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Why did the B.C. Provincial Police disappear?

Detail of an old B.C. police force uniform at the Police Museum in Vancouver, B.C. September 9, 2010. There are calls to reinstate the B.C. provincial police force because of perceived problems with the RCMP in B.C.

Jeff Vinnick/Jeff Vinnick-The Globe and Mail

It happened right before their eyes, but the police have never figured out why the B.C. government in 1950 disbanded the 92-year-old B.C. Provincial Police and allowed the RCMP to take over policing for much of the province.

"I don't think you will ever find out. We never found out," said one of the few remaining veterans of the force, who spoke on condition that he would not be identified.

Gordon Wismer, who was then attorney-general, negotiated the entire arrangement over the phone with then-federal justice minister Stuart Garson, the former officer said.

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Municipalities policed by the BCPP were not given an opportunity to debate the initiative. "The council in Burnaby voted Monday they would not have the Mounted Police in their [municipality] and they went in on Tuesday morning to find them [the RCMP]in the building. That happened in a lot of municipalities. The attorney-general signed it, and [the provincial police force]was gone before we knew it," he said.

The B.C. Provincial Police, formed in 1858, had 530 officers in 123 police detachments across the province when it was shut down. The shift was widely condemned. Several officers quit, rather than transfer to the RCMP. Municipalities fired off hostile letters to the provincial government, expressing their anger at not being consulted.

The Victoria Colonist called for Mr. Wismer to explain the changeover. The government had "not one iota of a mandate from the electors to hand the scheme in the way it was, without discussing the full pros and cons in the legislature," a newspaper editorial stated. "The way in which the thing is being done is out of line with the principles of parliamentary procedure on the one hand and plain common sense on the other."

Don N. Brown, a former BCPP member who died last year, tried to find out why the force had been closed down. Mr. Brown had served three years in the provincial police force before being transferred into the RCMP. He retired as a superintendent after 27 years as a Mountie. He could not find any answers.

Mr. Brown wrote up his search for answers in Why? The Last Years of the British Columbia Provincial Police, published in 2000. Several theories are considered and dismissed. Among the possible explanations: the federal government wanted the RCMP in B.C. to fight communism; the B.C. government believed the RCMP, which was to be partly financed by the federal government, would be cheaper than the provincial force; the provincial government was concerned about a movement to unionize officers in the BCPP.

"There is absolutely no meaningful reason for the disestablishment of a police force recognized by all as courageous, compassionate and well-experienced in the policing of not only the rugged wilderness of B.C. but also … in the policing of large populated urban areas," Mr. Brown wrote.

"On the pretense of 'saving money,' a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives that formed the government of B.C. [at that time]sold the BCPP 'down the river,' " he said.

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In an epilogue, he called for the reinstatement of a provincial force.

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