Canadian symbols: THE MOUNTIE

Canadian symbols: THE MOUNTIE © David Watts, April 2003


Canada is probably the only country in the world that is not a police state and has a police officer as one of its most widely recognized symbols.

For more than a century, the Mounties of the RCMP have been “selling” Canada in movies, on travel posters and on chocolate boxes.

The image of a peace officer who braves the elements, who always “gets their man”—or woman, and who befriends/protects the underdog has become part of the national mythology

Like most myths, it is built around a core of truth. The history of the Northwest Mounted Police has many tales of courage, heroism, endurance and perseverance

The long march west with Jerry Potts and Colonel McLeod

The trek through the ice by Sergeant Henry Larsen and the St. Roch, the first vessel to travel the Northwest Passage in two directions and the first to circumnavigate the North American continent

The protection of the railroad builders by Inspector Sam Steele and his men

The friendship of Inspector James Walsh and Sioux leader Sitting Bull

Today these legends are revived in television series such as “North of Sixty” and “Due South”

But most of today’s police work is routine:

Many Canadian provinces, as well as the three territories, use the Mounties as their provincial and local police. That’s where we’re most likely to see them—at a speed trap on Highway Patrol.

As federal police they handle security at Government sites, for our leaders and visiting dignitaries from other countries. On special occasions we may see them wearing traditional red tunics and Stetsons.

As a federal force, the RCMP also keeps a lookout for illegal activities that national boundaries: organized crime, and international drug dealing.

Sometimes RCMP officers travel outside our borders to pick up suspects apprehended in other countries, or to gather evidence. Most out of country undercover work they do involves crime.

Since the 1970’s most of Canada’s undercover spy work has been handled by CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. That came about because the kind of “dirty tricks” that go with spying seemed to tarnish to RCMP’s reputation and its motto to “Uphold the Right”.

There may be times that someone has to do that kind of work, but Canadians didn’t want their respected national police force to be doing it.

But there is one kind of international work that Canadians are proud to have the Mounties doing: peace keeping, where they go into areas torn by unrest and help to train local police forces

When they’re working aboard like this, they don’t wear red coats and Stetsons. Sometimes they wear the blue beret of the United Nations, sometimes clothing more suitable for another climate