUVs with members of Prince Harry’s British security detail could be seen on the residential street, said MacPherson.
Pierre-Yves Borduas, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP who is now president of PY Safety, said RCMP officers would have accompanied the British security officers.
Prince Harry made a private trip to Toronto in December 2016, detouring to visit Markle on his way home from an official visit of seven Caribbean countries. He also travelled to Toronto on a public trip earlier that year in May — two months before he met Markle — to announce that the 2017 Invictus Games would be held there.
The additional costs to the RCMP for Prince Harry’s security during that period totalled $52,978.
The RCMP incurred $5,726 in costs to protect the Duke and Duchess of Sussex between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 and no costs at all from Jan. 1, 2014 to March 31, 2016.
Canada’s image is on the line: security expert
When someone like Prince Harry travels to Canada for official duties or a private visit, the RCMP has to assess the potential threats to their safety and provide them with protection, said Borduas.
“They still have responsibility, because what if something would happen to that very important person in our country?” he said. “The ripple effect … could have a negative reflection on our country and how [seriously] we are taking the security of these types of individuals that are enjoying the hospitality of our country.”
While Borduas said he couldn’t explain how the RCMP spent $182,430 in a single year to protect Prince Harry, he said protecting him during the highly publicized, well-attended Invictus Games would cost more than security for a low-profile, private visit.
Once Harry stepped back from royal duties, the RCMP’s obligation to provide protection during his trips to Canada would have ended and responsibility for his security would have transitioned to other providers, said Borduas.
In the United Kingdom, a committee decides who warrants taxpayer-funded security, and being a member of the Royal Family does not guarantee round-the-clock protection. In March 2021, the Daily Mail reported that while royals like the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William get 24/7 publicly funded security, others like Princess Anne and Prince Edward only get taxpayer-paid security when performing official duties or engagements. Still others, like Prince Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, who have fewer official duties, have to pay for their own security.
‘This has the potential to cost us huge’
In the heavily redacted e-mails obtained by CBC News, the prospect of providing security for a member of the Royal Family living part of the year in Canada loomed large for people like Assistant Commissioner Bernadine Chapman, who headed the national division that provides protection for VIPs.
“Media is on this like a hot potato … so lots of coverage of the potential of the royals to spend half their time in Canada now, as an independent couple,” she wrote on Jan. 10, 2020. “Media spin is about the cost to Canadians … (Redacted) … We are having a greater conversation next week on the go forward on this. This has the potential to cost us huge!”
In the end, protecting the Sussexes during their Christmas in Canada until Feb. 27, 2020 cost the RCMP more than $93,000 — part of the $334,000 total.
In a briefing note to then-minister of public safety Bill Blair to explain its decision to tell the Metropolitan Police in early January of 2020 that it was going to end protective policing services for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the RCMP made a distinction between private and official visits by the couple.
“The Sussex family’s stay in Canada is of a private nature and, to date, there have been no official outings wherein the Duke and Duchess are representing the Queen,” the force wrote. “There is no indication of either the Duke or Duchess participating in any official capacity for the Crown in Canada in the next two months. Should this change, however, the RCMP will assess and provide security accordingly.”
The couple’s decision later that month to step back from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family also played a role in the RCMP’s assessment, according to the briefing note.
“Family members on private visits to Canada are eligible to receive RCMP protective policing services in alignment with the RCMP’s assessment of threat/risk, but this is a reflection of their official status within the Royal Family,” said the note. “As per the statement from Buckingham Palace on January 18, 2020, the Duke and Duchess ‘will no longer use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family.'”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation — which first revealed the cost of RCMP security for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Christmas in Canada — says it wants to see more transparency about where taxpayers’ money went.
“This isn’t just a few dollars and cents,” said CTF federal director Franco Terrazanno. “This is thousands and thousands of dollars that are being billed to taxpayers. So certainly we deserve an explanation and certainly we deserve full transparency.”
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org