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Why N.S. mass shooting inquiry said Canada should look to Finland for its policing model

The inquiry into one of the worst mass shootings in modern Canadian history says police training across Canada needs to be overhauled, and points to Finland as a potential model. 

The Mass Casualty Commission, the inquiry that investigated a 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 dead, recommended the overhaul in its final report released in March.

It suggested all of Canada’s police forces — not just the RCMP — look to Finland, which requires a three-year degree for police officers.

Under the current RCMP model, recruits spend six months at Depot, the force’s training facility in Saskatchewan. That is followed by six months of on-the-job training.

The commission’s report called this model “inadequate to prepare RCMP members for the complex demands of contemporary policing.”

It also said the RCMP’s operational effectiveness has been impaired by its “failure to embrace a research-based approach to program development and police education and its lack of openness to independent research.” 

Policing in Finland

Lotta Parjanan, the head of education for Finland’s Police University College, said there is a “big difference” between the two countries.

“Certain countries have very short [programs], that they can shoot, maybe wrestle, they don’t know how to give fines,” Parjanan said.

“But our education is based on the idea that we have a motto that police officers are civilized, we put a lot of effort on communication. The reputation of Finland’s police is very good, the trust.  So when there is police, there is also respect involved.”

A woman in a blue dress shirt and a black blazer looks at a camera.
Lotta Parjanan, the head of education for Finland’s Police University College, says there’s a high level of respect toward police officers in the country, who must complete a three-year program as part of becoming an officer. (CBC)

Parjanan said Finland had a shorter training program for police about 50 years ago, but she could never see the country going back to that model.

The commission report quoted Kimmo Himberg, former rector of the Finnish police college, who said modern policing requires a complicated mix of skills and knowledge. As well, a thorough vetting of candidates is needed.

“We definitely do not want, as an example, Rambos, Rockys,” he said.

“We want young people who are able to take initiative, make independent decisions, who have the characteristics for this so that we can build the education on those characteristics.”

RCMP says recruit standards have decreased

The RCMP has struggled with recruiting qualified candidates, especially in recent years, Chief Supt. Chris Leather testified before the Mass Casualty Commission.

“And what’s naturally occurred is the standards for entry and education in particular seems to have gone down along with that,” he said. 

“So as the interest level has decreased, the standards have decreased…. So we’re a victim of our own inability to recruit.”

The commissioners admitted their recommendations echo those made by several previous inquiries, reviews and reports into policing in Canada. So far, none of those has been acted on.

“This is something that’s been advocated for for many, many years,” said Scott Blandford, a 30-year veteran of policing. He’s now a professor at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, which offers a degree program in policing.

He said change takes political will and a commitment of resources from government.

“I’m hopeful that this was the tipping point for policing in this country and that many of these recommendations will be implemented or at least, seriously considered to help to shape the future of policing.”

A professor speaks to a reporter
Scott Blandford is a professor at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. (Aastha Shetty/CBC News)

Blandford said six months of training is not enough and that a university degree should be the minimum.

“Post-secondary educated officers have a lower use of force,” Blandford said. “When they’re dealing with persons, they have a propensity to not escalate in force as quickly, they have greater tolerance for diversity and are much more inclusive of the communities that they’re policing.”

The commission report noted three years of education would better equip police officers to do their jobs at the beginning of their careers in areas where the police perform poorly, such as investigating sexual assault complaints, criminal harassment, uttering threats, and recognizing and responding to gender-based and intimate partner violence.

Revamping standards

Just last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a scrapping of the requirement that police recruits in his province have a post-secondary education.

Blandford said lowering standards is not the way to deal with shortages and pointed to nursing as an example. He said there’s a shortage of nurses across the country, but no one is suggesting they waive the requirement for a nursing degree.

The Mass Casualty Commission not only recommended a revamp of training standards, but also recommended that RCMP training be pulled out of Depot and distributed to new training facilities across the country. That provoked a near-unanimous backlash from politicians in Saskatchewan. 

There is no word on when or even whether the various levels of government will respond to the proposal.

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