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Rights + Justice

An RCMP Report Predicts a Stormy Future in Canada

Why we should pay attention to six issues, especially as elections loom.

Crawford Kilian 15 Apr 2024The Tyee

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

An RCMP report, “Whole-of-Government Five-Year Trends for Canada,” was recently made public by CBC after Matt Malone, an assistant law professor at Thompson Rivers University, received it through a freedom of information request. Malone is the founder of the Open by Default project at the Investigative Journalism Foundation, which posts over 20,000 documents acquired by freedom of information requests.

Frustratingly, the report is almost entirely redacted, even though it was supposedly compiled from open sources by the RCMP’s Strategic Foresight and Methodology Team in 2022.

The scraps of the report that remain deal with six issues:

  1. Continued social and political polarization fuelled by misinformation campaigns and an increasing mistrust of all democratic institutions.
  2. Criminal use of technology to gain power and influence.
  3. Increasingly violent and even concurrent storms, drought, floods and heat waves, affecting all aspects of government.
  4. Emergency management planning by law enforcement, including recruitment and retention of qualified staff.
  5. Extreme weather crises concurrent with other crises requiring deployment of police resources; impact of climate crises on Indigenous communities and the Arctic, while Canada faces pressure to help countries close to the equator.
  6. Demands for expertise in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and blockchain.

These challenges, we’re told, will likely occur in a “period of recession” marked by popular resentment, erosion of trust, paranoid populism and use of big data by private entities to influence individuals and populations “at an unprecedented level.”

The details of those challenges are redacted, however, and so are the “next steps” recommended by the RCMP.

So what are we to make of this report, now that select parts of it are public? The challenges it forecasts already face us, though federal and provincial governments prefer to squabble about trivia like the carbon tax.

Politicians might dismiss the report as just the RCMP lobbying to improve its funding and expand its resources. But whatever the RCMP’s sources and recommendations, the challenges are real — if anything, more real now than they were in 2022 and 2023.

‘Kumbaya’ won’t help

So Canadians are polarized? No surprise. It will take a million choruses of “Kumbaya” to heal the divisions between Canadians, and a million more to persuade them once again to trust governments and all their institutions (including the RCMP).

So crooks are out to ruin us with technology and disinformation? Tell us about it. But can we count on protection from a government that couldn’t implement the Phoenix pay system or complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion without a cost overrun of close to $30 billion above the original $5.4 billion?

If we are facing still more extreme weather disasters, it might be wise to mitigate them with infrastructure to ensure that Canadians won’t be roasted in the next heat dome, frozen in the next Arctic vortex, parched in the next drought or drowned in the next flood. But it might be a hard sell for a government that can’t even build enough public housing to meet the demand.

The RCMP and other law enforcement agencies are already having trouble recruiting and retaining members. Promises of emergency-management training may not be enough. Some of those emergencies will be climate driven and will affect Indigenous communities who already have issues with cops on their land.

Going overseas to train cops in Haiti could be hard to sell as a tropical getaway.

Outspent on AI and quantum computers

And as for expertise in AI, quantum computing and blockchain, we’ll be competing with everyone else and unlikely to beat whatever the Americans and Chinese can offer. Trudeau has promised $2.4 billion in spending on AI. The United States, China and many other countries will easily outspend us.

While the threats are plausible and widely understood, the redaction of “next steps” leaves us wondering what, if anything, Ottawa has been advised to do about them. My guess: little or nothing.

Consider health issues alone: Justin Trudeau and some of the provincial governments made an attempt to rally Canadians against the pandemic, but their efforts failed — thanks in large part to disinformation, but also to their own anxiety about the pandemic’s effect on the economy. Trudeau and the provincial premiers simply stopped talking about COVID-19, as if it had vanished as suddenly as Donald Trump once predicted it would.

The RCMP report warns that another pandemic has a 10 per cent chance of occurring by 2027. Given our experience since 2020, effective preventive measures might be put in place on the scale of isolated Indigenous communities, but not on the municipal, provincial or national level.

Too many provinces have seen their health-care systems deteriorate since 2020. If staffing emergency departments is beyond them, pandemic prep isn’t even on their agenda.

Flooding the zone with disinformation

If the RCMP report is an accurate preview, disinformation would swamp any attempt to plan and execute an effective response to a new pandemic. A polarized society would be further divided. Health-care computer systems would be hacked and held to ransom. The health system would be further stressed by extreme weather events, adding to the numbers seeking help in emergency departments.

Or we might avoid a pandemic, while still experiencing a flood of lies on social media, foreign interference with our politics, climate disasters and protests too big to be controlled by the available police. Whether individually or interactively, the threats foreseen by the RCMP could make Canada almost ungovernable in the next two or three years, while delegitimizing the government of the day.

It’s easy to imagine the Liberal cabinet reviewing this report, accepting its findings and deciding to bequeath the whole hot mess to the Conservatives. A Pierre Poilievre government could blame Trudeau to its heart’s desire, but it couldn’t solve the problems the RCMP predicts.

Safe in opposition, the Liberals and New Democrats could deride Conservatives’ attempts to deal with one disaster after another, while promising quick solutions once Poilievre is out of power.

And solutions might even be possible, if some particular disaster hits as quickly as 9/11 and thereby gains public attention. If drought and heat should suddenly collapse the Canadian wheat and cattle industries, for example, the government of the day could seize the opportunity to impose serious climate measures across the board: food and water rationing, restrictions on oil and gas consumption, and government control of high-emissions corporations.

The Conservatives would hesitate to take such draconian steps, giving opposition parties a chance to force a new election — if need be, by staging convoy-style protests across the country. A new government would have the power and political will to tackle some of the other challenges the RCMP predicted, and perhaps even mitigate them.

If, that is, the RCMP can recruit enough people to enforce the new government’s laws. Or at least invest in AI to see where the next threat is coming from.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Politics

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