Canada faces a series of 'crises' that will test it in the coming years, RCMP warns

A wildfire burns near a home in the city of Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 18, 2023. An internal RCMP report warns that a series of geopolitical and national threats — including climate change — will test the ability of governments and police services to protect Canadians in the coming years. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A wildfire burns near a home in the city of Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 18, 2023. An internal RCMP report warns that a series of geopolitical and national threats — including climate change — will test the ability of governments and police services to protect Canadians in the coming years. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The "crises" rocking national and international affairs are likely to get worse over the next few years and could have a significant effect on the federal government and Canada's federal police force, says an internal report prepared for the RCMP.

"The global community has experienced a series of crises, with COVID-19, supply-chain issues, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine all sending shockwaves throughout the world," says the report, entitled Whole of Government Five Year Trends for Canada.

"The situation will probably deteriorate further in the next five years, as the early effects of climate change and a global recession add their weight to the ongoing crises."

The report was prepared by the RCMP's three-member Strategic Foresight and Methodology Team, a special section set up in February 2022. The report was shared with management at the RCMP's federal policing section, RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said in response to questions from CBC News.

The report was obtained through access to information law by Matt Malone, an assistant law professor at Thompson Rivers University, who shared it with CBC News.

The heavily redacted nine-page report looks at shifts "in the domestic and international environments that could have a significant effect on the Canadian government and the RCMP." Percival said it was written between March and December of 2022 "for situational awareness and to inform decision making" over the five years following the report's completion. It has not been updated since then.

The report says it is based on "open source, foresight material, horizon scans and environment scans from law enforcement agencies, government agencies and private entities, both domestic and international."

The report paints a bleak picture of what the RCMP — and Canada — could have to face over the next several years.

"The geopolitical, economic, social, technological and environmental shifts presented here are complex and continue to evolve," the report warns. "They can disrupt or redefine law enforcement work and operations in unexpected ways. Both minor and major shifts have the potential to cause multi-faceted disruptive change across the organization."

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Climate change will have a significant impact, the report predicted.

"Over the course of the next five years, environmental scientists expect that increasingly violent and even concurrent storms, worsening drought, floods and persistent heat waves all over the globe will reduce the global output of a variety of commodities," says the report.

"Law enforcement should anticipate that these destructive weather patterns will affect all facets of government, including damage to critical infrastructure, increasing pressure to cede Arctic territory, and more."

The report predicts that more frequent extreme weather events could have "a disproportionately adverse effect on Indigenous communities because many of them are located in areas that are warming faster and the weather events could take place at the same time as other major crises that require RCMP resources.

"Emergency management planning should be considered by law enforcement decision makers to ensure continued levels of service delivery. Capacity building through the attraction and retention of qualified staff remains a challenge to law enforcement."

Sliding living standards and polarization

Political polarization and resentment, coupled with the threat of an economic recession, will also present a challenge, the report predicts.

"The coming period of recession will also accelerate the decline in living standards that the younger generations have already witnessed compared to earlier generations," says the report.

"For example, many Canadians under 35 are unlikely ever to be able to buy a place to live. The fallout from this decline in living standards will be exacerbated by the fact that the difference between the extremes of wealth is greater now in developed countries than it has been at any time in several generations."

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Populists have been capitalizing on a rise in political polarization and conspiracy theories and tailoring their messages to appeal to extremist movements, the report says, adding that authoritarian movements have been on the rise in many liberal-democratic countries.

"Law enforcement should expect continuing social and political polarization fuelled by misinformation campaigns and an increasing mistrust for all democratic institutions," says the report.

New information technologies, including AI deepfakes, quantum computing and blockchain, could also present challenges, says the report.

"Law enforcement should anticipate that criminals will leverage technological innovations to gain profit and influence," the report says. "Law enforcement should also continue to contribute to policy change related to the privacy of personal information, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, quantum computing, digital ledger technology and more."

Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press
Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

The COVID-19 pandemic may have faded but, in 2022, it continued to have an impact on Canadian society, says the report.

"The damage to the economy and to the social fabric of the nation is ongoing, and there is an established opposition to existing and potential public health measures and other restrictions," it says, citing a university study indicating there is more than a 10 per cent chance of another pandemic spreading in the near future.

While the report says it covers geopolitical factors, references to geopolitical challenges appear to be among the passages redacted. Two pages of the report are entirely blank, with the exception of a picture of a globe.

Michael Kempa, University of Ottawa associate professor of criminology, welcomed the report and the existence of the special unit, saying the RCMP has been "struggling to meet its federal policing responsibilities."

"They've now got this special body that is sort of scanning major trends and threats to federal policing type issues, presumably with a view to positioning the RCMP to dealing with these types of challenges down the line. So that's positive."

Kempa said the report correctly identifies the challenges the RCMP and the government are likely to face.

"The only thing that I would think that they underestimate is the urgency with which the RCMP must prepare … to address these challenges," he said.

Kempa said the RCMP doesn't have a lot of time to make necessary changes, such as recruiting people with the skills needed to address these kinds of problems.

"This report underestimates the severity of the challenges," he said.

A 'disconnect' between threat and preparation

Christian Leuprecht, a Queen's University and Royal Military College professor who specializes in defence and security, said the section of the report on the challenges posed by new information technologies — and the suggestion that law enforcement should "contribute to policy change" in response — stood out for him.

"That's a highly unusual statement," said Leuprecht. "This is a hint that clearly there is a sense that the policy framework in this country is not adequately set up for the challenges of everything from safeguarding personal information ... artificial intelligence, the connectivity of the Internet of Things … the privacy challenges and others presented by quantum computing and blockchain technology, and the accelerant that has proven for all sorts of criminal activity in this country."

Leuprecht said the report also points to some threats that are often overlooked, such as problems with global supply chains and the need to improve emergency management planning.

"What we see is some of the disconnect between the strategic threat assessment ... and the resources, capacities, capabilities and political will to posture Canada effectively for what is clearly going to be a very difficult future for this country," he said.