The RCMP says it's ready to turn to reservists if it has to put serving Mounties who refuse to get vaccinated on leave due to the federal government's mandatory vaccination policy.
Today is the deadline for most public servants — including members of the RCMP — to confirm that they are fully vaccinated. Those who refuse to disclose their status or are not fully vaccinated will be placed on administrative leave without pay as soon as Nov. 15.
"If a regular member is unwilling to be vaccinated and is placed on leave, the RCMP will take steps to ensure Canadians' safety is not impacted by deploying vaccinated regular members and reservists as required," said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Caroline Duval earlier this week.
The RCMP reserve program hires retired or former police officers to fill temporary vacancies for members who are on leave, to cover special events and to help out regular members during emergencies.
The force won't say yet how many members have declared their status, or how many have indicated they won't get vaccinated.
"As the attestation process is ongoing, this information will be available at a later date," said Duval.
The rate of vaccination among RCMP members could have a serious impact on communities across the country. Outside of its federal duties, the RCMP has policing contracts with eight provinces, the three territories and 150 municipalities.
RCMP says it's aware of 'Mounties 4 Freedom' group
Without that final count, it's not clear whether the RCMP is experiencing a backlash against the vaccination policy. At least one new group claiming to be made up of disgruntled serving officers emerged earlier this month to oppose mandatory vaccination.
"Mounties 4 Freedom" posted a 5,000-word open letter to Commissioner Brenda Lucki urging her to fight the federal policy and to "send investigators to collect statements from medical professionals (and other reliable witnesses) who allege they had been silenced — putting lives at risk."
"We are individual police officers who united in the belief that citizens, including federal employees, should not be forced and coerced into taking a medical intervention," says the letter.
No one from the group responded to multiple interview requests from CBC News.
The open letter claims to have more than 50,000 signatures; it's not clear how many, if any, came from active officers.
The RCMP is aware of the letter, said Duval.
"In keeping with the government of Canada's vaccination policy at this time, we expect that regular members and reservists who are able will take steps to get their vaccine by the deadline," she said.
The National Police Federation, the union representing about 20,000 RCMP officers, has said that while it supports a Mountie's right to refuse vaccination, it also wants officers to be aware of the consequences of that choice.
"Consistent with our duty of fair representation, the NPF will continue to support members' access to vaccines, and their choice to be vaccinated or not," said union president Brian Sauvé in a media statement earlier this month.
"We also clarified to them the potential consequences of their decisions."
A spokesperson for the union said it's aware of the Mounties4Freedom group but is not in contact with it.
The group Police on Guard for Thee — another organization opposed to mandatory vaccination for police — emerged over the past year and filed a motion in June in an Ontario court to seek an injunction against provincial pandemic measures.
That group declined CBC News' request for an interview.
"Thank you for your correspondence, due to the sensitive nature of the court actions we have undertaken, represented by constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati, we are unable to provide comment at this time in efforts to maintain the court actions integrity," they responded.
Galati — who has publicly compared COVID-19 measures to fascism — also did not respond to CBC's request for comment.
An emerging threat in the U.S.
In the U.S., mandatory vaccination orders have become a flashpoint for police unions across the country.
Earlier this week, the largest police union in New York City filed a lawsuit asking a judge to allow unvaccinated officers to keep working, despite the city's rule requiring that all municipal workers receive at least one vaccine dose by the start of the month.
In Chicago, city officials said more than a third of police officers didn't report their vaccination status by the Oct. 15 deadline.
COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death for police officers in the U.S., according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police deaths in the U.S.
The page says that nearly 500 American law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of 2020. That's nearly five times the number killed over that period by gunfire — the second most common cause of death for U.S. police officers.
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