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Saskatchewan Provincial Police

Members of the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP) at Moose Jaw, c. 1926.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B 7535-1

On January 1, 1917 a new era of law enforcement began in Saskatchewan, when the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (SPP) took over day-to-day policing duties from the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP). Since the province's creation the Mounted Police had been the province's police force - except in the major urban centres, where municipal police services had been introduced. But with the outbreak of World War I and the commitment of the RNWMP to both Canada's broader domestic security and the overseas war effort, the Mounted Police's leadership sought methods for transferring resources to these new priorities. Part of the solution was the creation of the SPP, and next door in Alberta of the Alberta Provincial Police. Under the leadership of Commissioner Charles Mahoney, who would serve in the position for the entire existence of the force, the Saskatchewan Provincial Police signed up recruits for a new policing adventure. Some of the new members joined from the Mounted Police, either right away or after the war; others had no previous policing experience. Because of a wartime labour shortage, finding policemen proved difficult until the post-war period, so that in its initial years the force remained under strength. Eventually its ranks numbered as many as 175 members, and at its disbandment it had 140 members.

The SPP quickly carried out across the province the regular policing duties that had been surrendered by the RNWMP; the latter continued to have a presence in Saskatchewan through the enforcement of federal statutes such as the Opium and Narcotic Drugs Act, the offering of assistance to federal government departments, and the carrying out of secret intelligence operations against Communists and other radicals.

For SPP members, policing involved tracking down criminals ranging from common thieves to cattle rustlers to murderers. Members carried revolvers, handcuffs and nightsticks, and travelled the province using a wide variety of methods including horses, primitive motorcycles and automobiles, and, in the north at wintertime, dogsleds.

The lifespan of the force, however, was short. In 1928 the government of Saskatchewan replaced the SPP with the RCMP, with some SPP members joining (or rejoining) the Mounted Police, usually keeping the same rank. The demise of the SPP was not incompetence but cost. The Saskatchewan government, even before the arrival of the Great Depression, was increasingly worried about expenditures, and in the case of policing the math was simple: having its own police force cost $500,000 a year; while the RCMP could do the same job for $200,000. In following this path the Saskatchewan government began a trend that in 1932 would see several other provinces accept the RCMP as their provincial police force out of financial necessity. Less of a concern in 1928 was the apparent loss of provincial autonomy to a police force with its headquarters in Ottawa instead of Regina. Ottawa and Regina issued assurances to the public at the time that the relationship between the senior Mountie in Saskatchewan and the provincial government, specifically the Attorney-General, would be exactly the same as that between Commissioner Mahoney and his boss in Regina.

Steve Hewitt

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Further Reading

Macleod, R.C. 1994. “The RCMP and the Evolution of Provincial Policing.” Pp. 44-56 in R.C. Macleod and D. Schneiderman (eds.), Police Powers in Canada: The Evolution and Practice of Authority. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; Robertson, D.F. 1976. “The Saskatchewan Provincial Police, 1917-1928.” MA thesis, University of Saskatchewan.
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