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The cost to protect the prime minister has shot up to more than $30 million a year

The cost to Canadians of protecting the prime minister and his family shot up over the last two fiscal years to its highest level in two decades, an analysis by CBC News reveals.

The cost of RCMP protection for Canada’s prime ministers has been rising over the past two decades and experts expect it to get even more expensive in the future.

It cost more than $30 million annually in each of the last two fiscal years to protect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family. In 2003/04, it cost only $10.4 million to protect Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his successor Paul Martin.

According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, $10.4 million in 2003 would now be worth $15.9 million.

The RCMP says a number of things can influence the cost of protecting a prime minister and their family.

“Security costs can vary depending on many different factors,” Sgt. Kim Chamberland said in a written response to questions from CBC News.

“These include domestic and global threat risk, the number of people travelling, the level of activity, the number of locations attended, type and number of political obligations, as well as technological advancements, and elements dictated by economic factors such as cost of travel, accommodations and fuel.”

The cost of protecting the prime minister dipped sharply in 2020/21 as the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill. It then shot up to $30.9 million in 2021/22 from $23.3 million in 2019/20 – an increase of 32.3 per cent in two years.

Chamberland said the rise in costs was the result of an increase in the prime minister’s movements after the pandemic, coupled with a pay increase for RCMP officers.

A gate leading to the grounds at Rideau Hall appeared to have some damage on July 2, 2020.
The gate at Rideau Hall on July 2, 2020. Armed forces reservist Corey Hurren crashed a pickup truck containing firearms into the gate and went looking for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The 2021/22 fiscal year covered the 2021 federal election — which happened a little over a year after armed forces reservist Corey Hurren crashed a pickup truck containing firearms into the gates of Rideau Hall and went looking for Trudeau.

In 2022/23, protecting the Trudeaus cost $32.5 million — an average of $2.7 million a month. RCMP protection for the prime minister and his family cost an average of $2.6 million per month over the first five months of the current fiscal year.

While it now costs more to protect Trudeau than his predecessors, much of the increase in protection costs over the past 20 years happened while Stephen Harper was prime minister.

In 2006/07, the first full year that Harper was in office, protection for the prime minister and his family cost $10.5 million. In 2014/15 — Harper’s last complete year in office — protecting him and his family cost the RCMP $23 million.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) and his wife Laureen (front R) pose for a picture with Punjab's Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (front L) during their visit to a Gurudwara or Sikh temple at Anandpur Sahib, in the northern Indian state of Punjab November 7, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen pose for a picture with Punjab’s Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal during their visit to a Sikh temple at Anandpur Sahib, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, on November 7, 2012. (REUTERS)

The analysis by CBC News, based on figures tabled in Parliament or released through access to information to Thompson Rivers University assistant professor Matt Malone, only includes the cost of RCMP protection. It does not include any costs incurred by Parliament, government departments or other Canadian security services to protect prime ministers and their families.

Trudeau’s international holidays also require security paid for by taxpayers. His family’s Easter weekend trip to Big Sky, Montana this year cost more than $228,000; nearly $205,000 of that sum paid for the RCMP officers who accompanied them.

Pierre-Yves Bourduas, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP who now runs a public safety management company, said the cost of protecting a prime minister can be influenced by the security environment and the lifestyle of the person being protected.

Prime Minister Martin’s children were grown and he and his wife did not engage in a lot of outdoor activities, Bourduas said.

“In the case of [Prime Minister Trudeau], of course, he’s got a rather large family with three kids,” he said.

“Plus, the situation is rather complicated with the polarization of the political spectrum within our country.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is escorted by his RCMP security detail as protesters shout and throw rocks while leaving a campaign stop at a local micro brewery during the Canadian federal election campaign in London Ont., on Monday, September 6, 2021.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is escorted by his RCMP security detail while protesters shout and throw rocks as he leaves a campaign stop in London, Ont. on Monday, September 6, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

Bourduas pointed to the 2021 federal election, when, during a campaign stop in London, Ont., an onlooker hurled rocks at Trudeau.

“There was beefed-up security around the PM because of ongoing threats,” he said. “And of course, social media has a whole lot to do with that reality as well, because it fuels the fire with regards to polarization.

“Of course, the RCMP take this very seriously. Hence the reason why they on occasion have to increase the level of protection for the PM and his family.”

Canada’s current tense relationships with India and China could also be factors in the RCMP’s assessment of threats against the prime minister, Bourduas added. Bilateral relations with both countries have taken a nose dive over allegations that China interfered in Canadian elections and agents of India’s government were linked to the killing of a Canadian Sikh activist in June.

A black Cadillac SUV.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s armoured Cadillac with Ontario plates in New Delhi, India in November, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

When Harper was prime minister, armoured vehicles contributed to the cost, said Bourduas.

“When Prime Minister Harper was traveling internationally, he insisted to have vehicles that would follow him, armoured vehicles, because there were concerns about armoured vehicles, for instance, in other countries [being] not up to a certain standard,” he said.

In 2012, it cost the RCMP $1.2 million to transport two armoured Cadillacs and a bulletproof SUV to India for Harper’s visit to the country.

Bourduas predicted the cost of protecting Canada’s prime ministers will continue to rise — particularly during the next election, which he said “will radically increase the risk.”

“I safely can say that the upcoming election here in Canada will be one where there is going to be a lot of polarization, a lot of people that will have clear views on domestic and international issues and will try to basically get these views aired and that would create a problem,” Bourduas said.

Sean Spence, a professor at Centennial College who has worked in corporate security, agreed.

“I think with more and more global threats, we’re seeing the conflict in the Middle East, we’re seeing more friction among states, inflation, climate change, we’re seeing more stressors that are happening on a macro level and I think impacting communities, individuals,” he said. “I think that these costs for security and for elected officials are only going to go up.”

Technological advances in security are also driving up costs, Spence said.

“There’s more cost in terms of technology, sophisticated devices, whether its drones, cell phones, technology, communication,” he said, adding that online investigations, such as scraping social media, also contribute to costs.

Two police officers on a rooftop look through binoculars.
Members of an RCMP security detail use binoculars to watch protesters as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes an election campaign stop at a steel plant in Welland, Ont. on Sept. 6, 2021. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Spence said protecting a politician requires balancing security with accessibility.

“It’s very easy to protect them if they’re not travelling, if they’re not engaging, if they’re not on the campaign trail. Those costs will be minimal,” he said.

“But in a democracy, elected officials want to be out there. They want to have town halls, they want to be engaging in the community, they want to be accessible. So, there’s always going to be that balance of allowing them access to the communities and people to come and meet and greet, but then having that physical barrier and that physical separation to keep them safe.”

Malone said he filed access requests for the cost figures and shared them with CBC News because he fears political violence is becoming more of a threat in Canada.

“We need to wake up to this issue,” he said. “This is something that Canadians are not taking seriously enough in terms of the impact that it can have on our democracy.”

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at Elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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